Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Infinite Monkeys

What astounding beings we are.

They say that if you closet a roomful of monkeys with typewriters, the Universe will end before they turn out the works of Shakespeare. Seems possible (although I prefer to think they would evolve into an entirely different species, creating works of art that even old Bill would acknowledge to be far superior to his own long before then).

Let’s say though, for the argument, that these unchanging monkeys will stay sitting at those typewriters turning out pages of random strings of letters for eternity. I’m curious, what could we expect?

Contemplating these questions, I turned to the Wikipedia entry titled “Infinite Monkey Theorem,” located here. The following statement sums it up: “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 10 to the 183,800th power.” [As a side note, they say the entire number of particles in the observable universe is only 10 to the 80th power. It’s not looking good for our monkeys.] “As Kittel and Kroemer [respected textbook authors] put it, ‘The probability of Hamlet is therefore zero in any operational sense of an event…’.”

And there we have it. 100 Billion Galaxies, each filled with trillions of trillions of monkeys, and they still have an unimaginably small chance of producing even one of Will's works before the end of the universe. And yet he – one man – produced so much that we value. The crux of this whole discussion, what is unsayable through mathematics, is that there is something special and unique about Shakespeare not present in random typistry. The unstated understanding is that William Shakespeare’s work has more worth than reams of randomness produced by any number of means.

It is what Pirsig was talking about with his elevation of Quality. It's near the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography. For the fact is our language begins to break down when we try to define or explain just what it is that we humans are so busy doing. Some call this the Age of Information. Others are excited about Chaos Theory, Quantum Theory, String Theory, System Dynamics, Art, Literature, Mathematics or Cave Paintings. At heart, it’s largely about creating meaning from existence.

The way things are seems to have produced a process for creating sense from senselessness, order from randomness, existence from potential, complexity from simplicity. We can ask the question: “What is?” and expect it to mean something to someone else (whatever that means). We can define and redefine our words in the attempt to reach some feeling of shared understanding. We can draw upon religious traditions of source, oneness and God, or scientific traditions of evolution, inheritance and mirror neurons to evoke connection and wonder. And we can look within ourselves to experience a sense of awareness.

And now, just for fun - and because I have the will to write it, for a moment of metaphysics. Dickens said “There either is, or is not, a way things are.” Descartes said “I think therefore I am.” And Socrates was famous for saying “I know nothing.” If time moves only forward, toward the future, these statements seem to show us coming from somewhere, going to something. If time moves in more than one direction, we might question whose statement is the more relevant. If time also moves backward, how would a being living in that view of reality experience humanity? Were we to step outside of everything we know, and experience the whole of human history – the entire rich variety of the earth, from a completely novel perspective, what would be worth knowing? What would we want to learn? What would we want to see, or experience? How would we want to be connected, and to whom? Would there be any meaning to asking about a point to it all? What would we believe? How expanded could our minds become before they lost all sense of what it was to be ourselves?

These may be interesting questions to some, but others may fairly ask “What meaning is there in any of this?” A good question as well. If it is true, as someone I once read stated, that the meaning of a communication is the action it elicits. What action is elicited by questions we are unable to answer? What meaning is communicated within questions that elicit contemplation? What is the meaning of stillness?

Enough of that.

At the heart of it all, some believe we are a pattern of communication, arranged in such a way as to produce order from chaos. And that which is repeated, remembered, or produces change, has meaning. What do you think of that?

There is in any human endeavor, a sense of quality. It is why we shower and comb our hair before going to watch Shakespeare. Why we buy air mattresses and enjoy floating on a lake. Why we look to reconnect with friends. We have preferences, and our preferences lead us to create a society that has roads that are concrete rather than gravel. To have fast food restaurants for those who value quickness and cheapness and gourmet restaurants for those who value presentation, preparation and status. We have boats for recreation, line caught salmon for sustainability, parks for enjoying our leisure and hundreds of brands of clothing for expressing our uniqueness.

All of these things express some aspect of what it is to be human. We are fortunate in American society that the vast majority of us have our most basic needs met. Almost everyone has enough food to eat. Most (although certainly not all) enjoy shelter from the cold and the heat.

And so I feel fortunate to be able to think and write and discuss with you about the desire to be loved and accepted, to have the esteem of colleagues and friends, to be creatively challenged in our work, to experience quality. To question what it is to be beyond the question of what it is to survive.

We seek to increase the quality of our lives – however we define it. That quality fascinates me, causes me joy and invites me to wonder. Expressing that is also something I enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment

One purpose of this blog is to connect with people. If you are commenting because the post has connected with you or if you want to debate or question the ideas contained, thanks and welcome.