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Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare 
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Post Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
Penn Jillette recently commented that he likes the theory that a monkey and a typewriiter, given an infinite amount of time, would reproduce the entire works of William Shakespeare.

Sorry but that is not correct.

http://wmbriggs.com/post/2409/


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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
stahrwe wrote:
Penn Jillette recently commented that he likes the theory that a monkey and a typewriiter, given an infinite amount of time, would reproduce the entire works of William Shakespeare.

Sorry but that is not correct.


http://wmbriggs.com/post/2409/

I recall a guy in college who was in the relatively new field of computer science making this claim. I wondered if he was saying that monkeys would eventually spew out all the words contained in Shakespeare's plays, and that this production would constitute "the works of Shakespeare." Of course, it wouldn't.



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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
This is a thought experiment to show that even very unlikely events could eventually happen, given enough time. This particular example—a monkey typing all of Shakespeare's works—is theoretically possible, but so improbable that you could say with confidence that it would never happen.

If you added a selective factor into the mix, say a computer that flags every time the monkey accidentally types a word from the English language (including the vernacular used by Shakespeare), you can imagine that eventually all of the words used in Shakespeare's plays would eventually be typed out by our monkey, though obviously not in the correct order.

And that's the obvious takeaway from this little thought experiment, at least in how it applies to evolution. Evolution is guided by various selection pressures that lead to descent with modification over time. Success is anything but random. Therefore, the monkeys-banging-on-typewriters is just not a very good analogy in terms of explaining how evolution actually works.


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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
Years ago, long before Penn Jillette made his pronouncement, I read something similar. Sorry, it has been so long I cannot give a source. The wording as I recall, was as follows: "If you sat an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters for an infinite period of time, one of them would write 'Hamlet'."

The key word is, of course, "infinite."


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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
stahrwe wrote:
Penn Jillette recently commented that he likes the theory that a monkey and a typewriiter, given an infinite amount of time, would reproduce the entire works of William Shakespeare.

Sorry but that is not correct.

http://wmbriggs.com/post/2409/


From the article:
Quote:
Well, it just doesn’t matter. The number 10-12,000,000 is so mind-bogglingly small that it is never going to happen. Even if we let a barrelful of monkeys type 100 characters a second, they are never going to finish.

And so we conclude what we already knew: randomness isn’t enough to make a Shakespeare; something more is needed.

The author is obviously wrong. The notion of the monkeys banging on typewriters is regarding the monkeys banging away for an infinite amount of time. During an infinite amount of time, extraordinarily improbable events will occur and they'll occur an infinite number of times.

Not only would a single monkey using a single typewriter reproduce all the works of Shakespeare, in proper order, eventually, that monkey will also eventually reproduce the entirety of the written works of the entirety of humanity, in chronological order. Yes, it will happen, and it'll happen an infinite number of times.



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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
I read about an attempt to see what happened when monkeys were given typewriters and paper. The monkeys held down one key for extended periods of time, urinated and defecated on the keyboards, and generally used they machines for purposes other than what they were designed for but they did not produce any comprehensible words.

Perhaps this is was a thought experiment but it is essentially flawed. Will the monkeys be provided with new typyewriters/computers? Can they call for a repair under a full service maintenance agreement with an infinite period of performance? If so, who pays for the repairs? Who provides the paper and ribbon or printer ink? Who monitors production to verify that the plays are complete and accurate? The so called thought experiment is a fraudulent attempt to subvert Christian faith by substituting time for God. The perennial canard leveled at religions, "God did it," is hereby replaced by, "Time did it." Given the subjective nature of the discussion, neither claim is valid.


