Monday, March 2, 2015

The Reality of Statistical Improbability

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. - Albert Einstein

Nothing is worth more than this day. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view. - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

Robert sipped his coffee in the small coffee shop not far from his home as his eyes scanned the newspaper in front of him. “So much confusing news”, he thought, “How does one make sense of the world?”

He looked away for a moment to reflect upon the news when his eyes met the gaze of another man staring intently at him.  “A lot of bad news out there?”, asked the stranger.

“Seems to be”, replied Robert, returning his gaze back to the newspaper.

Moments later, the stranger sat in the chair across the table from him.  Robert looked up at the uninvited guest and asked “May I help you?”

The stranger ignored the question.

“All of this strange news kind of makes you wonder what the world is about, doesn’t it?”, asked the stranger.

Robert nodded, still unhappy that someone had chosen to enter his personal space uninvited.

“Picture this”, the stranger said as he smiled.  “Remember the day you and your wife met at the coffee shop?”

“I do”, Robert replied, now surprised, “How did you know that my wife and I ….”

The stranger held up his hand, interrupting Robert.  “Not important at the moment”, he replied as his glittering eyes stared into Robert’s.  “Imagine that at the moment you and your wife were about to meet for the first time, your cell phone had rung and in the process of answering it, your wife-to-be had left.  You would never have met if that had happened.”

“Interesting thought”, replied Robert.

“Indeed”, replied the stranger.  “Now imagine that just before your phone rang, someone had called the friend calling you, thus preventing him from calling you.  You would not have been called and therefore you could have spoken to your wife-to-be as you did and things would remain as they are today.”

Robert’s eyes lit up.  “I see where you are headed”, he said.  “Now if I take your thought one step further, if the person who called my friend was suddenly killed in a car accident at the moment he was about to call my friend and therefore didn’t call him, my friend would have been free to call me, I would have answered the phone and my wife would have left without me ever having met her.”

“Precisely”, replied the stranger, his smile growing.

“In fact”, continued Robert, “If I take that one step further, each of us are in fact a collection of infinite possibilities, with the potential for an infinite number of experiences at any given moment.  There is an infinite number of what-ifs that I could invent to either ensure that I meet my wife or that I don’t.”

“Yes”, said the stranger, leaning over the table towards Robert without breaking his gaze, “Please continue.”

“Well”, said Robert, “If that’s the case, then every event that I influence impacts everyone and everything that I can reach, which in turn impacts everyone and everything they can reach, etc.  The six degrees of separation in the world therefore suggests that everything that I impact eventually changes the entire world and that I in turn am impacted by everything.  In the closed system that makes up our planet, this would mean that we are constantly influencing each other and constantly creating new realities for everyone from a set of infinite reality possibilities.”

The stranger’s smile grew broader but he didn’t interrupt.

“But”, Robert said, pausing uncertainly, “That would mean that my wife and I got together despite the odds of an infinite number of infinite permutations.  If that is true, my wife and I are statistically more likely to have never gotten together than to be together.”

“Possibly”, the stranger said quietly, “What does this tell you?”

Robert paused and reflected on where his logic had taken him.

“I’m not sure”, he stammered, no longer angry with the stranger for having sat in front of him.

“If all this is true, how can this instant exist at all?”, he asked himself quietly.

“In fact”, he said a little louder, “How can any of this be real?  My relationship with my wife, my interaction with you right now, anything at all.”  His mind reeled at the possibilities …. or the impossibilities.

“Well”, replied the stranger, “The fact that we are here means that our reality has to be possible in some way, doesn’t it?  However, it does suggest that if you are more likely to be elsewhere than here, it sure makes you appreciate the rarity and uniqueness of this moment, doesn’t it?”

Robert nodded quietly.

He frowned, started to speak, paused for a moment, frowned again and then spoke to the stranger, “But if we are far more likely to not be here at this moment than to be here, it begs a question.”

He paused again.

“Yes”, said the stranger, anticipating where Robert was going, “Please continue.”

“Are you telling me that this moment in time is a complete collection of random events through time or that in order for my current reality to have happened, that someone had to have orchestrated it?  In fact, the latter seems to be the only way possible.”

“Not necessarily”, replied the stranger, “Just because we are here now, it is easy to assume that your reality was orchestrated because the current reality seems to be the only one possible.  I would suggest that the current reality is mathematically impossible and mathematically guaranteed at the same time, regardless of whether orchestrated or not.

The stranger paused for a moment before continuing.  “Now assume”, he said, choosing his words carefully, “That someone could tell you the future and based on this knowledge, you changed your thoughts, words and deeds in an effort to avoid bad things or to create a better world for yourself or others.”

“By doing so”, Robert said, seeing where the stranger’s thought process was going, “and in following our six degrees of separation theme, I could immediately change everyone else’s future without realizing it.  There would be tremendous power contained within that idea to make a better world.”

