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Typing is what a monkey particle does.
February 1, 2011 7:10 PM   Subscribe

“I’m going to divide the universe into Planck-sized regions, and put a monkey in each one. You will ask what the monkey is made of, when nothing can be smaller than the Planck scale, and I will say that it is not made of anything – it is a single, fundamental monkey particle. One in every Planck sized region of space. These regions are very small - there will be nearly as many monkeys inside the space occupied by a single atom as there are atoms in the universe. And there will be monkeys in the spaces not occupied by atoms too. And they will type faster. How fast can a thing happen? Just as there is a shortest possible distance, there is a shortest possible time, and it’s called the Planck time." A look at the idea of an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters.

Weimar: Art and Modernity is a blog that mostly discusses art, but sometimes diverges in to other topics. This is one such time, where the author looks at the infinite monkey theorem, especially with regards to the Borges story The Library of Babel. Excerpted content about Planck-Monkeys is from here, I believe.
posted by codacorolla (74 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
And there will be monkeys in the spaces not occupied by atoms too. And they will type faster.

But they don't have typewriters. You were so busy filling the universe with monkeys that you forgot the typewriters.
posted by The World Famous at 7:22 PM on February 1, 2011 [31 favorites]


Ook. Oook ook.
posted by loquacious at 7:23 PM on February 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Weimar: Art and Modernity is a blog that mostly discusses art, but sometimes diverges in to other topics.

No, this is still art. It may be art about science, but it is still art.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:24 PM on February 1, 2011


Fascinating. Thank you. It really makes you wonder if aisuf nkel;eh ahdbdb7o9p
posted by unSane at 7:24 PM on February 1, 2011 [10 favorites]


*places single typewriter into the monkeyverse, watches it suddenly collapse and implode into a gnaB giB with growing alarm*
posted by loquacious at 7:25 PM on February 1, 2011


the cosmos is jampacked with hot monkey particles.

Fascinating.
posted by smcameron at 7:28 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wait, so how long would it take?!
posted by reductiondesign at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2011


You were so busy filling the universe with monkeys that you forgot the typewriters.

This needs to be an emotionally-delivered half-shout half-whisper in an Oscar bait movie.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:35 PM on February 1, 2011 [22 favorites]


You want monkeys? You can't handle the monkeys!
posted by unSane at 7:36 PM on February 1, 2011 [4 favorites]


It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?!
posted by robotot at 7:39 PM on February 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


From Wikipedia
However, for physically meaningful numbers of monkeys typing for physically meaningful lengths of time the results are reversed. If there are as many monkeys as there are particles in the observable universe (1080), and each types 1,000 keystrokes per second for 100 times the life of the universe (1020 seconds), the probability of the monkeys replicating even a short book is nearly zero.
posted by humanfont at 7:44 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


From Wikipedia

I see what you did there.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:46 PM on February 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


I do not mean to imply this is not a good post or anything of that sort but I simply do not understand the point of the linked article. Or rather it looks to me like it doesn't have any sort of point and is just engaging in a kind of superficial verbal game in which the author believes himself to be smarter or more witty than he actually is. Frankly it reminded me most of someone getting high for the first time and have you ever really looked at your hand, man, it's all connected, we're just little specks of the universe.
posted by Justinian at 7:49 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Typewriters won't be around much longer to furnish this metaphor.

But then monkeys won't be around much longer either.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:58 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Justinian you need to read it again.
posted by oddman at 8:01 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Big is not infinite.
Art is not mathematics.
posted by fredludd at 8:02 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


No wonder my house smells like monkey shit.
posted by mrgoat at 8:06 PM on February 1, 2011


I’m going to divide the universe into Planck-sized regions, and put a monkey in each one. You will ask what the monkey is made of, when nothing can be smaller than the Planck scale, and I will say that it is not made of anything – it is a single, fundamental monkey particle.

What I'll comment is that you, sir, don't have infinite monkeys.
posted by vidur at 8:09 PM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


So I got curious about the magnitude of the numbers, and checked with Wolfram Alpha...
Volume of the observable universe in Plank volumes: 8x10184
Age of the universe in Plank times: 8x1060
Monkeyparticle keystrokes in that volume over that time: 6.4x10245

Length of sonnet 18: 607 characters
Possible variations in 607 characters, using a very conservative pool of 30 possible characters: 30607 ≅ 4.1x10896

Huh. Six hundred and fifty orders of magnitude, for a short sonnet. Maybe the monkeyparticles would have better odds if they used quantum superposition?
posted by Tzarius at 8:12 PM on February 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


This was found in the suburban office of Dr. Zaius.
posted by clavdivs at 8:13 PM on February 1, 2011


And yet it only took one monkey to write them to begin with.
posted by empath at 8:23 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


Justinian you need to read it again.

