The following is a post about writing, which, as it turns out, I write about a lot.
In 1913, Emile Borel came up with the idea that if he had an infinite number of monkeys and type-writers at his disposal, typing away into eternity, they would eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare, and probably humanity as a whole. So, let’s unpack this theory.
The monkeys, let’s chose a species and say chimpanzees, because apparently, they’re the smartest, and we’d be able to regulate the outcome. Then let us assume that chimpanzees all type in the same way as is intended, and they don’t just bang away at the keyboard. They press random buttons in series to create symbols on a page. This might be the roots of programming or something like that, who knows? Anyway. The infinite amount of chimpanzees and type-writers typing out symbols in series will eventually create every word, sentence, paragraph and story that has been made and ever will be made by man. Not only that, but the monkeys would mix and match different works of writing. So in those infinite pages, we would find Macbeth attached to a report on dogs playing football in Surrey, or even the works of Darwin prefacing a collection of crude YouTube comments.
Let us go a step further and say that these chimpanzees hold at their fingertips, the power to predict the events and control the behaviour of our society. Since, as we had previously established, they would type out every word that ever was and will be, somewhere along the line we would find every reported even that ever was and will be. You’re still with me, right? Good.
These assumptions and conclusions would lead us to believe that the chimpanzees are prophets, nay, sentient beings. We are at the mercy of their words. They have the ability to type out religious scripts which we would use to justify right and wrongdoings. They would predict the wars we engage in. They would find our cures, bring us to tears, send us to new worlds, give us new legislation and so on and so forth. Does this mean, that you, the budding writer, are no better than some animal tapping away mindlessly at a keyboard? The work that you put tireless effort into, litres of coffee, hours of rumination, could all be typed out by a chimpanzee left to its own devices? For all we know, I am just a chimpanzee, this is just a random process. Or this has already been done by a chimpanzee, and there was no need for this at all.
Let us stray to a different topic, for a moment. Move your mind to the Rubik’s Cube. Invented by Erno Rubik this devilish toy has exactly 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 permutations (that’s forty-three quintillion, two hundred fifty-two quadrillion, three trillion, two hundred seventy-four billion, four hundred eighty-nine million, eight hundred fifty-six thousand.) However, for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to change just one block without changing another. So I cannot have the combination of all sides being perfectly aligned and just two colours out of place. Even if I move the cube an infinite number of times for eternity, I won’t get the result I’m looking for. Though it’s probably just the method I’m using.
Another thought: The Costa Coffee advert. They replace type-writers with coffee-machines. Basically, the ad says that not all coffee is made through luck, it takes time and training to make the perfect cup.
With the Rubik’s dilemma and Costa Coffee’s time and training in mind, we return to our chimpanzees. Let us imagine with hope, that even through infinity, there are some words that just cannot be combined. It’s a stretch, but for the sake of the ego of humankind, an the writer, let’s. The chimpanzees, infinite as they may be, are simply just a program. You, however, are the writer. You put painstaking hours into churning out logical, reasonable, beautiful and moving work. You didn’t just look at the symbols on the keyboard and tap whichever one you felt like tapping. You gave life to a thought that was just swimming around in your mind before.
We are the chimpanzees banging away at the keyboard, and the masters of our own fate. We control our outcomes. We have the power to bring tears and transport our readers to new worlds. So very simple. So very powerful.
This hasn’t cured my Writer’s Block. But it’s a start.