Posts Tagged ‘infinity’

Infinity, Typewriters, Monkeys, Ricky Gervais, Karl Pilkington and …

In General Mish-Mash on February 17, 2012 at 12:21 am

Recently I found myself laughing – well ROTFLMAO, really – at a conversation between Ricky Gervais and Karl Pilkington. I guess it wasn’t really a conversation. Ricky was bombarding Karl with some philosophicl concepts about randomness and infinity and Karl was looking non-plussed then responding with complete denial and disbelief.

Take a look, have a laugh:

Now, central to the exchange was that old metaphor for randomness – monkey (or monkeys) typing.

The nature of infinity suggests that, allowed at it forever the Works of Shakespeare will be included in the output of the monkeys’ efforts.

Aside from laughing this conversation got me wondering about a couple of things.

Firstly, does the monkey metaphor confuse the issue. As Karl says, quite simply: “It wouldn’t happen”. Is the randomness disguised by our “monkey paradigm” – that a monkey could learn or could be perceived to be learning how to type better.

I wonder whether Karl would concede the possibility if, instead of monkeys, he was told that infinitely powerful, infinitely fast computers randomly pumping out characters for an infinite period of time would produce the Works of Shakespeare.

Maybe … if so, then it is the monkeys in the metaphor that is at the core of Karl’s disbelief.

But, somehow I think it is infinity that really causes Karl the biggest problem.

Infinity is a bloody odd thing and impossible events happen under that title. Things happen under the good name of infinity that are simply unbelievable in our very finite and very practical work-a-day life.


We all know that there is an infinite number of  counting numbers: 1,2,3,4, … whatever number you say I can add 1 to it and get a bigger number and go on and on forever at it. Yeah?

But what if I told you that there are as many even numbers (ie numbers divisible by 2) as there are counting numbers.

I think Karl would say:

“Bollocks, if you have a bag with all numbers – 1,2,3,4, right – and take out all the odd numbers. Right. Your bag would be half full. You’ve ditched half the numbers and the half left is even numbers. So you can’t have as many numbers as you started with.”

But it is true.

Every number in the counting numbers can be paired with every number in the set of even numbers – they are matched 1 to 1 – so the sets are equal in size. (Just take each counting number and multiply it by two – that is the 1 to 1 relationship.)

There are many weirder things but lets not get bogged down. My assumption of Karl’s response to this is that he would make the flaw of not being able to escape from the finite world.

Unbelievable things happen with infinity.

Back to the monkeys typing. Here is a bloke trying to prove that the monkeys would not produce Shakespeare’s Works. He takes about 8 minutes – it’s pretty dull bt at least watch a bit of it.

Now, Ricky laughed – and many have joined him – at Karl’s pragmatic and practical response to this infinty/random thing. Many might think this Karl’s response was not the brightest but …

It was a darn sight brighter – infinitely brighter – than the bloke doing all the numbers trying to disprove it. And it was also infinitely more entertaining.

Karl was spot on when he said it “just wouldn’t happen.” It would not happen in our finite world and certainly not in the very practical world of Karl.

The bloke with the numbers deftly deploys multiplication, indices, logarithms in the effort to say it wouldn’t happen.

But he starts off with the premise that the exercise is conducted in a finite space – big, sure! But still finite. And all his prattling is based on exactly the same assumption that Karl made – our world is finite and it just would not happen.

He would have been more honest and more entertaining if he just said:

“You know what … it just wouldn’t happen. So don’t bother thinking about it. Get on with something useful”

But in the conceptual world – it must happen, it is a certainty – why?

Because that is the nature of infinity.

Speeding towards infinity … or is that irrelevance?

In General Mish-Mash, Mixed Up Mish-Mash (Confusion) on December 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

The universal speed record may have been broken!  No, not the land speed record, nor the water speed record, nor airspeed.

But THE record for speed!

The one that is constant. The speed that defines. The irrevocable, the upper limit of all possibilities.

And it may have been shattered – “Faster than light” particles spark science drama.

The World's Abuzz!!

Even bigger news than the buzz caused by Roger Bannister’s effort at the Iffley Road Track on 6th May 1954. 4 minutes!!

This may turn our world on its head. Mind you, that might not be a bad thing. Sounds like a turn for the better – especially for those of us for whom everything is relative and – relatively speaking – wrong – the wrong size, shape, time, and place.

Paying homage to relativity is getting a bit tiresome … and it is often very, very, bloody difficult. Even for relatively (mmmm!) simple things like …

Like when you’re sitting on a train, the train starts to move but you could swear you are still still! It’s the adjacent train that’s moving, isn’t it? And in any case if are you moving (or stationary) it is relative to what?

Oh, you “know” you’re stationary. Stopped. Fixed to the spot.


You’re sitting in a train on the surface of the Earth which is moving at around 236,000 metres/second in an Easterly direction.

Your train is moving – westerly (from Central Station to Penrith) – so you think!  Are you really? How do you work that out? How do you account for your easterly roll in that calculation.

No matter how hard it all seems, there are solutions … whether you have to called on rotational physics or fluid dynamics, or Einstein’s theories of relativity, answers can be worked out  … it’s all in the physics and, there are finite degrees of freedom. The metrics are discrete! Do the math.

Well there were solutions, the metrics were discrete, until now. Until news about particle motion faster than the speed of light!! (Yeah, I know it is still just speculation but … sheesh!, let me have my fun.)

Physically discrete, calculable, tangible phenomena of the world of science become blurred, indistinct. They shift into hazy, shady, mysterious and poetic realms.

It is as it should be! Worlds collide and merge. Fact is stranger than fiction. Science more imaginative than art, art adopts the technological.

Voila!! Square pegs now fit into round holes.

Dimensions shift. Our linear approach is disrupted. Our simplistic models need discarding … or at least augmenting.

Even to our emotional worlds we apply pragmatic cause-effect formulae. They undermine our very being, our value, our humanity.

Damn!!  That sentence is straight line logic, irreversible cause followed by effect. But we have this one track sensibility, don’t we, we depend on it in many ways … and now with one swift kick.

A kick at a speed faster than the speed of light!!

The immutable is muted, boundaries broken, straight-jackets loosened – the insane CAN run the asylum. Particles are emitted and collide with unprecedented force … exploding into new models, new dimensions – the rigid order of Cartesian pairs & triples cast aside for more chaotic models. The birth of a deep and moving structure  where the chaos and predictable patterns are one and the same – beauty is both simple and complex.

This stuff can do your head in!!

But look at connectedness in the modern world. What could be more chaotic, structured, and patterned than the networks we immerse ourselves in … are we immersed? or really just sitting and watching it unfold around us, doing our best to keep from being swallowed up.

What could be more damaging to your head and your heart than to be part of something but disconnected from it – that is incongruence. Constructively damaging, of course.

Embedded within networks but also distant from them.

A context, a moment of incongruence when you are awash with simultaneous senses of insignificance and feeling that your presence is significant.

Slouching towards infinity and irrelevance.

Slouching faster than the speed of light.