“Slow down”, said the stranger, raising his hand, “Let’s keep the scenario simple.  Instead of creating a better world for yourself and your wife, you might inadvertently change someone else’s Life, who in turn would change someone else’s until, much further down the chain, someone unknown to you causes your Life or your wife’s to be changed for the worse instead of for the better.”

“What do you mean?”, Robert asked.

“Assume that someone can tell you that you will be killed in an accident tomorrow, breaking your wife’s heart”, the stranger replied.  “You avoid the location of the accident in order to prevent it from taking place and in doing so, you have a conversation with someone you wouldn’t have met had you been killed in the accident.  That person has a phone conversation with someone else based on the exchange with you and so on.  The final person in the conversation chain is having the conversation on a cell phone while driving and being distracted as they drive, they accidentally kill your child as she crosses a pedestrian crosswalk.  In an effort to make your personal world better, you destroy it and in fact, destroy or enable other people’s lives at the same time.”

Robert said nothing, unable to speak as the enormity of what he was hearing struck him.

“Now widen that scenario so that anyone might be affected as a result of your knowledge of the future”, the stranger said quietly.

The stranger observed Robert with some amusement.  “In fact”, he continued, “such knowledge could paralyze you into choosing to never take action again, to play Life safe, when in doing so, the choice of doing nothing is in fact an action that changes the world anyway, for better or for worse.

Paralysis is often as evil as recklessness”, the stranger continued as he leaned back in his chair.

Robert turned his head and looked out the window, thinking about everything they were talking about as he reflected upon a better understanding of his own reality.

“By the way”, the stranger said, “You will be killed in a car accident on your home from here tonight.  Maybe you should stay here.”

Robert awoke from his stupor as he heard the warning, turned to face the stranger and was stunned to find … that he was gone.

Magog frowned and rubbed his head painfully.  The AI simulation known as Terra had suddenly stopped functioning, with many of its modules freezing for no apparent reason.

An image of Gog appeared in his mind as his research colleague reached out to him telepathically.  “I think the Terran simulation has an issue in it”, Gog said to Magog in his mind.

“I know”, Magog replied.  “This is the furthest we have ever gotten to simulating a global culture but something has gone wrong.  In fact, I think I have tracked it down to a piece of rogue code that for some reason started interacting with millions of modules simultaneously.”

“Virus?”, asked Gog.

“Either that or a lazy programmer”, replied Magog, “Either way, the entire simulation is contaminated or ruined by now.  I recommend that we start all over.”

“Good idea”, Gog said, agreeing with his younger colleague, “Go ahead and restart the simulation.”

“I’ll do it immediately”, said Magog before saying goodbye to his colleague.

Turning his attention to the AI simulation, he shook his head sadly as he thought about how far the Terran simulation had come.

“Such potential”, he thought as he used the neural interface to bring up the simulation menu in order to select the simulation reset option.

“Yes indeed”, he thought, “Such potential.”

His eyes fell on the simulation reset option.

And with a final thought, Earth as known to 7.5 billion modules winked out of existence.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


A lot of themes (some contradictory) are woven together here in a complex theme that includes but is not limited to:

  • the idea that Life may be a collection of random events
  • the idea that our lives may be controlled or predestined in some way
  • that the uniqueness and near-impossibility of our current situation makes our situation a rare treasure to be embraced
  • that knowledge of our future is not necessarily a positive gift
  • that six degrees of separation highlights how easily we can impact the world or be impacted by complete strangers
  • that our Life is a juxtaposition of that which is impossible versus that which is guaranteed
  • that choosing to take no action is in fact an action taken
  • that our existence may merely be as an artificial intelligence simulation being run by a more advanced species
  • that Gog and Magog destroy our world as documented in some theological texts.

Pick and choose as you please. Smile

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.


  1. The certainty of the events that have been recorded will be progressivily confirmed in the near future. The only view is the literal view. For those that know and understand, the evidence is mounting day by day. The theological texts will be the only evidence that will be proven 100% accurate, but deception will be the order of the day to fool those in choosing the wrong answer and thus the wrong path.

  2. This may be my favorite. Two thoughts come to mind, does open acceptance of any variable change the probability path if the goal is broad or fuzzy, and the opposite case of ruthless manipulation beyond the tertiary increase specific possibilities and goals? The next conclusion drawn from this is that any goal can be achieved at any time, the only variable is location and the surrounding choice matrix probability.At the end of the day all choice/decision maps that have been implemented have to be acknowledged as reality and adjustments made.

  3. we are soon approaching a system of commerce where no entity beyond the parties involved have anything to do with the exchange of value (like it originally was). Monetary systems were only invented to make commerce viable over time and distance, and create the ability to record and tax those transactions. The first is inherent between the two parties the second is completely artificial. Look at the gift economy. Just as the binary memory of reality and the quantum interaction of this moment are only agreements between two observers, so to erase 7.5 million bits only requires a change in the system not an extinction of matter. What systemic linchpin would each of you pull?