Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

...probability is not a physical energy. Probability is an operational concept that can be held by a conscious mind, a philosophical category that is distinct from physical energy.

Christopher W. Tyler


Randomnicity is in the eye of the beholder. To gain a better understanding, humans struggle to measure probabilities and use statistics to prove theories. Time and time again, randomness may reveal its mystery. Imagination advances inch by inch into a maze of impasses around standing walls ready to crumble. It carries humanity forward. Words and images are used for support, like a staff would be used by a pilgrim to assist in walking. Leonardo da Vinci, studied fluid dynamics, the nature of waves, and the sun glitter on the terrestrial seas. “Forms”, I read in French while walking through Le Louvre exhibit, “are an illusion the Universe by its unceasing movement keeps on stripping away”. 

Leonardo da Vinci, Le Louvre, Paris
Leonardo da Vinci, Le Louvre, Paris

Leonardo da Vinci, Le Louvre, Paris

Poets, go to the ocean shore. You will sing the mystery of the infinite. You will feel the power of solitude out on the coastline

Odilon Redon


Flying over the Charlie Gibbs fracture zone where polar and southern waters meet, I wonder whether randomness plays a role in waves’ formation. The word “randomness” implies the prerequisite existence of spacetime and the unpredictability of things. Earth may be a pantheon that holds the thoughts and ideas of the Universe. Anastasios Tsonis wrote a book that caught my eye: Randomnicity: Rules and Randomness in the Realm of the Infinite (2008). While it may be easy to speak in general terms of the unitary system that is the Universe, it is in the details, in the complexity of the interactions, compartmentalized in an infinite number of structures and at unlimited spatiotemporal levels, that the difficulty of our observation lies. I mentioned earlier the idea of loops of temporalities hanging from the linear representation of time. That’s what makes a prediction so problematic. Statistical inference of causal interactions and synchronization between dynamical phenomena evolving on different temporal scales is of vital importance for better understanding and prediction of complex systems. 



Time-domain astrophysics is a new field of observational astronomy that studies the universe on all timescales from less than milliseconds to more than decades, and at all wavelengths.

Phil Charles and Aarran Shaw

Orion A and the role of magnetic field (ESA/Herschel/Planck; J. D. Soler, MPIA)

Orion A and the role of magnetic field (ESA/Herschel/Planck; J. D. Soler, MPIA)



Randomness conveys a sense of disorder. It challenges us to find order in chaos and devise theories and laws to explain what drives those forces of chaos. It refers to transient events such as bursts of energy in patchy molecular clouds. The rate at which stars form is a pivotal quantity in tracing a galaxy’s fundamental properties and distribution of matter and activity.


Gravitational instability is controlled by turbulent velocity rather than by the temperature. In a 2019 study pertaining to the evolution of molecular clouds in the central region of giant galaxies, Suman Paul and Tanuka Chattopadhyay developed a time-dependent random fragmentation model with turbulence as one of the key parameters.


Solar wind (NASA)

Solar wind (NASA)


When our observation remains inconclusive, and events appear inconsistent with our prior knowledge, we suspend our judgment until more information becomes available. Randomness makes us feel unsteady. It may refer to an event intermittent at best, erratic at worst, whether it be the outflow of solar material streaming out from the Sun, the irregular noise electromagnetic waves make rippling around the Earth, the incoherence in the quantum fluctuations, or the sunflower patterns. The Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission was selected by NASA this year to study solar winds and coronal mass ejections to understand how solar particles interact with Earth’s magnetic field. A 2019 paper on the sunflower lemma is said to be an important step aimed at finding meaning in randomness.

If you have a large enough mathematical object of some nature, there has to be some hidden structure inside it.

Shachar Lovett


In their respective mediums, artists and mathematicians embark on a similar quest to identify patterns and structures from otherwise random systems. Mystery rises again and again to the surface. The moment we begin to really look at what is, we also begin to imagine what it might be. I flew back over Deer Lake, Labrador City, and Caribou and saw the silvery reflection on the ocean cast by the hazy sun along the shores of Long Island, like a slow, almost static flow of thick liquid silver. "Mystery," Odilon Redon said, "is all the time ambiguous, open to double, triple interpretations, hints of appearance, forms coming into being and forms being revealed based on the observer's state of mind." Within the Universe lies random bits of mystery. 



The randomness of historical findings, such as the discovery of a giant planet orbiting a low-mass star, raises the question of their timing in my mind. Almost 4000 exoplanets have been discovered to date, but largely because of their intrinsic faintness,  only 10% have been found so far orbiting low-mass M dwarf stars, in spite of this stellar type being the most numerous in the Galaxy. GJ 3512 b has a minimum mass of 0.46 times that of Jupiter. Two years ago, another odd couple was found. It involved a planet called NGTS-1b, about the size of Jupiter. If, as James Baldwin was quoted as saying, "the great force of history comes from the fact that... we are unconsciously controlled by it", could it mean that every random discovery is part of a larger scheme of things meant to guide us through the maze of the unknowable?



Questions arise like waves in the ocean. Hundreds, if not thousands, of substellar objects have been found so far. Is there a bridge between the least massive stars and the most massive planets?   Is there a mass limit for the least luminous stars? In the mix, the peculiar substellar objects, named brown dwarfs, with the same temperature range and many physical properties shared by giant exoplanets, add to the mystery surrounding our Universe.



Randomness conveys a lingering sense of uncertainty. In a new Renaissance era, I wish to find peace in Edward O. Wilson's call for consilience. The Gaia hypothesis implies that every form of life interacts in manifold ways with its biotic and abiotic environments and that these interactions form a multilevel network from which higher-level properties can emerge. If Earth is a global living system, it begs the question of how many planets like ours are out there. Can those holobiont-like systems communicate with each other, even separated by large distances, in some quantum entanglement-like conditions that only poets would dare to dream of? 



51 Eri b is the first planet discovered by the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey. It rotates around a star, part of a moving group about 26 to 29 million years old. It seems to have a cloudy atmosphere with patchy clouds. Does she know that Earth is about 100 light-years away from her? The poet's mind remains irresistibly drawn to lonely travelers, free-floating objects, faint shadows in the interstellar space like CFBDSIR 2149 of the size of Jupiter that may be a young isolated planetary-mass object possibly similar to the exoplanet 51 Eri b, or perhaps an older brown dwarf.


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