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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
I don't see how this supposed thought experiment is an attack on Christianity. I just see it as a poor thought experiment. First define exactly what product would result eventually given infinite time (I'm not sure we can really even consider infinite monkeys). Is it everything that Shakespeare wrote, including the 154 sonnets, the two long, non-dramatic narrative poems, plus the 37 plays (or is it a couple more or less, due to disputed authorship)? And if all this is the output of the infinite monkeys, does every word appear in sequence, and every sonnet in the correct order? What about the stage directions that might not have been Shakespeare's at all, as well as the names of everyone who is speaking? Which of the four folios would be produced, if we are talking only of the plays? The result of all of this would be infinite garble, not Shakespeare's works. If what we ended up with is simply an enormous cut-and-paste exercise, then clearly the the thought experiment can be judged to have failed.



Last edited by DWill on Tue Oct 10, 2017 2:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
DWill wrote:
Which of the four folios would be produced, if we are talking only of the plays? The result of all of this would be infinite garble, not Shakespeare's works. If what we ended up with is simply an enormous cut-and-paste exercise, then clearly the the thought experiment can be judged to have failed.

As you say, the monkeys-using-typewriters thing is a thought experiment, not a theory. The Wikipedia page describes it as a "theorem" which only means that given certain parameters, we can come up with the probability of a monkey typing out the works of Shakespeare. Given an infinite length of time, it would almost certainly succeed. After all, forever is a long time. (And so is 4.5 billion years by the way.)

First and foremost, the "monkey" is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for a random-generating device, so right away we can dispel the notion of monkeys holding down typewriter keys for long periods of time (or throwing bananas or feces at each other). The idea of actually putting monkeys on typewriters is comical, which is why we see in shows like the Simpsons and Family Guy.

In Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett doesn't talk about monkeys on typewriters, but borrows from Jorge Luis Borges's concept of the library of Babel to illustrate the mathematics of genetic variation. In Borges' short story, the Library of Babel contains all possible 410-page books. (I don't know why he makes it 410 pages). Most of the books in this universe are pure gibberish, but somewhere the library also must contain every coherent book ever written. It's a rather more complicated thought experiment than the monkeys on typewriters.

In Dennett's version, the Library of Mendel (as he calls it) contains hundreds of thousands of copies of Moby Dick, for example, but all but one have errors. Some have only minor typos. Some of these near misses might mess up the famous opening line to something like, "Call me, Ishmael." The comma messes up the meaning of the sentence.

So, yes, I think the original thought experiment is not very useful. Dennett's is much better, but rather too complicated to summarize well.


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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
Perhaps I just have a hard time getting my head around this, believing that no matter how much time is available, the complete works of Shakespeare would be duplicated in both content and form, with all the parts apportioned to the correct speakers, the poems set off line by line, stage directions given, etc. No, I have to stay with my feeling that even infinity can't deliver that product in a random process.

I wonder whether even a single sonnet would result.



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 Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
Recognizing evolution is not based on pure randomness as this thread suggests plus some ideas (I think from Dawkins), we can modify this thought experiment as follows.
Quote:
to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune...

Let's assume the closer a manuscript comes to the above phrase from Shakespeare, the better it will survive in the environment. The monkeys start keypunching, howling, and defecating and one of them eventually types a lower case "t". That is held onto and all other letters are discarded in this environment. Some time later, another monkey types "o" and that is held as many other less survivable attempts are discarded, and now we have "to." Then comes a space and su so we have "to su." And so on. Where beneficial letters are conserved and continue to mutate as genes in the genetic code and are selected for survival in an external environment, not starting with a blank page or gibberish for every keystroke, it's easier to recognize that a large band of monkeys over a long period of time could eventually type out the works of Shakespeare.

In a related matter, consider evolution's typewriter has only four letters, much less complexity than the 26 lower case letters, 26 upper case letters, 10 numbers, plus ~ 15 symbols per keystroke in these thought experiments.

As Einstein might have said, the design of thought experiments is very important. :P



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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
Then could one go over to a shelf and take down this one big volume the monkeys had produced, open it, and read all of the plays, etc.? I don't think so. If just such a volume isn't produced, the works of Shakespeare will not have been duplicated. Or is the claim that over the course of trillions of years, all of the works will be typed out at some point, exactly as Shakespeare wrote them, although there may be sextillions of nonsense keystrokes between the appearance of Sonnet 26 and "Love's Labour's Lost"? I doubt we'd even get "Do Wa Diddy" from the immortal Manfred Mann, using such a process. Other letters and words from everything else ever put in writing by humankind (likely extinct by this point) would keep getting in the way, so that no single literary (or otherwise) work could appear on "the page."