An infinite number of times, even.
posted by The World Famous at 8:23 PM on February 1, 2011


This article confused me because it is titled "Planck Apes", it is about infinite monkeys (not apes), and is illustrated with pictures of humans (apes), a chimpanzee (ape), something that might be an orangutan (ape) or a gibbon (ape), and macaques (monkeys, not apes).

Infinite Librarian says: Even ontological dabblers should be careful with their taxonomy.
posted by gingerest at 8:24 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, an infinite number of monkeys will still type out the complete works of shakespeare an infinite number of times.

10^900 is a big number.

It's still smaller than infinity.
posted by empath at 8:25 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, "Planck Apes" would make a great band name.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:26 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do not mean to imply this is not a good post or anything of that sort but I simply do not understand the point of the linked article. Or rather it looks to me like it doesn't have any sort of point and is just engaging in a kind of superficial verbal game in which the author believes himself to be smarter or more witty than he actually is.

It actually looks to me like he plagiarized someone else's ideas. Though maybe he just thought about it an infinite number of times and didn't copy and paste it from someone else's blog without attribution.
posted by empath at 8:27 PM on February 1, 2011


I think that what I call the "Shakespeare Monkey" thought experiment is a good (if vague) and very interesting one. It's got historical, mathematical, and philosophical aspects, at the very least. I'm pleased to see another variation on it.
posted by uosuaq at 8:35 PM on February 1, 2011


Also, "Planck Apes" would make a great band name.

As would "Hot Monkey Particles."
posted by invitapriore at 8:37 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


monkey was the first animal in orbit. Monkeynauts man, they have plans.
posted by clavdivs at 8:41 PM on February 1, 2011


But then monkeys won't be around much longer either.

Monkeys and apes are useful research tools, and they breed perfectly fine in captivity. They'll continue to exist.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:58 PM on February 1, 2011


Monkeys will be fine. Apes (with the exception of the naked ones), maybe not so much.
posted by no mind at 9:14 PM on February 1, 2011


I just use 26 monkeys with typewriters that only contain a single letter. After that, it's just a matter of cutting and pasting the monekys' work together.
posted by ymgve at 9:23 PM on February 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


To put into many universes theory--there are too few universes with typing monkeys to make this problem interesting.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:24 PM on February 1, 2011


But then monkeys won't be around much longer either.

I wouldn't worry too much about the monkeys.
posted by Sailormom at 9:25 PM on February 1, 2011


Cool! I thought this was going to be about Planck's constant, and how the fine-structure constant may have been changing over time and space. Which may be why it's been so damn difficult to figure out how many monkeys there were.

Great interview about the fine-structure constant. (Checks. Nope, no monkeys.)

More.
posted by sneebler at 9:31 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


From this session interdict
Every fowl of tyrant wing,
Save the eaggle, feather'd kingg
Damn machine the g is sticked.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:12 PM on February 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


So, like really what this is about is entropy.

Let's say you print out pages until you've printed out every possible combination of letters its possible to put on any page. It's going to be a lot of pages, like a lot a lot -- like probably more pages than you can fit in the observable universe, but lets pretend we've done it anyway. Then you kind of sort them out so that 'meaningful' pages are in one pile and pages which just look like complete random gibberish pages are in another pile.

There will be many, many, many orders of magnitude more 'gibberish' pile than there will be in the pages that have actual words and sentences on them. The pages correspond to a high entropy. The fact that there are so many more of them is why they are considered high entropy.

Now, and this is going to be tricky to imagine visually, but pretend that you've moved these pages into a special book, such that from any page, you can flip to a page which is exactly alike, but one exactly one letter on the page is different.

Now imagine you start with any page in this book and start flipping to new pages randomly. Because the vast number of pages are complete gibberish, the chances of you flipping to a page which is actually more meaningful than the page you are currently looking at, especially after you've flipped, I don't know a dozen pages or so, is essentially 0.

No matter where you start, as you start flipping, you're going to be increasing the 'entropy' of the page you are looking at, if it isn't already at maximum entropy will soon be at maximum entropy. If you start with half of a sonnet and start flipping, you will never, before the heat death of the universe flip to a page that has the second half. Or even get more than a few letters closer to it (if you are very lucky). The entropy of the page you are looking at always increases. Although you would never notice that happening at all if you started with a random page, instead of a half-written sonnet, because you would with all likelihood have started with a page at maximum entropy.

This is exactly the reason that entropy increases in physics as well, if you replace 'letters' with the positions and momenta of particles. Most possible states of any given physical system are basically gibberish -- indistinguishable mixtures. Any state you have which is not that, will eventually become that, given enough time.

