Infinite Monkeys and a Gambler’s Chance

monkey gamble

It has been claimed that over 98% of chimpanzee DNA is similar to human DNA.  While this has been shown to be more like 95%, maybe it’s time to revisit the infinite monkey theorem.  According to dictionary.reference.com, the infinite-monkey theorem states:

 “If you put an infinite number of monkeys at typewriters, eventually one will bash out the script for Hamlet.”

Behind this is a deeper implication: that enough chance and time can produce the wealth of information required for the universe, including the DNA of its living organisms.  This should be a gift to atheists everywhere.  Assuming chimps are nearly human, it shouldn’t be long before an actual experiment is demonstrating the ability of monkeys cranking out Hamlet.  Now, chimpanzees are apes rather than monkeys, but we are giving the evolutionist more leverage (assuming the above.)

 Actually, such an experiment was done with macaques.  In summary, “… after a month, the Sulawesi crested macaques had only succeeded in partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and mostly typing the letter ‘s'”.  Apparently, these monkeys were far from bashing out the script for Hamlet.  Source:  http://www.bbc.co.uk

 Before we attempt an experiment with chimpanzees, let’s take a look at our assumptions.

 Assumptions:

  • Chimps go against instinct to do otherwise, e.g. forage or socialize, even when unmonitored and untrained.
  • Supplies are nearby – ink and paper.  Furthermore, chimps will insert ink cartridges and paper into the typewriter.
  • Chimps will hit all letters one at a time to prevent jamming or continuous repetitions.  Yes, with chimp-sized fingers.
  • Errors will get thrown out to prevent overcrowding of space.

 There are surely more assumptions, but perhaps the largest unspoken assumption is that chance arrangements of letters can represent the chance arrangement of DNA.  Eventually, the theory of evolution will have to show that chance rather than a Creator could bring such an arrangement together.  What greater probability than utilizing an animal scoring 95 or above in human-like standards?  An honest look tells us that things are not adding up.  The invented tool of the chimp is the stick, while the human can lay claim to everything from shovels to supercomputers.  And DNA is not merely an arrangement of ‘letters’, it’s a 3-dimensional interactive object.  Unfortunately for the chimps, they will need to not only hash out the letters but act out the drama, if they are to imitate the essential molecule of life.

 Life is a Stage (Further Assumptions):

  • Best work is saved and recognized by others
  • The others begin making error-proof copies (very minor errors)
  • Complete work is translated into activity – drama is enacted
  • This complete cycle is repeated to ensure the continuance of propagation

 Hamlet’s work without Shakespeare is at the mercy of time, chance, and high hopes.  So what is supposed to be keeping this information in place?  Mainly, two things.  Darwinian evolution proposes a preservation mechanism, the idea that the fittest will survive.  This concept works well to preserve one generation of a species, but the succeeding generation solely depends on the accurate copyist skills of DNA.  The other preservation mechanism is a theorized closed system, where energy is transformed into information over time.  This mechanism doesn’t explain where the energy supply originates, nor does it last in the reality of open systems.  Outside of a vacuum, entropy pulls things apart through time.  Let’s call the Darwinian preservation Chimp and the energy-to-information method Champ.  Chimp is banking on Champ to hand him information to preserve, but then what?  Information is nothing, nothing other than gibberish without translation.  Herein lies the greater problem, the prized yet missing element called intelligibility.  The awesomeness of DNA is being able to take terabytes of information and translate that into 3-dimensional, highly advanced, moving machines. 

