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June 19, 2022 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Notes Toward the Complete Works of Shakespeare is a book written by Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe, and Rowa in 2002. They were all Sulawesi Crested Macaques living at the Paington Zoo in Devon. Their work received rather a lot of humorless press coverage. [Includes many screen-shots of articles with no alt-text]

(I don't think this is a dupe, which is surprising. I couldn't find the original if so; however, I could be wrong.)
posted by eotvos (21 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thank you for this! The press coverage, whether meant to be or not, is hilarious.
posted by Dolley at 1:31 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]


This is relevant to my interests.
posted by biogeo at 1:31 PM on June 19


I especially liked the Mirror's headline, "Monkey Typing Test Costs £2k". Leave it to the Mirror to try to turn it into an indictment of wasteful science.

The non-literary output that these macaques left on the keyboard is still more interesting and less toxic than the Mirror.
posted by biogeo at 1:37 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


I’m always amazed by the laziness of journalists who don’t even bother to get basic theorems right. At least one of these starts by saying an infinite number of monkeys at infinite typewriters would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. But of course it’s ONE monkey at ONE typewriter for an infinite amount of time…. an infinite number of monkeys would produce it (and everything else) instantly.

Silly!
posted by heyitsgogi at 2:15 PM on June 19 [10 favorites]


Also I love this book a lot.
posted by heyitsgogi at 2:16 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]





I’m always amazed by the laziness of journalists who don’t even bother to get basic theorems right. At least one of these starts by saying an infinite number of monkeys at infinite typewriters would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare. But of course it’s ONE monkey at ONE typewriter for an infinite amount of time…. an infinite number of monkeys would produce it (and everything else) instantly.


This mistake is also present in the endnotes of the book!
posted by dismas at 3:00 PM on June 19


an infinite number of monkeys would produce it (and everything else) instantly

But would we be able to find it? Are the monkeys synchronized? If we allow that they are, then we need an ordering of the monkeys to transcribe their output before we can retrieve the works of Shakespeare from them. I know integers are countably infinite, so presuming a monkey ordering isn’t a problem we have the problem of working out where in our infinite search space to find the offset the complete works of Shakespeare reside at. This feels pretty analogous to just waiting for our single, immortal monkey with a single indestructible typewriter, though.

I guess what I’m saying is don’t expect the actions a large number of monkeys to solve your problems for you, but since you live on Earth, this might be something you’ve noticed already.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 3:07 PM on June 19 [7 favorites]


Great post! Wish they gave us a little more pf tje Works!
posted by grobstein at 3:08 PM on June 19


But would we be able to find it?

This is what the infinite number of metadata librarians and/or indexers are for….
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:07 PM on June 19 [4 favorites]


Mod note: Shortened the title so it won't break Mobile displays !
posted by taz (staff) at 10:09 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]


AN INFINITE NO. OF MONKEYS

[though I remember the typed line as being "The quality of mercy is not strnen," possibly because of The Mekons]
posted by chavenet at 1:09 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


an infinite number of monkeys would produce it (and everything else) instantly.

Only if a monkey can be infinitely fast at typing.
posted by pompomtom at 1:14 AM on June 20


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posted by Phanx at 1:37 AM on June 20


There are apparently about 885,000 words in the entire Shakespeare corpus. This means that among the things the monkeys would produce first are the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings series (576k), Infinite Jest (577k), and the King James Bible (783k). They would take longer to produce the Harry Potter books (a little over a million), and, curiously, at 1.77 million words to date, they would take precisely as long as George R.R. Martin is taking with the Song of Ice and Fire series.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:32 AM on June 20 [6 favorites]


An infinite number of monkeys only need to type one letter each in order to produce all literature instantly, they can be as slow as you like after that, as they'll only be repeating themselves.
posted by biogeo at 7:01 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]


In the “roomful of typists” case, I had always imagined that there was someone in the room who was collecting the most correct pages as they came out of the typewriters. So the experiment starts and, improbably, the very first page is half of Act III of Midsummer Night’s Dream, then for a kazillion years everything that comes out is garbage, then you get one of the sonnets. If you want to ask how long it takes, there is a judgement call about how many errors are acceptable. In infinite time you eventually get a perfect copy, with all of the pages coming out of the same typewriter in order, with no errors.

With infinite typists, that perfect copy is coming out of an infinite subset of typewriters starting from the beginning of the experiment. But if that typewriter were operated fast enough to produce the text “instantly,” the keys would jam.

Of course there is a different infinite subset which produces one page of garbage and then a Complete Works starting from the second page.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:27 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]


This is truly the blurst timeline. Stupid monkey!
posted by barrett caulk at 6:42 AM on June 21


Related short story from Fantastic Science Fiction & Fantasy, December 1970: Been a Long Long Time by R. A. Lafferty
posted by moonmilk at 1:17 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


In the “roomful of typists” case, I had always imagined that there was someone in the room who was collecting the most correct pages as they came out of the typewriters. So the experiment starts and, improbably, the very first page is half of Act III of Midsummer Night’s Dream, then for a kazillion years everything that comes out is garbage, then you get one of the sonnets. If you want to ask how long it takes, there is a judgement call about how many errors are acceptable. In infinite time you eventually get a perfect copy, with all of the pages coming out of the same typewriter in order, with no errors.

It's kind of cheating if we assess the monkeys' output by matching it with pages from our preexisting copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. I mean if we already know them, then the monkeys aren't really producing them, we're just fishing them out of a sea of noise, which is informationally indistinguishable from copying them out ourselves.

For it to be real it has to go something like this. There's someone in the room collecting the pages as they come out, and if they see something that looks like part of a stage drama, they add it to a stack. Someone else sifts through the stack and figures out if any of the pages seem to fit together. When there's enough for a scene, a different group of monkeys is assigned to stage it and act it out. If it moves the set-aside monkey audience to guffaws or tears, it might be a work of the immortal bard. Otherwise, back to the pool.
posted by grobstein at 5:36 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


I'm looking forward to the works that are new and indistinguishable from Shakespeare. The hard part is training the editor monkeys to sort it all out.

I don't know of any theater produced with actual monkeys. Though, Oofty Goofty did appear in a production of Romeo and Juliet.

[Thanks for the title fix, Taz. Sorry.]
posted by eotvos at 8:32 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


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