How Many Monkeys…? an article by: GF Willmetts.

There is an old adage that states if you have an infinite number of chimpanzees on typewriters for an infinite length of time, it is possible for them to type the complete works of Shakespeare. However, this concept has several flaws. For one, it assumes chimpanzees can remain focused on the task without breaks for meals, rest, or reproduction to maintain their infinite numbers.

Let’s break down the mathematics of this idea. There are 26 letters, 10 numbers, at least 4 punctuation marks, and a space button, totaling 41 options. The number of combinations using factorial 41 is 3.3452527 x 10^49, a massive figure that increases exponentially when considering Shakespeare’s 30,000-word vocabulary. The probability of generating just one of his works becomes astronomically small, let alone his complete collection. Infinity may not be long enough to accomplish this feat.

Moreover, who would check the progress of these chimpanzees? Could they develop empathy to know when a typed word is correct? It’s possible that they could shorten the required time by discarding incorrect pages, but the task would still be immensely time-consuming.

Over an infinite period, these primates might evolve, potentially learning to write specific words, read in their downtime, and even develop their own playwrights. This could decrease the time needed to create Shakespearean works, but it would still be an arduous process.

Another factor to consider is finger memory. If chimpanzees could learn to type simple words using muscle memory, the odds of generating correct spellings would improve. Nowadays, they would likely use computers instead of typewriters, making proof-checking easier and saving resources.

One option might be to provide the chimpanzees with the plot of a Shakespeare play as a starting point. However, even human authors would struggle to recreate a Shakespeare play perfectly from just a plot outline. Plagiarism aside, the task of replicating the plays with perfect grammar and spelling would remain challenging.

Ultimately, the idea of infinite chimpanzees typing the complete works of Shakespeare is an exercise in futility. It is more intriguing to consider how long it would take an infinite number of chimpanzees to write a best-selling novel. Perhaps the time required would be comparable to that of human writers, but the question remains a fascinating thought experiment.

© GF Willmetts 2023

All rights reserved

Ask before borrowing

Especially if you’re a primate

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.