 Our typewriting monkeys can now better illustrate what is needed.  Writing the Shakespearean play does nothing for our Darwinian mechanism Chimp.  Chimp holds onto the vacant hope unless the written words actually mean something to him.  Out of all the countless papers on the floor, Chimp will first need to pick the winning copy.  Darwinian evolution offers its best hope now, the idea that the fittest will survive.  But we have just begun.  Chimp now needs a way to copy this play and pass it on, if it will continue to survive.  Chimp needs another ape to recognize his work is worth copying, proofread with high accuracy, and hit every letter on the typewriter accordingly.  If there are mistakes, those mistakes need to work to the betterment of the composition.  Suppose Champ can do this for a limited time, affordable from an enormous supply of time, chance, and energy.  We’re still missing a director.  We need another monkey to get Chimp to act out all the parts of the script.  Otherwise, we have blueprints without a building, AutoCAD without a machine, DNA without an organism.  No matter how much theory we supply into the vacuum of monkeys, intelligibility needs to step in and decipher the meaning of information.

 I don’t see chimpanzees writing or enacting Hamlet without human guidance.  Human guidance is our first-hand experience of intelligibility and a proven method of directing chimpanzees. So what  I have is a new theorem for the 21st century chimpanzee.  I’ll call it the Busted-Chimp Theorem.  It states:

 “If you put an infinite number of chimpanzees in a casino, the greatest winner will either face the greatest loss or get caught cheating.”

busted chimp

 Now allow me to explain.  The expression “The House always wins” means the casino is keeping track of winnings and making sure things are in their favor.  Natural forces such as decomposition do likewise.  When life attempts to build up, nature seeks to return the living to the dust.  Information is subject to the scattering of a meaningless universe.  Even if chance were afforded enough time to script complexity, the universe plays the part of the House (casino).  What you’ll see in Vegas is a flow of happy faces going into the casino and a flow of sadder faces going out.  Usually, those who make it big keep putting their money back into the same tables.  Unfortunately for the gambler, the law of averages absorbs the winnings.  The cheater thinks he’s doing better, but he can’t do well continuously.  Just like a cheater won’t rake in winnings day after day without drawing notice, complexity can’t stay at its apex in a House full owned and operated by chance.

 Let’s send Chimp and Champ to the casino.  They play every day, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  However, they’ll need a big win to stay ahead and sustain their banana-hungry lifestyle.  One day they encounter Slick Rick, a human with a nifty cheater’s tool.  After a week of training, the chimps are ready to go into the casino and behave like any average gambling ape.  No one knows the better, as the cheating tool hides well beneath their fur.  No one, that is, until the winnings begin adding up, and adding up, and adding up,  The reason they draw attention Is because everyone knows chance is full of ups and downs.  Eventually, the same chance that brought their winnings up will be the same chance that brings them to certain loss.  The House sends its burly employees to the chimps’ table and they resume carrying out the apes.  Of course, natural elements do not play the part of watchful casino bosses, but the rules of probability, blind or not, call ridiculous winnings to accountability.

 Let’s challenge human intelligence the way we would cheaters at a casino.  Assume human intelligence, the apex of complexity, came to us thanks to chance.  The winnings are outstanding.  They draw attention due to the stark contrast of rocks and gases, monkeys and flowers.  The great surrounding void of entropy closes in like the burly casino workers.  How do we as humans, as scientists or as reasoning beings, hold up our logic as a winning, infallible prize?  How do we know the surrounding universe is not reclaiming it even as I write?  Are we cheating by pretending to assign ourselves meaning and value, if we are merely a different arrangement of molecules than those around us?  If there is no Creator, there is no dependable source of intelligence , complexity, or meaning.  Whatever statistical chance we may grasp for, the gamble is not in our favor for any guaranteed length of time.  Either God the Creator wins, or the House of Entropy takes the winnings away.

Infinite-Monkey Theorem

 “If you put an infinite number of monkeys at typewriters, eventually one will bash out the script for Hamlet.”

 Busted-Chimp Theorem

“If you put an infinite number of chimpanzees in a casino, the greatest winner will either face the greatest loss or get caught cheating.”

Busted-Chimp Corollary

“If you put an infinite number of chimpanzees in a casino, there is no perpetual winner.”

