zaterdag, mei 10, 2003

No Shakespeares, But Perhaps A Jay McInerney In The Bunch

The old theory that if you got together an infinite number of monkeys typing at random eventually they could produce the entire works of Shakespeare has finally been, to some degree, disproven.

Researchers at Plymouth University in England left a computer in the monkey enclosure at the Paignton Zoo for six Sulawesi crested macaques, Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan, for one month, to test out the theory. Instead of Shakespeare, they eventually produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in.

"They pressed a lot of S's," researcher Mike Phillips said yesterday. "Obviously, English isn't their first language." At first, said Phillips, "the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it."

"Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard," added Phillips, who runs the university's Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies.

The notion that monkeys typing at random will eventually produce literature is often attributed to Thomas Huxley, a 19th-century scientist who supported Charles Darwin's theories of evolution. (Hyperlink added for the sake of the creationists reading this blog). Mathematicians have also used it to illustrate concepts of chance.

Now that the monkeys have mastered the letters S, A, J, L and M, can another Story of My Life be far behind? After all, Phillips said the experiment showed that monkeys "are not random generators; they're more complex than that. They were quite interested in the screen, and they saw that when they typed a letter, something happened. There was a level of intention there." That's probably more than you can say for Jay McInerney's recent works.

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