There are a couple of questions (one, another) about this topic, and as I was thinking about this for a while, I started wondering whether there has been any systematic research into this that raises the stakes and shows that, for examples, a truly random event would be equivalent to an event without a cause?

Because the other direction seems trivial: events without a cause are obviously random (just logically, of course; events without a cause are most likely impossible).

By truly random I mean something like "independent of an observer's ability to identify a pattern or find a cause".

  • The answer depends on what you mean by Truly random. Of course, if you mean that one is incapable of forming a pattern (as in the case with, say, submarine technology) then clearly, there is some embedded "teleology" or cause for these events to take place (namely that there is no pattern.) Alternatively, if you mean that the events fall into some standard deviation, then I'm not sure I know how to answer your question. Can you give an example of an "event without a cause?" and do you mean this to mean an event that cannot be explained? Dec 23, 2015 at 6:16
  • By truly random I mean something like "independent of an observer's ability to identify a pattern or find a cause". My personal opinion is that events without a cause can't exist (so I obviously can't give an example), and if they did, they would be equivalent to truly random events. In other words, one can define a truly random event as an event without a cause (and, obviously, vice versa). But I'm not a professional philosopher, so I was wondering whether there has been any extensive study of this possible equivalence. Dec 23, 2015 at 8:09
  • @LeoHeinsaar Then you need a cause for the Big Bang, and a cause for the rules that create virtual particles that might be the cause of the Big Bang, etc. etc. Or you need a cause for God, and a cause for the cause of God, etc., etc., Cause is an Antinomy. It is unsafe to have a first cause, and unsafe not to have one.
    – user9166
    Dec 23, 2015 at 17:47
  • So the question comes down to "Are there causal patterns a best possible observer cannot, in principle, detect." And I think QM has decided, yes there are.
    – user9166
    Dec 23, 2015 at 17:51
  • I suspect the answer is 'yes'. But there may be complications and usually are. One would be the precise definition for 'random'. .
    – user20253
    Feb 3, 2020 at 12:28

2 Answers 2


In the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics the answer is no, not all random behavior is uncaused. Stripping out the negatives: we know that some behavior is caused by other effects, but still truly random.

Schroedinger's equation and boundary conditions together constitute a cause, and the results are distributed in a way that is, at some level, truly random. There is an aggregate trend toward a pattern if you have enough different particles involved. But the behavior of an individual particle has only a distribution of possible responses. Its choice among those will not show any pattern that points to a cause.

In a sense that is less tied to interpretation, we have Heisenberg's principle, which implies there is always some level of detail below which you will discern no pattern in any physical interaction. So if you look closely enough, things will meet your definition of random.

And this is even true from a pre-quantum-theory point of view, although it requires a little dancing, including idealized calculations we know we can never do in practice.

Statistical mechanics requires that one should, in principle, always be able to extract the underlying distribution that explains all of the traceable causes in a system. If you subtract that out, the remaining behavior should be random.

The only remaining patterns would be the basic statistical moments resulting from the number of independent agents involved. That means that the behavior of an individual agent would be truly random, if a smallest part could be isolated. Having explained all of its motion does not leave it with no motion, as that is a very distinct pattern, but with random motion.

Since we have traced all of the traceable causes, and we do have faith physical motion has causes, there must always be more causes than we can trace.


Randomness, to my mind, is the objectively random, and an objectively random world is a world without regularity or without reliable regularity. But this does not appear to exclude causation. Suppose every event has a cause but the cause is in every case a singular cause. Without a complete enumeration of singular causes and a knowledge of which singular cause explained/ described which event, we would live in a random (non-predictable) world but not one in which any event was without a cause.

  • As far as I am aware, causation in the philosophy of science pretty much involves something like a possible rule, law, or mechanism in its concept. Otherwise, causation would not be discernible from ad hoc behaviour or mere correlation.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 3, 2020 at 16:01

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