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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Randomness occurs everyday in nature and culture. It is expressed when an unpredictable event happens or when no logical pattern can be discerned in the phenomena being measured. It also happens when organisms mutate to create new strands of organisms. Randomness implies there is a measure of uncertainty in the natural world and in culture. Both in the natural world and culture, randomness appears in, to some extent, a determined system. For example as human I am biologically organised to grow facial hair. As I grow older my biological system determines when my hair will turn grey. The exact location however where each follicle turns grey is completely random. There doesn’t appear to be a pattern to this long-term phenomenon.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds This relationship between determinism and randomness also appears in other biological systems. Random mutation occurs in organisms and the biological world with unexpected results as mutations change the genetic structure of the organisms DNA. Concepts of randomness also feature quite significantly throughout human history. In ancient times randomness was entangled with chance and fate. It was believed that by rolling dice then making a decision based on the outcome of the roll a person could circumvent random events in both the natural world, which were considered signs from the gods, and in the cultural one, by determining the outcome in advance. This superstitious belief system is still with us today.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 seconds It is applied in the gambling industry where millions of people buy lottery tickets in the hope that a number of randomly selected balls will determine a better future for themselves. It is also applied in less obvious cultural industries for example in certain judicial systems randomly selected jurors determine the fate of a person accused of criminal offence. Randomness is an important feature in contemporary culture. Most notably it features in two domains we have indirect relationships with; computer science and finance. In the first instance randomness is used we when send email or make online purchases. The systems that make these activities secure rely on randomness to encrypt and secure electronic commerce and email correspondence.

Skip to 2 minutes and 31 seconds Randomness is also an important concept in the finance industry where the only thing predicable about stock prices is that they are randomly distributed and follow random steps, or in industry vernacular, a random walk, in which prices go up and down. An algorithm called the random walk can model the fluctuating stock price, it can also model the financial status of a gambler and it is also used in other fields not related to finance such as ecology, economics and biology. It can also be used as an embedded feature in art making. For example the artist Antony Gormley used the random walk algorithm in 1999 to create the sculpture Quantum Cloud.

Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds The sculpture is formed from hundreds of steel tetrahedral units that are organised to emanate from the enlarge figure. In this work Gormley explores whether the body emerges from chaotic energy or the field from the body. Using randomness to generate variations of a particular work has a long tradition in art and music. In the eighteenth century a musical dice game was invented so composers could create a series of measures of music that could be recombined in many different ways to be stylistic appropriate to the artist. A typical composition of sixteen measures could yield approximately forty-six quadrillion works. Practitioners of the music dice game include Franz Josef Hayden and Mozart.

Randomness and variation in nature and culture

Randomness occurs in all facets of life. In the natural world randomness causes mutations in an organisms DNA structure. In culture randomness can determine someone’s future. Watch Mark Guglielmetti explore these themes in relation to art making.

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