18 Mar Monkeys with Typewriters at the Threshold
Monkeys and Machines
What’s wrong with the random Hamlet? When is the last time you’ve seen monkeys with typewriters? First of all, we must ask if there is anything that is perfectly random. If there is, and it is not influenced by any physical law, then the asymptotic theory of random probability is valid, and we may as well get that monkey to work so we can find out how the story ends. A computer would be a great place to test the random-character generation theory because we can build massively powerful computers today.
If we could approach creating an algorithm that actually had a purely random component to select the next character to spit out, we could test it today. Unfortunately, no one has yet figured out how to make a random anything. there are approximations that seed the random number generator with seemingly unpredictable factors, resulting in something like random. But the fact that the number, even of arbitrary length is a number, makes it NOT RANDOM. If it were truly random, the random number generator would, at some unpredictable point, output a letter, a word, a sentence or the complete text of Hamlet (or a mid-size inhabitable planet). Hence, even the most random of random number generators is quasi-random at best.
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Perhaps there is no such thing as a random. Random theory is philosophically appealing, but the more we find out about the universe and chaos, the more rules we discover, and the more chaos dissipates and resolves into order. I am not a betting man, but I think there are influences in the domains of orthography and character generation, for example, that preclude Gertrude, Ophelia or Hamlet, or any of his friends from coming into existence by accident.
After accidentally typing the first scenes of Hamlet, this ape is thinking over one of the western world’s most oft-quoted soliloquies, contemplating whether a bare bodkin, opposed, is the best instrument with which to make one’s quietus.
Limits to Randomness
The Random Hamlet and Ball and Box theories implicitly assume there is no limit to the application of exponential decreases in likelihood. In other words, no matter how improbable an event is, it is always possible. An empiricist, such as myself, may argue that the law of entropy and thresholds or threshold logic applies. A way of expressing this empirical notion in relation to probability problems is to say that there exists some threshold at which improbability becomes impossibility. Empiricism attempts to define logic and truth in terms of observables. Hence, one may observe that eternity is completely occupied by events which are probable and improbable, and not at all by events which are impossible.
As for the random generation of a correct string of 10,000 characters using 30 or 80 fixed characters, a threshold theory would state this: “As the improbability of correctly generating the next character in the sequence increases, entropy will assert its influence and the random character generator will never exceed a certain threshold of improbability. It will first be overcome by probable events (gibberish).”
Another way of stating this theory is to say that eternity is so occupied with the probable and the slightly to unbelievably improbable, that there is no room for the incalculably improbable. Of course “slightly”, “unbelievably” and “incalculably” are varying degrees of subjective terms. Many empiricists are strong believers in the subjective. In fact, the entire notion of objectivity seems ridiculous in light of what we see with our eyes and know to be true. Even the best machine may not be able to do the impossible.
What is volition? I define it as the application of human cognition to action: you decide, you act – your volition is behind what you did. I think volition is the constraint that destroys the “anything is possible” assumption of random probability. “Four white mice will never become white horses.” I’ll speak more of this in future posts, but my basic proposition is that human inventiveness defies the laws of entropy, and at a certain point in the growing improbability of Act 1, entropy wins, random loses and we cross the threshold of possibility into the realm of impossible. I believe this is true for crafting language (the key point of this blog), including authoring masterworks, and everything else in the real universe. Absent volition, there is no possibility of art or invention.
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