However, the fact that we notice entropy in reality or that we are even around to see it is only because something happened that was so improbable that it as near to impossible as anything that actually happened can be. The universe a few billion years ago was at a low entropy state. Now it might be that it 'started' at a low entropy state, just because it had to start somewhere.

But if you take this book with all possible combinations of letters on a page, and you flip pages for an infinite amount of time, you will eventually exhaust all possibilities and will come to a page that says something like "In the beginning, the earth was without form and void..." Something low entropy enough to be meaningful.

In the same way, given an infinite amount of time, a high entropy physical system might eventually happen to randomly evolve into a low entropy state by pure random chance, which might would essentially create the conditions of the big bang.
posted by empath at 10:28 PM on February 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


I wish i had an edit button to fix some of those awkward sentences..
posted by empath at 10:34 PM on February 1, 2011


In the same way, given an infinite amount of time, a high entropy physical system might eventually happen to randomly evolve into a low entropy state by pure random chance, which might would essentially create the conditions of the big bang

This Wikipedia article is fun.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:38 PM on February 1, 2011


To put into many universes theory--there are too few universes with typing monkeys to make this problem interesting.

If one universe exists with typing monkeys, doesn't the theory posit that a universe in fact exists where a monkey typed hamlet from front to back on the first try?
posted by maxwelton at 10:38 PM on February 1, 2011


Listen up! Entropy is the enemy! Organize, before it's too late!
posted by Goofyy at 10:56 PM on February 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even organizing increases entropy.
posted by empath at 11:07 PM on February 1, 2011


Band Name: Planck Ape and the Hot Monkey Particles
First Album: More Fun Than A Universe Full of Monkeys

The music is generated by an infinite number of monkeys at pianos.
posted by NoraReed at 11:30 PM on February 1, 2011


Even organizing increases entropy.

Not if we do it systematically.
posted by Ritchie at 11:36 PM on February 1, 2011


Not if we do it reversibly.
posted by hattifattener at 1:24 AM on February 2, 2011


Entropy Q-ball VS Charleton Hestons' Comb.
Baryogenesis III.
infinite number of monkeys at pianos= Burton playing Wagner.


posted by clavdivs at 1:35 AM on February 2, 2011


Not if we do it finitely

Solitonogenesis from orbit, it's the only Non-topological soliton.
posted by clavdivs at 1:39 AM on February 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wish there had been a team of British mathematicians around when I was trying to learn calculus. I might have paid closer attention.
posted by chavenet at 3:44 AM on February 2, 2011


Also, this.
posted by chavenet at 3:46 AM on February 2, 2011


Suppose we want to make the Library of Babel accessible online (the actual library, not the story). I can't see that there's any particular difficulty in generating, on demand, the text for any specified volume. (Of course, you'd have to read rather a lot of volumes before you came across anything remotely interesting.)

But how would you specify which volume you wanted? The shortest possible title which could distinguish each volume from all the slight variations would be the full text of the book. Is the Library of Babel necessarily its own catalogue?
posted by Segundus at 3:49 AM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Length of sonnet 18: 607 characters
Possible variations in 607 characters, using a very conservative pool of 30 possible characters: 30607 ≅ 4.1x10896


According to ent there are about 278 bytes of entropy in sonnet 18 which is 1.15x10251 or "only" about 180,000 times larger than the total number of monkeyparticle keystrokes, so if we assume that we pipe each test monkeyparticle document through unLZMA or Deflate or the like.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:20 AM on February 2, 2011


Don't forget one must also assume that monkeys generate random keystrokes. According to the wikipedia article experimental research has shown that monkeys are poor random number generators.
posted by humanfont at 4:32 AM on February 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Huh. Six hundred and fifty orders of magnitude, for a short sonnet. Maybe the monkeyparticles would have better odds if they used quantum superposition went to a liberal arts college, got a wardrobe of black clothes from the local good will, started and ended their first intense relationship, and moodily watched a few dozen sunsets?
posted by aught at 5:40 AM on February 2, 2011


Did you know that if you had an infinite number of rednecks fire an infinite number of shotguns at an infinite number of street signs, you would eventually create the works of Shakespeare in braille?


actually, it would be instantaneous, as would the creation of all other works. Infinity is weird like that. seriously, and why are we whispering?
posted by eriko at 5:48 AM on February 2, 2011


Most possible states of any given physical system are basically gibberish -- indistinguishable mixtures.

"Possible" is such a slippery word.
posted by flabdablet at 6:12 AM on February 2, 2011


According to ent there are about 278 bytes of entropy in sonnet 18 which is 1.15x10251 or "only" about 180,000 times larger than the total number of monkeyparticle keystrokes, so if we assume that we pipe each test monkeyparticle document through unLZMA or Deflate or the like.

