Typing monkeys

Cicero scattered letters argumentTyping monkeys 250
Left: Cicero's 45BC "scattered letters argument" against Lucretius and his chance-based atomic theory origin of the world. Right Emile Borel's 1913 "typing monkey’s argument, a thermodynamic variant of the former; originating as a spin-off of the Maxwell’s demon argument, which asserts that a violation of the second law is less probable than a monkey every typing up a work of Shakespeare.
In thermodynamics, typing monkeys is probability argument often used to explain the second law of thermodynamics, to the effect that the probability of monkey producing a work of Shakespeare by typing away on a keyboard is more probable than a violation of the second law or of a reversal of entropy. The typing monkey metaphor is simply a humorous way of saying that there is no such thing as a Maxwell’s demon.

In 55BC, Lucretius, in his On the Nature of Things, argued for a chance-based atomic theory conceptualized godless origin of the world, as follows:

“My object is to dispel the fear of the gods, which arises simply from the fact that there are so many things which men do not yet understand, and therefore imagine to be effected by divine power. In respect to the origin of the world, surely the atoms did not hold council, assigning order to each, flexing their keen minds with questions of place and motion and who goes where. But shuffled and jumbled in many ways, in the course of endless time they are buffeted, driven along, chancing upon all motions, combinations. At last they fall into such an arrangement as would create this universe.”

This seems to be the origin of the various parodies, listed below, produced in the years to following, e.g. "throwing letters to the ground [and getting Ennius’ Annals]" (Cicero, 45BC); "typing monkeys [and getting a library or book]" (Borel, 1913) (Eddington, 1928); "tornado in a junkyard [and getting a Boeing 747]" (Hoyle, 1981); "trowing Scrabble letters to the ground [and getting Hamlet]" (Meyer, c.2003); "monkeys typing/computers generating" [and getting a line of Shakespeare] (Jonathan Wells, 2006); "shaking Lego pieces in a bag [and getting a helicopter]" (Think Islam, 2014); among likely others.

Cicero, in his treatises On the Nature of the Gods or On Destiny, seems to be the originator of at least the first version of the typing monkeys analogy, for his following statement: [6]

“If one believes such a thing possible, I cannot conceive why one would not believe as well that by haphazardly throwing a vast quantity of the twenty-one letters onto the ground, the result could be Ennius’ Annals, such that they could then be read. I doubt if chance could by itself complete even a single line.”

Cicero, here, supposedly, is taking objection to Epicurus and Democritus who, supposedly, held that "everything happens by chance". (Ѻ)

In 1720, Jonathan Swift was using the scattered letters argument as follows:

“Philosophers say, that man is a microcosm, or little world, resembling in miniature every part of the great; and, in my opinion, the body natural may be compared to the body politic; and if this be so how can the Epicurean's opinion be true, that the universe was formed by a fortuitous concourse of atoms; which I will no more believe, than that the accidental jumbling of the letters of the alphabet could fall by chance [see: typing monkeys] into a most ingenious and learned treatise of philosophy. Risum tincatis amici? [hor] This false opinion must needs create many more; it is like an error in the first concoction, which cannot be corrected in the second; the foundation is weak, and whatever superstructure you raise upon it, must of necessity fall to the ground. Thus men are led from one error to another, until with Ixion they embrace a cloud instead of Juno; or, like the dog in the fable, lose the substance in gaping at the shadow: For such opinions cannot cohere; but like the iron and clay in the toes of Nebuchadnezzar's image, must separate and break in pieces. I have read in a certain author, that Alexander wept, because he had no more worlds to conquer; which he needed not have done, if the fortuitous concourse of atoms could create one; but this is an opinion fitter for that many headed beast the vulgar to entertain, than for so wise a man as Epicurus; the corrupt part of his sect only borrowed his name, as the monkey did the cat's claw to draw the chestnut out of the fire.”
Jonathan Swift (c.1720), “A Critical Essay on the Faculties of the Mind” (Ѻ)


The use of typing monkeys to explain irreversibility first appeared in French mathematician Emile Borel’s 1913 article “Statistical Mechanics and Irreversibility” and in his 1914 book Chance. [1] In short, Borel said that if a million monkeys typed ten hours a day, it was extremely unlikely that their output would exactly equal all the books of the richest libraries of the world; and yet, in comparison, it was even more unlikely that the laws of statistical mechanics would ever be violated, even briefly. [1]
Created by chance (legos)
Video stills from the 2014 video (Ѻ) of a Muslim ridiculing the “chance” based atheist explanation of evolution and the formation of complex things, such as helicopters, using a bag of Legos.

In 1928, Arthur Eddington, in his chapter on “The Running Down of the Universe”, used the same monkey metaphor in his effort to explain entropy as an increase of disorder. Eddington begins by using the two-compartment model of gas molecules divided by a partition, where at first all the molecules are in one compartment (an ordered state). As the divider is removed, says Eddington, the molecules spread over the whole vessel and remain so ever after (a less ordered state). He says: there is a faint possibility that at one moment all the molecules might happen to be visiting in only one half of the container, but he says the probability of his happening is:

\left ( \frac{1}{2} \right )^n

where n is the number of total particle in the vessel. [2] He goes on to say that the reason we ignore this chance is seen by “a rather classical illustration”, which he says is:

“If I let my fingers wander idly over the keys of a type writer it might happen that my screed made an intelligible sentence. If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum. The chance of their doing so is decidedly more favorable than the chance of the molecules returning to one half of the vessel.”

