Friday 19 February 2016

The Infinite Monkey Cage Theorem

I don't know who first said 'Believe only half of what your eyes see and believe nothing of what your eyes read.' There are a few similar sounding quotes, peppered around the internet, that have rightly or wrongly been attributed to different people. In the world of the internet, something previously written, that is often then attributed to someone. Turns out to have been written sometime before. Often the earlier quotes are only found due to the huge amounts of books that are and have been digitised then placed on-line. But usually the quote is in a different context that makes the original quote less than memorable.

The world of the 'real' author has been invaded by many other 'amateur' authors. Which through varying degrees of skill, have reinvented the (unique quotation) wheel many times over. In something resembling a real world take, on the fabled 'infinite monkey cage.' 

If you are not familiar with the term infinite monkey cage. The infinite monkey cage theorem says that if you take an infinite number of 'monkeys' and an infinite number of 'typewriters'. Which you then place in an infinite sized monkey cage. In an infinite amount of 'time' all of the worlds greatest classics would be rewritten by the monkeys, purely by accidentally hitting the typewriter keys.

The infinite monkey cage theorem is an illustration of the mathematics of probability. However, the public's mind often oversimplifies or confuses important aspects of the different scales of the concepts involved, infinity, probability and time. All of these are in measures beyond average human experience and practical comprehension or comparison.  

However, what the infinite monkey cage theorem fails to acknowledge is during this same infinite time period, additional 'world classics' would also be written. Classics that were new to the world, in languages that are also new and unknown to us. All would be world classics that were previously unpublished in any known or unknown language. There would also be an infinite pile of publishers rejection slips.

Its the uncertainty created in our minds by mathematics, that point to these actual certainties. Take a pack of playing cards. With four suits and thirteen values. Which if shuffled into a purely random order. That order is almost certain to be in a completely random - but unique - order. It is almost certain that the pack of cards has never been in that random but unique order before and it is almost certain for that pack of cards to never be in that random but unique order ever again. Its actually the same outcome – even if you include all the other packs of playing cards in the world. No two packs in the world will ever be randomly shuffled into the same order. However, if you take an infinite number of monkeys and an infinite number of packs of playing cards..... well you already know the rest!

'Believe only half of what your eyes see and believe nothing of what your eyes read.' Is actually quite an astute observation of the way of the world today. Everything that is written is from a particular standpoint and so naturally contains some personal bias of the author. However, the quotation is most often quoted, when its applied to modern media – such as newspapers and television.

Most people of the opinion that newspapers have recently sold their soul to the devil. Well I would agree to that allegation for any number of British publications. They are no longer editorially free to publish whatever they want. They have been bought by very wealthy people and now only provided carefully screened propaganda to the paying masses. So why does the quotation say, only believe half of what you see. Television in its various forms is now also owned by the wealthy or alternatively it is state controlled by government. One such institution is the BBC which is state controlled by government who hold the budgets.

There is now the start of a trend away from print to digital. As print copies and circulation numbers continue to fall. There is a move to the new on-line, pre-paid subscription service. But the take up has been patchy at best. Some print newspapers who were also into the digital publishing have already dropped their subscriptions. Some print newspapers are making to move to digital only. The next few years are going to be challenging. Its a whole new world, because information now comes from many places and sources and its almost instantaneous. News is a 24/7 fact of life and print copies are almost becoming historical documents by the time they hit the street.

To a point I can understand this because our tastes as a news consumer change. Anyone can be a blogger and any blogger can be a news provider. The grip of the big news corporations is being eroded because every smartphone is connected to the internet. Every smartphone is capable of recording the news as it happens. Every smartphone owner is a reporter on the front line. The internet is becoming in its own way, a micro version of the infinite monkey cage.

Now because of the instantaneous reportage, social media allows for the first time, people pressure to challenge biased and deliberate misreporting of content. Challenging in a way that would have been unbelievable only a few years ago. The digital media tries to get around this obvious shortcoming by allowing reader comments on articles. Yet we all know, comments can be selectively sorted, excluded and surreptitiously attached. The biggest problem for the newspapers moving to digital, is that they are late to the party and in the digital world their content is already lost in the noise.

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