The Nooks could perform scientific experiments to better understand the physical laws of Altera. Some laws would be easier to understand than others. They could learn when certain actions would be “allowed.” Perhaps, if all of the Nooks in the universe collaborated together, they could somehow deduce the equation for the pseudo random number generator that governs food placement.
Well before they developed conciousness, their minds would evolve to account for the physical laws of their universe. Thus in a sense they would “know” the physical laws without consciously knowing them. In the same way that insects have evolved to account for gravity despite not being aware of knowing the physical laws of gravity.
Perhaps the early concious Nooks would form some sort of religion to explain their existence. It seems likely that food, and its random placement, would be central to their early religions.