Reality Conditions

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Monkeys on Typewriters!

You probably have all heard once or another the statement that an large number of monkeys typing randomly would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. Yesterday for some reason I started wondering about the origin of this statement; I had a vague idea that it was Arthur Stanley Eddington. Looking into Wikipedia, however, I found out that the original quote is from Emile Borel. Eddington repeated the image a few years later and probably contributed to its popularity, although he used "all the books in the British Museum" instead of the works of Shakespeare.

But I wouldn't be writing this post if I hadn't found something more interesting at the Wikipedia article -the experiment has been actually tried! In 2003, at the Paignton Zoo in England. The results after one month of leaving a computer inside the monkeys' cage were not encouraging:


At first, said Phillips, "the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it.

"Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard," added Phillips, who runs the university's Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies.

Eventually, monkeys Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S.

If anything, this proves that 1 Month is much less than Infinity. Perhaps with some more time they would have reached the level of It was the blurst of times....".

You can read the PDF for the full text created by the monkeys here. Photos of the authors are included

3 Comments:

  • The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator is currently up to the first 24 letters of Henry IV, part 2.

    I'm glad Wikipedia deals with the "infinite monkeys typing into infinity" fallacy... if you have infinite monkeys, they're already typing "Hamlet." (And The Da Vinci Code, and Flowers in the Attic, and "Hamlet" in Flemish, and a version of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" where the gentlemen are actually pigs, and...)

    By Blogger Jess, at 7:50 PM, May 04, 2006  

  • >>> "And The Da Vinci Code, and Flowers in the Attic, and "Hamlet" in Flemish, and a version of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" where the gentlemen are actually pigs, and..."

    In other words, they would have already typed the whole of The Library of Babel.

    Thanks for the link! It's a pity that the Simulator is not working anymore.

    By Anonymous Alejandro, at 9:15 PM, May 04, 2006  

  • It is long after the original post, but I thought I'd share some further musings about the monkeys and typewriters...

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/09/monkeys-and-typewriters-on-edge-of.html

    By Blogger James F. McGrath, at 5:00 PM, September 25, 2007  

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