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Ok, so I had fully intended to write a post inviting five people to guest blog on fermatd.  I figured the best place to start would be with the following opening:

‘It has been said that 1,000 monkeys with typewriters would eventually produce a work of Shakespeare.  Thanks to the internet, we now know that is not true.  How would you like to be a monkey?’

Pretty decent opening.  Short, funny enough for a chuckle, a common enough reference that your average person would get the context.  I had to tweak the quote a bit to make it fit my purpose.  Standard stuff.   The next step was to insert a hyperlink to a random webpage about monkeys and typewriters.

And that is when the wheels came off the bus.  I mean completely off.

If you enter ‘1000 monkeys’ into Google, the first page that come up is a wiki page titled, ‘Infinite monkey theorem – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia’.  (cue poor British accent) ‘Ello, what’s all this then?  My first thought was that this is a token page with the theorem and a few anecdotal examples.

I click.

What follows is a very thorough summary of the typing monkey theorem, followed by the statistical proofs to attempt to support or refute the idea.  Here is my favorite part of the article:

Even if the observable universe were filled with monkeys the size of atoms typing from now until the heat death of the universe, their total probability to produce a single instance of Hamlet would still be many orders of magnitude less than one in 10183,800. As Kittel and Kroemer put it, “The probability of Hamlet is therefore zero in any operational sense of an event…”, and the statement that the monkeys must eventually succeed “gives a misleading conclusion about very, very large numbers.” This is from their textbook on thermodynamics, the field whose statistical foundations motivated the first known expositions of typing monkeys.[1]

Am I going to quote the above the next time I become embroiled in an asinine problem at work?  Oh yeah.

And there you go.  I start my blog by poking fun at a ridiculous concept only to be humbled by the amount of work a group of people put into to proving that monkeys can’t write Shakespeare.  Those are some damn industrious monkeys, er, people.

And so it goes.


1. Kittel, Charles and Herbert Kroemer (1980). Thermal Physics (2nd ed.). W. H. Freeman Company. pp. 53. ISBN 0-7167-1088-9.


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