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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
It's hard to wrap one's mind around infinity. It doesn't seem very likely to me either. Whoever first came up with this thought experiment, or whoever was so audacious to want to include all of the works of Shakespeare, was probably being a little overzealous in his desire to prove a point.

Dawkins, in The Blind Watchman, simplifies the thought experiment to the phrase, METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL, and gives the monkey a simpler typewriter that only has 26 keys, all caps. How long would it take the monkey to write this one little sentence? Dawkins wrote a computer program to do the work of the monkey, and it takes about a half an hour. But add another sentence to the equation, and I would guess it would take considerably longer. An entire work of Shakespeare would seem highly improbable even under these simplified conditions, but Dawkins' point is only that "the preservation of small changes in an evolving string of characters (or genes) can produce meaningful combinations in a relatively short time as long as there is some mechanism to select cumulative changes."

(Emphasis mine.) Aha! And there's the rub! It needs a mechanism to select cumulative changes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_program

The problem with the weasel program, as Dawkins acknowledges, is that it sets out with a pre-determined goal. Evolution has no goal in "mind." Each step of the selection process must contribute to the organism's survival or, at least, not be too deleterious. The baby steps on the way to evolving a wing, for example, (and flight was never the goal because there was no ultimate goal) must make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. As Dennet discusses in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, many adaptations in biology are exapted (Gould's term) for other purposes, just as a spandrel in architecture has been exapted for other purposes. There are many examples of this in the fossil record and with extant species as well. What good is a half a wing? you may ask.

https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/art ... cology-and


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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
I'm totally hung up on the literal ramifications of this thought experiment. But it seems to me that any experiment is an exercise in literalism. I'm assuming that Dawkins replaces the monkey with a computer program for the sake of efficiency and speed, but does he preserve total randomness? Does the computer program, unlike the monkey, know English syntax, e.g.?

In terms of the thought experiment, presumably the selection would be done by a human looking over the monkey's shoulder. The human would be needed to recognize that in the randomness of these miles of print-outs, Shakespeare's works are embedded. Of course, every other work known to exist, as well as a few centuries of newspaper stories, etc., would be there, too (again, presumably), and in every language. There was no goal in the monkey/computer mind to get to Shakespeare's works in the first place. So selection would actually seem to be impossible.



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Post Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
stahrwe wrote:
Perhaps this is was a thought experiment but it is essentially flawed. Will the monkeys be provided with new typyewriters/computers? Can they call for a repair under a full service maintenance agreement with an infinite period of performance? If so, who pays for the repairs? Who provides the paper and ribbon or printer ink? Who monitors production to verify that the plays are complete and accurate? The so called thought experiment is a fraudulent attempt to subvert Christian faith by substituting time for God. The perennial canard leveled at religions, "God did it," is hereby replaced by, "Time did it." Given the subjective nature of the discussion, neither claim is valid.

?????

Judging by this post, it looks a lot like your opening post was actually unrelated to the monkeys+typewriter=Shakespeare thought experiment. You were actually talking about Christianity, somehow.

And: the monkeys+typewriter=Shakespeare thought experiment is just that -- a thought experiment. If you want, we can just invent some magical typewriters that never need repairs and monkeys that would prefer to poke their fingers on the keys rather than break them or poo on them. It's a thought experiment. It takes place in a make-believe universe that mirrors our own in very minor ways that we care about. I don't understand why it's necessary for me to explain this.



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 Re: Randomness isn't enough to make a Shakespeare
Many in this thread have forgotten that Stahrwe proved infinity = -1/12. A -1/12 number of monkeys couldn't even snap one keystroke in -1/12 period of time, therefore the whole experiment is ridiculous.


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