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Flipping Coins and the Mystery of Randomness

May 04, 1985

I refer to your editorial (April 14), "Flipping Out."

All that physicists Vladimir Vulovic and Richard E. Prange said was that coin tosses are not random. When they said the outcome of a toss could be predicted, they were speaking figuratively. If an event is not random, then, at least in theory, it follows that it can be predicted (definitely not "impossible"). The question of randomness in nature is of great importance to science. There are many areas where phenomena are assumed to be random and a general theory is built on this assumption. If randomness is disproved, research can then be turned in new directions, with the hope of eventually controlling the phenomena. Cancer research is an example of this.

The problem with coin tosses is that there are only two possible outcomes. When there are only two outcomes it is not possible to determine whether the results are due to the characteristics of the number 2 or of randomness. Many of the most difficult problems in scientific knowledge have not been solved because of this ambiguity. Unfortunately, randomness is something that theoretically exists but cannot be proven to exist. The powerful scientific tools of probabilities and statistics are based on the assumption that randomness exists.

Your "laws of physics" did not come out of any known physics text. Incidentally, I've never seen a tea kettle with "corners."

IRVING DLUGATCH

Laguna Hills

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