45. The monkey on the typewriter.

“I must study politics and war so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
US President John Adams.

1. Speakers’ Corner really is a fast, free-flowing circus. If you haven’t been to Speakers’ Corner in Sydney before and you think it’s just a bunch of old men ‘chewing the fat’ with one another, you’re so wrong. It’s instead a lot like professional wrestling, but without the physicality and commonsense.

2. Across the way we had Steve Maxwell and Ray speaking. Mirko “kindly” took the Ladder of Knowledge from Mr B and spoke incomprehensibly about ‘demensia’. It was a clever application of the old writer’s adage, “show, don’t tell’.

3. We played two games of ‘Would I lie to You?’ Peter the Younger LIED outright when he claimed to have a pet rock as a child, and cried when his parents threw it away. You bloody liar, Peter! (Good job.)

And, passer-by Kai told the TRUTH about the time he became so drunk when he took his dog for a walk that he lost his dog and never saw it again. Kai fooled most of us into thinking he was lying. Again, good job!

Kai at Speakers’ Corner

4. Mr B begged your scribe to include yet another chapter from his book for young people. I have hidden concerns about doing so.

5. For more than a year Mr B has tried to explain the problem behind the monkey and the typewriter thought experiment. He has failed, until today. With sheer persistence he finally got to the end.

Let’s say a monkey is to randomly type Shakespeare’s play, ‘Richard the Third’, and it hits one of 40 keys every second. How long will it take for the monkey to type the first word in the title, ‘Richard’? Answer: over 7,000 years. To type ‘Richard’ and press the space bar will take over 300,000 years, and to type ‘Richard T’ will take 3 million years. And if the next letter isn’t an ‘h’ we are back to square one.

If we’re lucky, the monkey might type the entire title in a few trillion years. But then we hope the monkey types ‘A’ in the hope of typing ‘Act 1’. If it fails to type an ‘A’ it’s back to the drawing board. Sorry, the typewriter.

To type the first entire paragraph might take until the heat death of the universe. But luckily we have infinite time so that doesn’t matter. But we then have to begin the next paragraph, and if the first letter isn’t the right one, we again have to start again. (Or the monkey does.) An entire lifetime of the universe, wasted.

And that’s just the first paragraph.

The entire first act? Perhaps a trillion to the power of a zillion years? What if, after that period of time elapsed, we are almost there? Let’s say the monkey has to press the key once more and get a full stop, in order to finish the first act. It has a one in forty chance of doing so.  It fails. You guessed it: we start again.

To get the entire play typed? It types for another a zillion to the power of a quillion years, always starting again when there is a mistake. The universe has long, long been dead. Countless heat deaths of the universe have elapsed.  No matter. Hey, we have all the time we want. We have infinite time.

What about two plays in a row?

What about every Shakespeare play?

What about every play?

What about every book in the world?  Let’s say that in an unimaginable amount of time the monkey has typed half the books in the world. It’s still incredibly unlikely it will type even the next word of the next book correctly. So, we start again.

Mr B finally asked the question: ‘Will ANY finite task like that be completed in infinite time?’

He said yes. He said that a finite task must be completed with infinite time.

What about every book in the world, a trillion times over? Remembering that if there is one mistake, we have to start again?

Yep, because it’s a finite task. And there’s infinite time.

There was disagreement. Some said it’s possible that a finite task would not be completed if given infinite time in which to attempt it. Then it must be asked: “Why not?” Doesn’t that tell us that we can’t comprehend infinity?

This is not a monkey, it’s a chimpanzee. If the task is eventually completed, will the achievement count? Or will the chimp be disqualified for not being a monkey?

6. Mr B has begun a new series: paradigms. Each week he will present an absurd idea that most of us think is a good idea because most people hold it. Today it was: ‘We are all entitled to a reasonable standard of living.’

As predicted, people took umbrage. They raised all sorts of concerns about inequality and wealth distribution. But that’s what happens when you adopt the collective beliefs of a society – you get fooled. (According to Mr B, that is.)

7. It was 5.15pm when Mr B decided he had had enough, and he shanghaied Mark the Grinner onto the Ladder of Knowledge. Mark the Grinner was all over the place, as usual, and as usual he kept his listeners transfixed, or laughing.

Mark had trouble identifying the sex of one poor kid, who as a result will no doubt be in therapy for his entire adult life. (Though the kid did seem to take it well. Besides, he/she is a good looking kid so that’s a good upside.)

Mark also railed against a bunch of university students. He claimed they didn’t have the mettle children in school seem to have, because school children are better protestors. The university students took it well and gave it back to him. They accused everyone older than they of being to blame for the world’s trouble.

Mark must have said other things too but your gentle scribe was too busy reeling from the insults he was receiving from Mark, to notice.

8. Other topics discussed.
– With regards to jobs and automation, what will the future bring for young people?

– Will the Earth be habitable in fifty years? (The young ones didn’t seem to think so. But then again, they didn’t seem to mind either. They were laughing away.)

– What are the four ways to die? (There are only four, it appears.)

– You’re a tree. Where are you and who’s looking after you? What do your answers say about the way you look at life?

– If someone tries to shoot someone and misses, should they receive the sentence they would have received had they succeeded? Or, should they receive a lesser sentence (as is the case) simply because their aim was poor?

– Should we allow advertisers to use any image they like of anyone they like, to advertise their product, without having the person’s permission and without having to pay them? Mr B thought it might be a good idea. Your scribe figures it won’t be happening soon.

– If women and their babies are being saved when they would both normally die in childbirth without medical intervention, does that mean they may be giving birth to children who have the same ‘dangerous childbirth’ genes (if indeed the cause was faulty genes and not just bad luck)? If so, in the far future will natural childbirth be possible for western women?

From the Postsecret site:

9. Speaking of childbirth, this week’s unusual creature in our Unusual Creature Series is the Marabau stork of Africa. It was recently offended by our Facebook page.

Marabau stork. Photograph by Jon Jermey