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.
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
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?