View or add comments on this story
GAF;LK SFDL Q[BMSDF. SKITL DIP DOP.Vksbrug veeksburp pippop nipnap slp slop klincksnain klinksnoon nib inb gib gibn gibris blip giberis... gibberish.
For the most part, that should have been the way the monkeys workel - ah - worked. But it wasn't always so. According to the story "Inflexible Logic" by Russell Maloney (New Yorker Magazine, 1940) reprinted in Clifton Fadiman's entertaining anthology "Fantasia Mathematica" the half dozen (not infinite number) monkeys, although given infinity to accomplish their feat, went ahead, and, pounding the keyboard at random (as the average primate would be prone to do), typed out, perfectly, many of the world's great works - at the outset of their task!
The expectation had been that, given infinity, the monkeys would strike all the possible letter and word combinations - eventually. But, that should have taken some time. The experimenters were not unprepared to go through reams of nonsense before encountering even a semblance of a reasonable series of words, not to say a complete sentence. What did in fact occur by Mr. Maloney's account, however, was something altogether different, though not contrary to strict logic. The sensible letter combinations, the perfect word constructions simply were struck before the imperfect, nonsensical ones.
In view of the fact that the entire exercise was based on random pounding and not learning experience of any kind, the reversal of expectations is no less probable or logical than thinking the monkeys could produce, or reproduce, a great work after billions of years! A coin flipped enough times will eventually fall on its side - but the odds of its doing so are the same for each flip. The coin might fall on its side on the fiftieth or the first flip. The odds are the same, however great. And, should the coin fall on its side the first flip, the odds of the coin falling on its side the second flip are not decreased. The slate is wiped clean. It could fall on its side again! Odds won't change simply because of what just happened.
In Maloney's story a frustrated and confounded mathematician shoots the prolific monkey before he can continue producing classic after infallible classic. I propose this is not really what transpired. The true account of just what occurred has been kept from the public record long enough!
Chimpanzee F, Dinty, did manage to finish Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, as did his fellow typists in time (with the help of their extensive line of progeny who took up the job when their elders were too old and exhausted) finish all the great and not so great works of literature. These facts were kept secret partially because of the incredulous nature of the public and indeed the incredible nature of the material concerned. Of course, an additional factor may have been the somewhat unscientific and rather whimsical hypothesis upon which the entire business was conducted. The most critical basis, however, for withholding the experiment's results lay in the shocking series of events which developed as time passed - as the chimpanzees continued in their feverish work.
It does seem pointless to speculate; still, it may have been a strange genetic propensity the younger chimps inherited from their parents; perhaps a metaphysical perception capable of closing out the real world (or this one, anyway) of random occurrences. It might have been that without knowing why (based on pragmatic experience and information) the primates were able, by some unknown system of guidance, always and without fail, to make correct decisions; not unlike some foolish and carefree people who are undeniably, continually, what we call "lucky." For no apparent reason, these lucky people are perpetually at the right places and the right times, and through no homework of their own always seem to make the right moves. These people invariably show up, just in time to catch what turns out to be an uncrowded flight without at all having checked schedules beforehand. It never rains on their vacations. They wander, naively, into the finest restaurants and hotels without having extended the least effort at research or query. Whatever guides them through their infallible, although apparently random, meandering, we call "luck!" Could that same guidance, in stronger concentration, have been responsible for what the monkeys were performing?
Whatever may have been responsible, the monkeys' accomplishments surpassed all expectations. After their having typed out all the great works which had already been written, they proceeded to write the great works which had not yet been written. At first, understandably, we had some difficulty discerning exactly what was happening. Our literary team no longer recognized the manuscript pages turned out by the chimps but could see they did not comprise gibberish by any means. It became evident, after extensive research, that the little devils had exhausted all of the great letter and word combinations which had at one time or another been set down on paper by the masters. They were now producing the remaining combinations - yet to be created!
The books were marvelous. It was easy to see they were all destined to become future sensations. Neither was it long before our convictions were borne out. Not one week after Ezra (Dinty's son) had completed his first in this new series of yet to be written classics, did the volume receive its rave notice on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. The author was a Russian who had been working on the epic for months. Naturally, he had had no communication with the monkey, and Ezra certainly knew nothing of the Russian (short of writing the man's book!)
Lord knows how we might have capitalized on this turn of events, but as scientists, dedicated only to purposes of our own, however abstract and pointless, the information now at our disposal was put to no bad or dubious use. The new manuscripts were simply catalogued and filed away with the older ones. Yesterday's events, however, may have to change all of that.
Since the original group of simians had completed the written great works, many years had passed. As the newer crews fervently pressed on with their continuing task, the chimps ate, slept, took in a fair share of frolic and also multiplied. The ensuing generations assumed their turns at the typewriters (now computer keyboards), where their ancestors had left off, and manuscripts filled our files and rooms. Not too many more years passed.
Yesterday Ezra's daughter Lena had just finished a most beautiful novel, which, I must confess, we had not read in its entirety, when she inserted a new page into the typewriter she preferred using. No sooner had she underscored the new title and written a half dozen lines, before she stopped in the midst of a sentence. She removed the paper, laid it aside, inserted a fresh page, and began an entirely new piece.
The monitor, without waiting to see what was to follow, sought me out to report the incident just as he had witnessed it. I rushed to the scene, understandably disturbed, thinking it was finally over. The miracle had apparently, at long last, run its odd course. But this was not so!
One glance over her shoulder and I could see what Lena was now writing was making perfect sense. Yet - how to account for the one discarded page? I lifted it from where Lena had placed it and all became terrifyingly clear. The discarded page read: CHRONICLE OF THE PLANET'S LAST DAYS. There was no author. It went on: "There will doubtless be a shortage of time today, certainly tomorrow, to tell all. Still, an attempt must be made to record at least these last hours here. The chaos and devastation we have all brought down on ourselves for the past several days, ironically, six, may well culminate so we shall all rest on the seventh. As I set this down I have just witnessed a blinding flash to the east - and another to the nor-"
There it finished. Lena had pulled the page from her machine and had placed it atop the pile of already finished manuscripts. The words were apparently to be the last ever written on Earth. But now, the completion of the circle which was to comprise our creations was just beginning. The monkeys, you see, had already typed all those great works WRITTEN, and those that have yet TO BE WRITTEN. Now, Lena had before her, page one of all the great works which will, alas, NEVER BE WRITTEN.
I looked, once more, over the chimpanzee's stooped shoulder. She had already begun typing the book's title: PLANET OF PEACE.
View or add comments on this story
Back to top
Back to list of stories