I am always looking for better, clearer ways to articulate the modern, and somewhat magical implications surrounding the idea of randomness, especially its specific use in the field of evolutionary biology and how that particular use has persuaded many moderns to embrace a mechanistic view of not only biology but all things human. Randomness is what’s left when we can’t see a pattern or find meaning or purpose, or perhaps are hungry for a good mystery, or simply drawn to courting meaninglessness itself. It remains a very human notion evoked when we have nothing else to say, and no way to connect human action to events.
In the modern language of genetics and evolution, too often what is left out of the discussion are the mechanisms of what keeps sameness in play and how important continuity is for reproduction. We are bombarded with talk of change; mutations, adaptations, while the mechanisms for genetic stability, or what keeps organisms continuing to reproduce with amazing sameness, go largely under valued. Life depends much more upon consistency, while change is frequently an aberration. Evolutionary change is hard won, over very long periods of time, which is why it is so hard to see let alone completely understand. This is not an argument against evolution, but more an argument for seeing purposefulness in evolution and noting our under-appreciation for meaning and purpose which are so important to matters of the heart. The concern here is for the power of ideas that underlie our assumptions and filter our world view.
Evolution does not have to be meaningless and without a purpose to be true.
Science can be soulful too. And perhaps science would be a lot more useful if a certain amount of soulfulness were retained and valued instead of avoided as a threat to the hard facts of numbers and equations.
I would argue too, that the problem of studying “the nature of nature” lies in our inability to get outside of the very nature in which we view, study and understand the world. We can’t see beyond the limits imposed by the physical senses of our own human nature; the mechanisms of our consciousness and sensory organs. As Alan Watts and the Zen masters taught, who can see the eye with which we are seeing?
Our being in the world is the best part of life, the part that can never be valued enough. Tossing around the idea of randomness to depersonalize an act or event is at the very least a misunderstanding of the part we can’t help but play. The bumper sticker sentiment calling us to perform random acts of kindness, while well-meaning, depreciates the choices we make, even when they are made with little forethought.
Example: you’re in a queue and seemingly out of nowhere decide to pay for your friends coffee/dinner/beer, random you think? Well, no, as long as you are a free agent exercising your will, the length of time that has passed between your decision to act and the act itself does not take away from the purposefulness of your choice. No matter the distance between your act and your decision, you still made a choice, nothing random about your act of kindness. Your personhood causes love to happen, every time you choose love. Being aware of your actions and choices helps you choose consciously, next time. Love remains one of the few powers that we truly possess, never failing us or those we love.
Here is a great article in the New Atlantis that nails the shortcomings of the idea of randomness within the context of evolution.