notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Infinite Monkey Theorem

I think just about all of us are familiar with the Infinite Monkey Theorem:

Given an infinite amount of time, a monkey randomly hitting the keys on a typewriter would eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare.

Blows my mind.

However.

What is more astounding astounding to me than an accidental but accurately typed copy of Hamlet is the fact that new stories are written every day.

Human literature seems to be wrapped around just a few themes:

  • Pursuit of Love
  • Coming of Age
  • Violence
  • Mystery

So with just a few universal themes, how is it we haven’t run out of ideas? Hasn’t every story already been told?

But no. There are new stories all the time. It amazes me. This year I have read stories about a scientist with Asperger’s seeking a wife, little girls watching their adored detective father fall apart as he fails to stop a serial killer, a chick-lit tale of a young woman trying to be braver, a reclusive writer in financial straits needing to write another novel, a man going back in time to stop the JFK assassination,rich millennials finding happiness despite their millions, a magician’s widow dealing with loss and secrets – and of course, numerous other love stories and self-help books about aging and fulfillment.

And there are new stories every day – my bookcase is full, and my Kindle should weigh 500 lbs with the unread books stored there. And there is the wonderful library. And stories online. And movies.

Are the best stories already written? Will something even more wondrous show up next year?

At what point in time will we have typed every possible combination of words? Sure, there are lots of books that are mediocre and derivative. But look how many have merit. It is more surprising to me that anyone can still write an original phrase than a monkey who can type Shakespeare.

And music is even more incredible to me. There are over 1 million words in the English language. But musical notes are limited. Yet people still write songs. How in the world have we not exhausted every possible melody?

Just this morning I heard a lovely new song on the radio. As it ended, I wondered: “Why didn’t someone write that song 100 years ago? Or 1,000 years ago? How did such a sweet tune go unnoticed until this particular songwriter discovered it?”

The human mind is crazy brilliant.

But it does leave me asking still one more question.

The Library of Congress contains 38 million books. Let’s say that half of them are either translations of the same books into other languages – or just plain pretty boring. That leaves 19 million pretty good stories. So why are all television shows the same?

 

monkeytheorem

 

24 Comments

  1. And the movies. All they make are remakes! (Did they really need to do a new Odd Couple? Jeez)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It begs the question – from where does inspiration come, anyway? You’ve heard the story of multiple people from far away composing the same new melody in similar time periods and blaming each other for stealing it?

    Like

    • I would not be surprised that would happen. Elizabeth Gilbert told the story in “Big Magic” of struggling with an idea for a novel about the Amazon jungle. She had some very crazy specific plot ideas. Then she met Ann Patchett and found that she was working on the very same crazy plot. Gilbert thinks that the idea was in the universe floating around waiting for a taker. Patchett was more ready at the time and wrote the book, “State of Wonder.” Gilbert relinquished the idea that just wouldn’t take hold.

      Like

  3. Ray G

    To answer your last question: The average TV writer is less smart than the average monkey.
    And I have a query: was the “a man going back in time to stop the JFK assassination” story anything to do with your lesser obsession?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, of course. The book is “11-22-63” by Stephen King. I don’t usually read King because I am really nightmare prone, but this book was un-put-down-able.

      Like

  4. Would you please share the title of the book in which the little girls and their detective-father, and the reclusive write who needs to write another novel?? Sound wonderful!
    Thank you!

    Like

    • “After Her” by Joyce Maynard is the book about the little girls with their detective father. The reclusive writer novel is “Be Frank With Me” by Julia Claiborne Johnson. I liked both very much.

      Like

  5. There are NO new stories. Sigh. Just new voices telling them a different way.
    I’m tired of remakes. Why don’t the movie people check out the fabulous new writers, the independents? 😀

    Like

    • There are so many good stories out there that would make wonderful movies. But I think movies now have to have a superhero.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Rachelle Seguin

    Always

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It is odd, Writers continue to tell new stories but TV and movie producers continue to rehash old ones either brazenly or thinly disguised as something else. The worst of it is that the remakes are usually not as good. My favourite example being the American remake of the British film “The Italian Job” The first was a blend of action, suspense and humour. The second was a commercial for the recently released “new” mini and a lot of special effects.

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    • Producers want to be safe. They look at what worked in the past and they want to just do the same thing again. And again and again.

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  8. Christine

    I just read a book called “Eligible”, which is another “updated version of Pride and Prejudice”. I would only recommend it if you really want to see how the two books match up. Another case of doing the same thing over again. At least it doesn’t have any zombies in it.

    Christine

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    • One “re-versioning” of a book that I loved was “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys, who retells the Jane Eyre story from the viewpoint of the mad wife.

      Like

  9. An excellent question! And I’ve always wondered why they keep remaking old movies instead of giving us something new, too. I think the answer lies in the medium – movies and TV are carefully scripted to hit high points in perfect rhythm so they fit the time slots, and that makes them all seem the same even if the characters are different. But then again, my theory probably isn’t worth much since I rarely watch TV or movies. 🙂

    Like

    • That’s a really good point – commercials drive the content! By the way, years ago when I worked for ESPN, I used to salary that beer paid my salary.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My thoughts exactly…

    Like

  11. As long as human beings with stories, imaginations, and emotions walk this earth, there will always be another story to tell – and read.

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