That only gives you the odds of getting something 'similar' (for lack of a better term) to sonnet 18, not sonnet 18 specifically.
posted by empath at 8:06 AM on February 2, 2011


That only gives you the odds of getting something 'similar' (for lack of a better term) to sonnet 18, not sonnet 18 specifically.

While drinking a substance that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea?
posted by hippybear at 8:39 AM on February 2, 2011


I've been reading Borges all week, perfect timing!
posted by azarbayejani at 8:43 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would propose a monkeytypewriter paritcle...
posted by djrock3k at 8:54 AM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the best, most comprehensible description of string theory I've read yet!
posted by fuq at 9:38 AM on February 2, 2011


nothing can be smaller than the Planck scale

(...)

Just as there is a shortest possible distance, there is a shortest possible time, and it’s called the Planck time.
I often see statements like this, and when I ask "why", I often get the response "Because it's the Planck length" or "Because it's the Planck time".

When I then point out that there are lots and lots of things with less mass than the Planck mass, I am often told "It's the Planck length" or "It's the Planck time".

So, I'm not saying that there can be lengths shorter than the Planck length, or times shorter than the Planck time, but could anyone who believes this to be true please explain it to me without circular logic?
posted by Flunkie at 9:40 AM on February 2, 2011


On the incompleteness of the Library of Babel.
posted by kenko at 11:23 AM on February 2, 2011


The planck units as a concept have nothing to do with finding minimum lengths or masses or measurements. They're just derived by defining all of the physical constants as being equal to 1, and then deriving the units for measurement from that. They're used because it makes the equations easier to deal with.

So the planck length is derived by multiplying and dividing the constants in such a way that all of the units cancel each other out besides the one that you want to measure.

Planck's length is derived from sqr(hbar*G/c^3)

Because particles are quantized, though, and because hbar relates to that, any unit which is derived by setting Planck's constant to 1 is probably going to relate somehow to the 'smallest possible' measurement of something.
posted by empath at 2:16 PM on February 2, 2011


Because particles are quantized, though, and because hbar relates to that, any unit which is derived by setting Planck's constant to 1 is probably going to relate somehow to the 'smallest possible' measurement of something.
I'm sorry, but this still seems like a mere assertion to me, and in fact it's known to be contradicted by three of the five fundamental Planck units: There are masses smaller than a Planck mass, there are charges smaller than a Planck charge, and I think that every known temperature is colder than the Planck temperature. All of them involve hBar.

So what is it, supposedly, about the other two - Planck length and Planck time - that supposedly makes them "smallest possible"? In the face of the others not being the smallest possible?

I have never received an answer to this question that didn't lead me to believe it's just an assertion, based upon the fact that those two are really, really, really small.
posted by Flunkie at 3:55 PM on February 2, 2011


The planck mass is the least massive possible black hole.

But like I said, the planck units have to do with making equations easier, and they don't necessarily have to do with anything physical. The planck length and plank area do, for whatever reason. And it's not because they are planck units.
posted by empath at 4:00 PM on February 2, 2011


(In other words, nobody knows why, it just happens to be the case).
posted by empath at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2011


I understand that they're for making equations easier, and that they don't necessarily have to do with anything physical. "But they do, for whatever reason" is an assertion.
posted by Flunkie at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2011


"It just happens to be the case" - what evidence is there for this assertion?
posted by Flunkie at 4:07 PM on February 2, 2011


And regarding:
The planck mass is the least massive possible black hole.
I don't know much about this, but some poking around on Wikipedia seems to reveal that this is a rough approximation. For example, "This is not quite the Planck mass: It is a factor of \sqrt{\pi} larger. However, this is a heuristic derivation, only intended to get the right order of magnitude."

And in any case, wouldn't this be based on the assumption that the Planck length is minimal, anyway?
posted by Flunkie at 4:17 PM on February 2, 2011


Briane Greene talks about it in the Elegant Universe. It's just geometry. Weird stuff starts happening to the formulas at those scales.

I am not a physicist, though.
posted by empath at 4:24 PM on February 2, 2011


I guess really the answer is, once you get to those scales, neither relativity or quantum mechanics are meaningful, and all physical laws as we know them no longer work. A distance smaller then the planck length is essentially meaningless.
posted by empath at 4:29 PM on February 2, 2011


I approve of this thread. Or at least 1000 of us do. We're still working on the infinite part, that's a whole lotta monkey sex!
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:06 PM on February 2, 2011


You got me curious, because it really is a good question, so I did some googling:

We give six arguments that the Planck scale should be viewed as a fundamental minimum or boundary for the classical concept of spacetime, beyond which quantum e ects cannot be neglected and the basic nature of spacetime must be reconsidered. (PDF)
posted by empath at 10:17 PM on February 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was so hoping that "eects" was a real word.
posted by hattifattener at 12:10 PM on February 3, 2011


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