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7 thoughts on “Infinite Monkeys and a Gambler’s Chance

    • Which part is not literal? I would agree that some assumptions are ridiculous. To assume chimpanzees could do 98% of human accomplishment, or that a group of monkeys could produce Hamlet, is ridiculous. To be literal, I need a greater intelligence that could only come from a Creator.

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      • The monkeys on a type writer thing, it’s a metaphor for probability. And evolution is not analogous to a one-time highly improbable event, it’s more analogous to the lottery. If a successful mutation is like a $100,000,000 winning ticket does anyone doubt someone will eventually win the lottery? And again after that, and again after that? Why should people ever stop winning the lottery? The reason evolution can produce fantastically complex things like us is that it’s cumulative, it allows unlikely but useful variations to accumulate and recombine in new ways under different conditions. The “tornado in a junkyard” type analogies are just not valid. And the number of mutations in a species in a single generation is orders of magnitude larger than the number of lottery tickets people buy.

        As for a chimpanzee being 95% as impressive as a human a) I’d wager there are some chimpanzees that are smarter, stronger, healthier, saner, less psychotic etc than some humans, and b) small changes in the brain can drastically effect the potential of the whole system, such as with alzheimers patients who can’t convert short term memories to long term memories and as a result don’t have a great deal of potential regardless of how smart they are or the rest of their bodies/brains work. It’s also a matter of being able to communicate and share information and have social skills because if you had never learned to read or spoken to another person or been exposed to culture or media or civilization you would be as feral and stupid as any wild animal. Our potential is a direct result of thousands of years of cumulative learning and debating and discussing and art and culture and war and technological development, no individual is spontaneously as sophisticated as the average person in a first world culture. Cultural development is also cumulative and not spontaneous. If einstein had lived a hundred thousand years ago he would never have had a hope of discovering e=mc2, any more than a chimpanzee or a feral human would of doing much of any importance.

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      • I get that it’s a metaphor. My question is, why don’t we take it further? Chimpanzees have been (supposedly) socializing millions of years before us. Why are scientists not running to them for expertise? I still am at a loss to what 98% similarity converts to. Perhaps it’s only the physical outcome of the organism. And Alzheimer’s can’t help the case if you take a look at the beginning of that person’s life.

        “And the number of mutations in a species in a single generation is orders of magnitude larger than the number of lottery tickets people buy.” But what is the percentage? And what mutations are beneficial? I’m not a gambler, but I’d rather try hitting a 6-digit number correctly than a 3-billion combo of base-pairs.

        The Busted-Chimp Theorem argues that entropy fights against the accumulation effect and against the very intelligence we depend upon.

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  1. “I get that it’s a metaphor. My question is, why don’t we take it further? Chimpanzees have been (supposedly) socializing millions of years before us.”

    They’ve been socializing the same amount of time we have, common ancestry and all that.

    “Why are scientists not running to them for expertise?”

    This is like saying that aborigines not being rocket scientists proves rocket scientists were genetically engineered. How a species evolves or how a civilization develops are complex and must involve a lot of cause and effect, two species should no more develop the same way than two independent civilizations should end up speaking the same language or having identical cultures. It’s valid to ask questions about origins and history, but it is hazardous to draw blanket conclusions from our lack of immediate answers.

    “I still am at a loss to what 98% similarity converts to. Perhaps it’s only the physical outcome of the organism.”

    Intelligence is at some level physical too, which is why cracking someone over the skull can interfere with cognitive ability. Another problem we face in even trying to figure out how smart other species are is that they are not hard-wired to pay attention to us or care about us or communicate or empathize with us, so communicating at all is often difficult. Dogs have been selectively bred and been dependent on us for thousands of years so they are extremely attentive and pay attention to how we feel, the tone of our voice, pay attention to our body language etc – but most other species pay attention to our gestures and words about as much as we pay attention to the hairs on a tic’s behind. So when we teach a primate sign language we have to train it to even care about what we’re doing to begin with.

