Sunday, October 04, 2009

What Part Of Infinite Gave Them Trouble?

This article on the value (or lack thereof) of “frivolous” research starts out with the example of whether monkeys can write Shakespeare.  The answer is no, they just basically poop on typewriter, though they did tend toward a fondness for the letter S.  This cost a month of research to find out.

The thing that bugs me most about this is that it is the definition of frivolous.  Which researcher misunderstands the concept of infinite?

It is NOT an experiment in the intelligence of monkeys.  It is a statement of statistical probability at infinite scales.  The question was never *can* they, it was always *would* they.  Because theoretically the answer is yes.  Quick reasoning : Have you typed the complete works of Shakespeare yet?  No?  Then keep typing.  Repeat until you do.

The problem is that, realistically, you end up with a more meaningful answer like “It would take greater than the age of the universe to even get through one play.”  So while it might be a true statement, it is a uselessly true one.

On a different note, I’ve lost track the different ways I hear the theorem quoted.  One monkey, infinite typewriters.  A thousand monkeys, a million monkeys.  “Now that we have the Internet we know this to not be true.”  haha.  Insert “twitter” for “internet” and haha again.

My favorite?

If you locked William Shakespeare in a room with a typewriter for a long enough period of time, eventually he would type the complete works of The Monkees.

Update :  Speaking of monkeys, Savage Chickens chimes in today with a particularly relevant comic :)

1 comment:

CSmith said...

However, in the David Ives short play 'Words, Words, Words' this theorem is examined rather more hilariously (and without wasting time, money, or monkeys),_Words,_Words