The Infinite Monkey from a Duration of the Universe Perspective (as well as a recent experiment)

Yes, We’ve all heard it and we’ll all hear it again. You know the story- get some monkeys together and give them all some typewriters or some computers and they’ll eventually type out every masterpiece man has ever written (and then some!). Of course, infinite time is given and some people insist upon an infinite amount of monkeys too. It is a nice idea but in reality, this is impossible and I am going to run off a list of the real reasons why this would never happen…

Many attribute the source of the Monkey Myth to Arthur Eddington. He claimed that six monkeys on six typewriters, set to type for the duration of time would eventually produce all the books in the British Museum. It has been stated in many different ways, all with the same intention- Proving that what seems impossible is possible; however, what is Impossible is such for a reason- Because it is.

Firstly, for the sake of this we must make a basic assumption: that reality as we know it will hold for an infinite period of time. (i.e. – the monkey population will never be infinite, a monkey will never be able to type an infinite amount of letters/words per second etc.) These are all distinct components of the world as we perceive it. If you want to debate these statements, try Philosophy.

  • The time span it would take a monkey to type any work is much greater than the duration of the universe. The Universe may never reach a definite end; it may extend onwards forever; however, there is one aspect of physics that scientists are (fairly) certain of. Protons will decay in about 10 to the 25th power years (10^25). There won’t be an monkeys or typewriters if there aren’t any protons to make up the objects. Proton Decay will only be a problem if these monkeys can somehow survive without light. All the stars in the universe will burn out long before they ever get to the stage of proton decay. The Stars will be dead by the time the universe reaches the age of 10^15. (Also known to many as the 15th cosmological decade). This is only a problem if these monkeys can survive the red giant phase of our sun in about five billion years. There are a lot of obstacles between the monkeys and their literary accomplishment; however the remaining 4.5-5 billion years of life on Earth should surely be plenty of time for something of worth to arise…?

    The probability of six monkeys producing a single work within any period of meaningful time is zero. Calculations have shown that it would take six monkeys approximately 500,000 cosmological decades (10^ 500,000) years to produce a single workThose are pretty long odds.

  • Another wrench (maybe a Monkey Wrench) in the cogs of this argument is the fact that Monkeys are not mindless. Monkeys respond to stimuli and can formulate, at the very least, basic ideas. This means that a group of monkeys would never be able to truly achieve a random distribution of letters. When a monkey strikes the keyboard there is not necessarily a 1/26 chance that the monkey will hit that letter.

    The University of Plymouth in England in the Spring of 2003 conducted an experiment on six monkeys where the monkeys were given a computer with which they could mindlessly type; however the results were not mindless- nor anywhere near random. The monkeys demonstrated a fondness for the letter S (which filled most of the pages) and a tendency towards pushing J, A, L, and M towards the end of the four week experiment. This is not a random distribution of letters by any means, nor is it anywhere near close. This experiment proves that a monkey is too intelligent a subject for the infinite time typing. The monkeys noted that when they pushed a key, something happened on the computer screen.

    Time and Intelligence stand as major obstacles to the monkey idea. It is just as likely that you would be able to walk through a wall (a near infinite number of Particles undergoing Quantum Tunneling at the same instant) than a group of monkeys composing a single work of literature.

  • There are other logical impossibilities with this:
    • We would need an infinite amount of paper
    • an infinite amount of ink (and at these prices!)
    • An Infinite amount of typewriter parts (or an adequate supply of nev-R-break typewriters).
    • An infinite amount of either monkeys or time.
    • And even if we did have all these supplies would probably form a ball of mass so great that it would probably degenerate into a black hole and eventually end up crushing all of the monkeys, typewriters and office supplies into an infinitely small and ironic point.

General Wesc who also mentioned the Black Hole Point before me; therefore, the credit belongs to him…
For more on the duration of the universe I recommend “The Five Ages of The Universe” by Fred Adams
More on Quantum Tunneling can be seen in “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene