‘Randonauts’ have found a great way to spice up lockdown walks

Google / WIRED

If you’ve got a smartphone and access to the internet, you have everything you need to start your journey as a randonaut.

Randonauting is using a random number generator to produce specific coordinates within a set radius of your current location that you can travel to as a way of exploring the world around you. People gather these coordinates through a dedicated app, Randonautica, where they can further define what they want to encounter.

The app encourages users to set a personal intention before visiting a location, in the hopes of uncovering ‘synchronicities,’ coincidences or occurrences outside usual patterns of experience. These experiences are then documented on the community’s various online forums.

For example, one person set out with the intention of ‘seeing something unexplainable’ and stumbled across an empty armchair in a field, while another asked for guidance and ended up at an abandoned mirror telling them IT IS YOUR TIME.

While randonauting has been gaining momentum in various corners of the internet since the app launched earlier this year, it’s received a notable surge since people have been placed in lockdown. Over the last week alone the Randonautica app has gone down multiple times after being “hammered with traffic,” and the subreddit is flooded with stories posted by those trying it in their local area for the first time.

On TikTok, where the movement is also gaining huge momentum, the randonauting hashtag currently stands at 6.5M views, followed by #randonautchallenge which has 4.3M. As Lengfelder says, “randonauting while social distancing is one of the only activities you can really do safely during the pandemic. People are ready to get out to explore and experience the world after being trapped in their houses for so long.”

“There are two main parts to randonauting,” says Joshua Lengfelder (or “Comrade” to those in the community), who founded and is currently spearheading the randonauting movement. “Exploring blind-spots or places nearby that are outside of your conscious awareness, and experimenting with mind-machine interaction; the hypothesis that consciousness can influence the distribution of random numbers.”

Lengfelder decided to bring randonauting to the masses after generating his own random coordinates with the intention of “spawning emergent connections”. On arrival, he found a sign that read ‘Garden of Inspiration’ in a Dallas, Texas graveyard.

For many, the appeal of randonauting comes with the opportunity to encounter coincidences and patterns that provide a deeper meaning or insight into real-life events and dilemmas. Instead of a standard random number generator, which can never be totally random, the Randonautica app uses quantum random number generators, including the Australian National University Quantum Random Numbers Server. The numbers themselves are generated in real-time in the lab “by measuring the quantum fluctuations of the vacuum,” and it’s that quantum mechanic that makes them, theoretically, truly random.

The makers of the app believe that human intentions can influence the output of the quantum random number generator (QRNG). “It’s only recently that we have, as a society, understood the maths behind extracting and amplifying the output of QRNGs to get meaningful insights about our world,” Lengfelder says. He likens it to playing a board game, where complex mechanics are connected to random number outputs like a dice but, despite that, you never doubt your ability to somehow influence or roll the exact combination needed to continue playing.

Magda Osman is an associate professor of experimental psychology and author of Future-Minded: The Psychology of Agency and Control. For her, finding patterns in the noise is key to human survival, so the rise in randonauting makes sense. “That’s what arms us to navigate the world,” she says. “If all actions you take had completely unpredictable outcomes every single time you did them you would go mad. That’s how fundamental they are.”

For psychiatrist Bernard Beitman, coincidence has been a lifelong passion. He’s the first psychiatrist since Carl Jung to attempt to systematise the study of coincidence, and has been collecting them via his website since 2006. As well as agreeing that coincidences are integral to survival, he feels they are particularly prevalent as a result of the pandemic – we’re more likely to notice them during turbulent times. “Coincidences happen [frequently] and there are lots of latent coincidences we don’t see,” he says. “Now, because everyone is alert, they’re looking for clues to tell them what’s going on. People want to have something to explain it, they want stimulation, and they want to understand this.”

For Osman, the rise in coincidence while randonauting is more practical. “Randonauting is saying ‘I submit to random stuff’. You’re creating some randomness but also not at all. You’re constraining the path you take [to get to your location] and what you decide to pay attention to is not random. Some things will stand out as more salient than others. Your prior experience of the world is shaping the way you navigate the environment you’re looking at.”

Coincidence aside, randonauting comes with other, more general benefits useful when caught in the grips of a pandemic. Lengfelder explains it can be a tool harnessed to make you “more aware of the world around you,” and indeed, posts on forums typically describe people stumbling across something in their hometowns they’ve passed countless times before but never noticed. “By venturing into the unknown, you train your brain to deal with uncertainty,” he continues. “Randonauting also increases perceptual awareness, attention, and learning ability. It can help establish new loops and behaviours, opening new potential choices and possibilities.”

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