    “And Alzheimer’s can’t help the case if you take a look at the beginning of that person’s life.”

    I’m not saying chimps have alzheimers, it wasn’t exhibit A for the defense. I was just illustrating how a tiny neurological change can make a dramatic difference in terms of cognitive ability. And bear in mind everything in nature is on a budget, everything costs calories. So even something as exquisitely useful as an eye will be destroyed by natural selection if it’s not useful enough to warrant the biological cost of the organ, as evidenced by the many species with degraded vision or devolved eyes. The same is true of intelligence, lets say a genetic mutation made a fish as smart as a person – this is a ridiculous example because the various parts of the brain we call “intelligence” evolved over hundreds of millions of years in countless species and not by one magical mutation, but bear with me. So you have this super-fish. It has no dexterity to build tools, no opposable thumbs, it has no speech to communicate or strategize with the other fish etc. And it’s newfound intelligence, aside from causing it to need massive amounts of calories to support it’s brain function and seriously increasing it’s risk of starvation might also cause all manner of hesitation or psychological issues or who knows what, so perhaps the stupid fishes will actually be more survivable than the smart one. So perhaps the intelligence could not, even under such simplistic conditions, evolve in a vacuum, perhaps it can only evolve in a species that has other traits that allow it to make immediate use of it’s new found intelligence, such as in primates for instance the ability to walk upright and carry and manipulate tools and weapons.

    [“And the number of mutations in a species in a single generation is orders of magnitude larger than the number of lottery tickets people buy.”]

    “But what is the percentage?”

    The odds of winning the mega-jackpot are something like 1 in a hundred million, there are something like 100 hereditary mutations per person per generation average (and more as you age, possibly more than a thousand if you have kids when you’re older) so that’s around 700 billion mutations per generation of humans or about seven thousand mega-jackpot winning tickets per generation.

    “And what mutations are beneficial?”

    I don’t know, and I don’t know if it’s possible to quantify, given that what constitutes a beneficial mutation is very subjective to the environment and it’s impossible to know all of the effects of a mutation in all situations, organisms and environments. Nevertheless studies and observations in nature show that they do happen and frequently.

    “I’m not a gambler, but I’d rather try hitting a 6-digit number correctly than a 3-billion combo of base-pairs.”

    As I said before evolution is a cumulative process which is analogous to winning the lottery over and over again (your ticket doesn’t have to win, just somebody’s ticket) not a one-time unlikely event.

    “The Busted-Chimp Theorem argues that entropy fights against the accumulation effect and against the very intelligence we depend upon.”

    This is a misunderstanding of the second law of thermodynamics which states that in an isolated system all matter tends (eventually) toward disorder. The earth’s surface is not an isolated system, it receives thermodynamic energy from it’s molten core and from the sun which if you know about basic earth science is what makes life thermodynamically possible. If it were impossible for complexity to build up on earth as creationists insist it would not only make evolution impossible it would make life impossible, since a baby could not grow into an adult which requires the same type of increase in complexity.

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    • “It wasn’t exhibit A for the defense.” Please lighten up. I haven’t called my lawyer and I do enjoy a mind-provoking conversation.

      Super-smart fish? Well, we do have dolphins and squid, sea creatures at least. Still, we’re dealing with theory, until we observe animals exhibiting comparable intelligence. What we can see is humans employing the highest intelligence in science, technology, language, and so on. This is observable, testable, and repeatable. The human-like-animal is still in the theory stage.

      The lottery fails for the case I meant to make with DNA. There is a much more detailed process than input-output. This is why I tried to set up chimpanzees doing the best they could to keep up with the double-helix and its reproduction cycle. It’s been awhile, but I did study cell biology in college with great admiration.

      The earth stands non-isolated in an entropy-hungry universe by comparison. This doesn’t help evolution’s case; it puts a stacked pile of hot coffees in the Arctic.

