the Fluke,

capital F. As automated experiments kept piling up data and computers pored through it at ever larger scales, evidence started to accumulate that randomness, no matter how produced or measured, is never perfect. The world as we know it seems to be incompatible with absolutely unpredictable or chaotic processes of any kind, anywhere from subquantum observables up; eliminating all known predictables fails to uncover a “pure randomness” residue; increasing entropy hits a finite ceiling. ■    Once unquestionably deterministic, then blown up by quantum indeterminacy that posited a small but non-zero uncertainty even at macroscopic scales, the evolving physical worldview (curiously parallelling the changing views on the rationality of human behavior) seems to have returned to a “determinism at a new level.” At the ends of the spectrum, just like nothing ever is fully deterministic, nothing is fully random either: randomness can only go up to a point; in most theories, this asymptotic ceiling of unpredictability is a free parameter (half-seriously called God Index) only measurable experimentally. Moreover, it doesnt have to be constant in space or time — and, strikingly, analyzing old records suggests that it has been growing even in historical time. This growth is usually ascribed to a cosmic-scale fluctuation (hence Fluke), a local and temporary spike that is itself random, neither having nor needing a specific reason — a fluctuation that is very improbable but not impossible. Of course to many, the fluctuation hypothesis is a non-explanation — an intentionally absurd stopgap to instigate the search for a “real reason… about which we cant even speculate at our current level of understanding of nature.” ■    More or less serious metaphysics abound. Flukes “leaky magic” could be a corollary of our own existence — a side effect of the emergence of life on Earth and its quixotic fight against entropy. Or perhaps, unknown to us, a cosmic-scale intelligent player has long ago discovered certain infinitesimal predictability (that had always been there, like the microwave echo from pre-Big Bang; or had he simply thunk it up?) and is trying to profit from it — thereby inflating that predictability for everyone, like a commodity speculator driving the price up. Or: “The deity responsible for our world is getting tired, running out of randomness: say what you may, it must be frustrating to daily, minutely, nanosecondly effuse cryptographically strong, perfectly prediction-proof randomness all throughout the multiverse” (esp. for an intelligent being many like their deity to be). Or its a gods top aide tasked, since creation, with this frustrating gruntwork (the appointed King of Chaos and Lord of the Lies: for whats a perfect lie if not something you cannot yourself precalculate, something thats never what anyone expects) who is finally revolting and, just as we watch, quitting his job with a bang. ■    The effect is extremely subtle; in everyday physics, randomness remains as good as ever. Thanks to the Fluke we can, in principle, know the future slightly better than chance, but to know something is predictable is not the same as predict it; no practical Fluke predictor is currently thought possible. If the value keeps climbing at the same rate, however, within a billion years it will be affecting elementary outcomes so much that basic predictors may become feasible; most of the world wont notice but, at first inconspicuous, “smart things” may begin to evolve — quantum-scale entities that make use of the predictability to self-sustain and propagate, each surrounded by an aura of dumb parasites (potential symbionts) that feed off its future-probing.

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