Casual Fridays: Just a random survey

Just a random Casual Friday survey this week.

Click here to take survey.

As usual, the survey is brief, and should take only a minute or two to complete. You have until Thursday, February 19 to respond. There is no limit on the number of responses. Don't forget to come back next Friday for the results.

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Wow, indeed that was rather random!

That last question is (in my arrogant opinion) bad - it doesn't specify a frame of reference. That is, it's not clear whether you're asking about determinism or just practical predictability.

Most enjoyable. This may be my favorite Casual Friday evah!

By Matthew Platte (not verified) on 13 Feb 2009 #permalink

Randomness is a concept used to bundle the leftovers from explanations. Unfortunately, many reify it into a force that shapes the world. It isn't.

Just finished reading Paul Glimcher's "Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain : The Science of Neuroeconomics" so I found this survey very fitting. Glimcher argues animals have evolved some sort internal randomizer. He reasons that this is useful in decision making in non-zero-sum games.

I just want you to know that I actually flipped coins for the random number order questions. :)

T.O.: I did the same thing.

The second-to-last question made me think, though. There are probably simple hash functions from words to small numbers that let humans generate pretty good random numbers, even if the word distribution is biased.

For instance, the sum of the letters mod N is probably pretty good (for small N). Alternatively, you could get one fairly random bit per word by counting whether an even or odd number of letters were in the first half of the alphabet.

(Of course, you have to avoid picking words for which you remember what answer you get, but that shouldn't be too hard.)

I agree with Epicanis (#2). The question uses "be" in a very ambiguous way. What do you mean by "being random?" Can humans generate truly random sequences? Can humans behave unpredictably? The question doesn't make it clear what you mean. In any case, I really enjoyed the survey and look forward to some rather predictable results.

I used this for answering the random questions:
I rolled 10 die and picked the first 5 (then 4 then 3) die starting from the left that contained numbers in the correct range. For the words, I used the string generator to generate random letter strings and I picked out the first real word that appeared within in one of the strings. Humans can be completely random but only if they use their technology.

So, it's not random to just make stuff up? haha. Of course I know it isn't, else why would half the novels in print have the same basic plot?

What is "truly random"?

In one sense, being "truly random" is simply being able to generate entropy; people don't always choose the same number or follow an entirely predictable sequence and so they are in this sense truly random.

On the other hand, "truly random" is sometimes used to mean "capable of generating sequences of independent random events". Ask someone to generate a random sequence of heads and tails and you'll often get too much alternation (hththt) and too few sequences of a single result (hhhhh) compared to a truly independent entropy source. People are less random than a perfect entropy source, and in this sense not truly random.

I think the first meaning is a better definition (to distinguish from pseudorandom), but I think the survey is getting at the second meaning.

"It all depends on what your definition of 'is' is."

I'm awaiting the results, like a cat that ate cheese and waits by the mouse-hole with baited breath. I expect the following to be th results:
1) very close to random disposition on birth month. other configurations of months less truly random
2) avoidance of first and last number to start "random" orders, e.g., choice of 1 or 5 will not approximate 40%.
3)"Making stuff up" will prove to be a complex, culturally-influenced activity, untestable by a simple survey and subject to Heisenberg-like alteration by attempts to quantify creativity

By E. Clayton Rowe (not verified) on 14 Feb 2009 #permalink

I remember when I was a child doing a kind of junior mentalism trick on my schoolfriends in which I asked them to multiply numbers by 2 in rapid succession and then asked them to name a vegetable right at the end, which I would have correctly written in an envelope. They always named tomato or, much more rarely, carrot. I think it was something to do with the colour red because other questions would yield red answers if I remember correctly. Perhaps this is testing something similar.

Nik M,

"...I asked them to multiply numbers by 2 in rapid succession and then asked them to name a vegetable...
They always named tomato or, much more rarely, carrot. I think it was something to do with the colour red because other questions would yield red answers if I remember correctly."

...that's interesting because the colour 'red' tends to help us pay more attention to detail in concentration, which could be associated with doing arithmetic.
Check this out:…

Although I'm not sure if this is what you were getting at anyway...

I think that the random word entry is sort of biased due to all the content on the page. I for one put the first word that popped into my head (frogs) only to realize that the page was green (like frogs of course)! I left my entry for randomness sake, but i have to wonder if it was merely coincidence.

import random
print s


Oh, and:

import random
l = open("/usr/share/dict/words", 'r').readlines()

Reseed random as desired, of course.


Those using tools: cute, but don't you think it's kind of missing the point?

This isn't some game that you get points for if you win, it's a fun survey to determine what makes people tick, not to determine what makes et al tick.

Maybe CogDaily should do a survey on valuing cleverness over integrity?

Of course they could have/should have had a question on the last page, "Did you use any tools to generate random answers for you?" on the last page...