Humans have a rocky relationship with randomness. On the one hand, we declarethat "shit happens"--an acknowledgment that bad things sometimes occur for no particular reason. But more often than not, our minds resist randomness, searching for meaning even where none exists.
When University of Tennessee psychologists gave students random, computer-generated analogies, the undergraduates had little trouble coming up with the "logic" behind nonsensical phrases like, Horse is to time as stone is to book. However far-fetched their interpretations, the students nonetheless seemed to believe that their explanations were reasonable, reports Michael G. Johnson, Ph.D.
"One of the basic human characteristics is to try to search for meaning," Johnson says. "We use whatever means are available to us to explain randomly occurring events." That's why we often interpret chance happenings as signs from God, or credit our "lucky socks" for a successful night of poker. Or we say a player is on a hot streak if he scores a dozen baskets in a row, when in fact a run of success (or a run of failure) may be due simply to chance.