This re-interpretation of the monkey model, as we see, is a pure Maxwell’s demon derivative argument. Sometime after Eddington’s take on the monkeys, the parable became shortened to the effect that a violation of the second law would be equivalent to a the happening of monkey, given enough time, typing the works of Shakespeare (particularly Hamelet).

In 2003, for example, a computer algorithm Monkey Shakespeare Simulator was posted on the Internet, which after a year and half of iteration found that it a partial line from The Second Part of King Henry IV was produced. [3]

In 1980 or 1981, Fred Hoyle, together with Chandra Wickramasinghe, who co-authored Evolution From Space: a Theory of Cosmic Creation (1981) (Ѻ) and Cosmic Life Force (1990) (Ѻ), began to state that: “It is ridiculous to suppose that the random shuffling of constituent molecules could create life, and wrong to teach children [this] ... and that such an event is comparable to the “chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.” (Ѻ)

“The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein.”
Fred Hoyle (1981), “Hoyle on Evolution”, Nature, 294(5837):105, Nov 12 (Ѻ)

This is known to some as the junkyard tornado (Ѻ) argument.
Scrabble pieces argument (chance)
The following shows Stephen Mayer’s circa 2003 “scrabble pieces argument”, a variant of Cicero’s “letters onto the ground” argument against Lucretius, against blind random chance formation of “life” out of the chaos of the universe, randomly moving atoms, and random genetic mutation. [5]

Strobel-Meyer dialogue
The following is a bit of dialogue, on the question of random chance created life vs god created life, from American atheist turned skeptical positive theist Lee Strobel’s circa 2003 interview of intelligent design advocate Stephen Meyer: [5]

Strobel: “The idea of life forming by random chance is out of vogue right now among scientists.”

Meyer: “I agree, virtually all origin of life experts have rejected that approach.”

Strobel: “Even so, the idea is still very much alive at the popular level. For many college students who speculate about these things, chance is still the hero. They think if you let amino acids randomly interact over millions of years life is somehow going to emerge.”

Meyer: “Well, yes, it’s true that this scenario is still alive among people who don’t know the facts, but there’s no merit to it. Imagine trying to generate even a simple book by throwing Scrabble letters onto the floor. Or imagine closing and picking Scrabble letters out of a bag. Are you going to produce Hamlet in anything like the time of the known universe?”

Meyer: “Even a simple protein molecule, or the gene to build that molecule, is so rich in information that the entire time since the big bang would not give you, as my colleague Bill Dembski likes to say, the ‘probabilistic resources’ you would need to generate that molecule by chance.”

On one hand, to digress, this last interaction sound akin to two imbecilic ticks arguing about why the dog is moving; on the other hand, the problem—originally argued by Cicero (IQ:175±|#148) on itself is not as imbecilic as it, on the surface, may seem; in that it seems to be digging at a problem left unaddressed since the Greek atomic theory days; ; the correction of which seemingly first addressed in the Schiller-Henderson (Ѻ) train of thought.

In his 1931 book The Mysterious Universe, English physicist James Jeans misattributes the monkey parable to English biologist Thomas Huxley.

The typing monkeys argument is frequently used to argue that the second law proves that evolution is either false or highly improbable. [4]

1. Borel, Emile. (1913). “Statistical Mechanics and Irreversibility” (“Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité”), J. Phys. 5e Series 3: 189-96.
2. Eddington, Arthur. (1928). The Nature of the Physical World: The Gifford Lectures (pg. 72). New York: Macmillan.
3. Wells, Jonathan. (2006). The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (section: Monkeys Typing Shakespeare, pgs. 92-93). Regnery Publishing.
4. Shermer, Michael. (1997). Why People Believe Weird Things (16. The Second Law of Thermodynamics Proves that Evolution cannot be true since evolutions state that the universe and life moves from chaos to order and simple to complex, the exact opposite of entropy predicted by the second law, pgs. 149-50). MacMillan.
5. Strobel, Lee. (2004). The Case for a Creator: a Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points Toward God (pgs. 283-84). Zondervan, 2009.
6. (a) Pullman, Bernard. (1995). The Atom in the History of Human Thought (translator: Axel Reisinger) (pg. 70). Oxford University Press, 2001.
(b) Stenger, Victor J. (2013). God and the Atom: from Democritus to the Higgs Boson: the Story of a Triumphant Idea (pg. 45). Prometheus Books.

Further reading
● Georgescu-Roegen, Nicholas. (1971). The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (appendix F.2: Probability and Time Dimension: Emile Borel and monkey typists, pgs. 417-19). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

External links
Infinite monkey theorem – Wikipedia.

TDics icon ns

More pages