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.

Like:

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.