When Monkeys Start Typing

by Chaitanya Charan dasDecember 20, 2011

Typists all over the world, beware. Your jobs are in danger. You have competition….from monkeys. That’s what the atheists would have us believe – at least those atheists who advocate the chance theory.

Chance is a popular word today in the world of science. And why not? It is the one- word answer to all the questions that atheists always found very disconcerting. How did the incredibly vast universe with all its mind-boggling order come about? How did the atom with its intricate design come? Even the tiniest cell is far more complex than the biggest factory on earth. How in the wide world did it come from simple starting elements? Pat comes the reply to all these questions, with a triumphant smile, “Chance!”

The Big Dogma

That there is absolutely no empiric evidence for anything ever having come by chance doesn’t really matter. In the religion of atheism, there is one unspoken dogma which practically everyone agrees upon: any theory, no matter how coherent and systematic, is unacceptable and ‘unscientific’ if it brings an ultimate creator into the picture. And conversely, any theory, no matter how improbable and untenable, is joyfully embraced if it helps in pushing God out. This pseudo-scientific mentality is typified by the following statement of William Bonner (pg 119, Mystery of Expanding Universe), “It is the business of science to offer rational explanations for all events in the real world, and any scientist who calls on God to explain something is failing in his job. This is one piece of dogmatism that a scientist can allow himself.”

No wonder then that the chance theory has found many adherents in spite of the absence of even scanty evidence. For a mind programmed since birth to think in a mechanistic (read ‘atheistic’) way, ‘chance’ is a far more comforting word to hear than ‘God’ as the ultimate causative principle.

The Monkey Typist

Now let us consider whether the chance theory is possible even in principle.

In the words of the eighteenth century atheistic philosophers Denis Diderot and David Hume: given infinite time, nature would by chance alone eventually hit on the order that we see around us. A modern version of this theory takes the form of an analogy (first introduced by Eddington): A monkey, if given infinite time, can by itself type the works of Shakespeare. To gullible minds, this analogy appears plausible – especially because the time scale involved makes it impossible to verify empirically.

The Probability

Let’s first consider the mathematical probability of the monkey successfully typing at least one of Shakespeare’s work, say Hamlet.

Ignoring punctuation, spacing, and capitalization, a monkey typing letters uniformly at random has a chance of one in 26 of correctly typing the first letter of Hamlet. It has a chance of one in 676 (26 × 26) of typing the first two letters. Because the probability shrinks exponentially, at 20 letters it already has only a chance of one in 2620 = 19,928,148,895,209,409,152,340,197,376 (almost 2 x 1028). In the case of the entire text of Hamlet, the probabilities are so vanishingly small they can barely be conceived in human terms. Say the text of Hamlet contains 130,000 letters (it is actually more, even stripped of punctuation), then there is a probability of one in 3.4 × 10183,946 to get the text right at the first trial. The average number of letters that needs to be typed until the text appears is also 3.4 × 10183,946.

Even if the observable universe were filled with monkeys typing for all time, their total probability to produce a single instance of Hamlet would still be less than one in 10183,800. As physicists Charles Kittel and Herbert Kroemer put it in their book Thermal Physics, “The probability of Hamlet is therefore zero in any operational sense of an event…”, and the statement that the monkeys must eventually succeed “gives a misleading conclusion about very, very large numbers.”

Common Sense Analysis

In addition to the mathematics, let’s do some common sense analysis of the monkey’s typing adventures. Suppose that you are told to supervise the monkey and suppose you and the monkey are told to work in 8-hour shifts.

Day 1. Both you and the monkey arrive on time and the monkey sits dutifully in front of the typewriter and starts typing (Thank goodness!) After 1 hour, what will you see? Some gibberish. Maybe 1 small word here or there. And at end of the day? Several pages of meaningless typed characters. You may find a few meaningful words – but only with great difficulty. (It is after all too much to expect the monkey to press a spacebar exactly after a meaningful word is completed!)

Day 2. Again the monkey sits down diligently and you sit behind him and he starts playing. Eight hours later, you are again looking at several printed pages struggling to find even a few meaningful words somewhere.

Day 10. “History repeats itself” You begin to realize that whoever said that knew what he was speaking about. The search for meaningful words in streams and streams of meaningless texts is getting on your nerves.

Day 100. It is obvious to you by now that what you are looking for is never to be found. Whether it is day 10^0 or 10^2 or 10^1,000 or 10^100000……00000…, it really doesn’t matter. The result of the monkey’ typing is always going to be the same – nonsense. He is not going to learn by experience!

Now let’s assume that the monkey starts working in 24 hour shifts (We won’t ask you to supervise, don’t worry!) Still that is not going to make any difference. A 24 hour shift is just like three 8-hour shifts with no break in between. So just as three 8-hour shifts don’t give any fruitful results, one 24-hour shift will similarly bear no fruit. And just as 8-hour shifts repeated 10^1000….. times don’t lead to any coherent text, neither will 24 hour shifts repeated 10^1000….. times.

The point is that the probability of a monkey typing out all the works of Shakespeare, if given millions of years, is not an infinitesimally small number; it is zero. No matter how many millions, billion, quadrillions or whatever number of years are given to the monkey (assuming he lives that long!), still the probability always remains zero.

Thus even in principle randomness does not produce order on any appreciable scale, irrespective of the time given.

 The Experiment

“Even if we can’t figure out in principle how a monkey can type the Hamlet, maybe it can somehow type it in practice,” some diehard atheists may argue like this. Let’s see what happened in a real monkey typing experiment.

In 2003, lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth MediaLab Arts course used a £2,000 grant from the Arts Council to study the literary output of real monkeys. They left a computer keyboard in the enclosure of six Celebes Crested Macaques in Paignton Zoo in Devon in England for a month, with a radio link to broadcast the results on a website. One researcher, Mike Phillips, defended the expenditure as being cheaper than reality TV and still “very stimulating and fascinating viewing”

Not only did the monkeys produce nothing but five pages consisting largely of the letter S, the lead male began by bashing the keyboard with a stone, and the monkeys continued by urinating and defecating on it. The zoo’s scientific officer remarked that the experiment had “little scientific value, except to show that the ‘infinite monkey’ theory is flawed”.

False Alarm

Simple common sense, isn’t it? But it seems common sense is not so common, especially among atheists.

So typists, sorry for the false alarm. But don’t blame us; we didn’t set it on; rather we are setting it off.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan das

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