      Apparently, our worldviews are differing. As for myself, I find it amazing that we humans have been given a special place of observing the universe, the earth, and its living creatures. Furthermore, I believe the Creator hard-wired our physical beings and fused it with our soul so that a relationship would ensue.

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      • [“It wasn’t exhibit A for the defense.”]

        “Please lighten up. I haven’t called my lawyer and I do enjoy a mind-provoking conversation.”

        I was trying to tell you to lighten up – my point was that I was just talking, not everything was an argument or piece of evidence geared toward a particular goal or conclusion.

        “Super-smart fish? Well, we do have dolphins and squid, sea creatures at least. Still, we’re dealing with theory, until we observe animals exhibiting comparable intelligence.”

        The fish example was a random hypothetical meant to illustrate a point about one trait making another trait useful (and thus evolvable). The same way you can’t evolve a wing without an arm or an arm without a fin. Natural selection can’t plan ahead, it does everything indirectly and every new trait changes the paradigm allowing for whole new things to be able to evolve. People imagine evolution is a ladder with bugs on the lowest rung and people on the top and the goal is to be like us, but that is just human narcissism. In reality we may be an evolutionary stepping stone to something even more impressive or useful or meaningful..

        “What we can see is humans employing the highest intelligence in science, technology, language, and so on. This is observable, testable, and repeatable. The human-like-animal is still in the theory stage.”

        First of all animal means a member of kingdom animalia which includes humans, so humans are by definition “human-like animals”. Second there are other extinct species of human-like animals that did leave behind traces of technology and were likely about as smart as we are. And third, as far as other species being less intelligence it entirely depends what you mean by intelligence. There are many neurological abilities like memory or reflexes or speech that other species outshine us in. As I said we simply have the combination of traits that allows for those other things like technology and civilization. Take one or two away and it doesn’t matter how clever we are, we are never going to be able to build skyscrapers or split an atom, which requires more than intelligence, it requires a high degree of dexterity, complex social skills and the ability to pass information on generationally.

        “The lottery fails for the case I meant to make with DNA. There is a much more detailed process than input-output.”

        Yes a lottery is not in every way analogous to DNA, no analogy or metaphor is perfect. You’re supposed to take from it the idea behind it and ignore the rest.

        “This is why I tried to set up chimpanzees doing the best they could to keep up with the double-helix and its reproduction cycle. It’s been awhile, but I did study cell biology in college with great admiration.”

        I see things I do not understand as a mystery, not a miracle. I think the latter is a fallacy for several reasons.

        “The earth stands non-isolated in an entropy-hungry universe by comparison. This doesn’t help evolution’s case; it puts a stacked pile of hot coffees in the Arctic.”

        Two things, again I am not making a “case”, and two, entropy on a universal scale is irrelevant to evolution since all it means is that the universe will, trillions of trillions of years from now when the last of the stars goes cold and the last of the fusible elements is broken down, no longer be able to support life. In no way does that contradict anything in biology or even have to do with anything in biology. The second law of thermodynamics doesn’t state that everything consistently breaks down in an isolated system, just that there is an overall tendency toward less order. The chemical order on the earth is a drop in the bucket compared to the roughly 5 million tons of matter the sun converts into energy every second. So yes, the universe is breaking down and a bazillion years from now will be entirely broken down. What has that got to do with evolution?

        “Apparently, our worldviews are differing. As for myself, I find it amazing that we humans have been given a special place of observing the universe, the earth, and its living creatures.”

        You assume it was given to us, and every species has a “special” place, a dung beetle’s place in the universe is just as unique as ours. And if we were a dung beetle that achieved consciousness we’d probably be psyched about that too.

        “Furthermore, I believe the Creator hard-wired our physical beings and fused it with our soul so that a relationship would ensue.”

        I believe aliens that used to live on the third moon of neptune put an invisible, un-detectable micro-chip in our minds that makes us feel good when we watch scifi movies.

        There’s about as much evidence to support my claim as there is to support yours.

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