40. Shakespeare’s Infinite Monkeys

01 Mar

MISCONCEPTION : If you give a monkey a typewriter it will mash the keys randomly, and it is possible that it could spell a word. So if you got infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters you would eventually get one which would type out a play by Shakespeare, or for that matter any piece of literature that has, or will ever be. Just because there are so many monkeys.

TRUTH : This makes sense, but unfortunately it doesn’t work. The reason… monkeys are lazy and too smart.  They have evolved to look for patterns, a good trait for surviving in the wild but not so good for typewriting because they type a bit, choose a pattern then repeat it over and over again, meaning that monkeys can’t produce the works of Shakespeare, no matter how many monkeys you have. not even infinite monkeys are enough, it is impossible.

In fact a team at the University of Plymouth attempted this, they put a computer in an enclosure with six standard macaque monkeys and left the computer there for six months. At the end they looked at what had been typed, and found the monkeys pattern. In six months the six monkeys had managed to write  a total of five pages of text. The text consisting of almost nothing but the letter ‘s’ over and over again. Showing that, as previously suggested, the monkeys just found a pattern and stuck to it, in this case they liked ‘s’.

Also the computer was rather severely damaged by the monkeys. But that is beside the point.


Posted by on March 1, 2011 in Misconceptions, Trivia


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6 responses to “40. Shakespeare’s Infinite Monkeys

  1. Mario

    July 26, 2013 at 09:50

    With infinite time maybe the infinite monkeys will evolve into a smarter monkey and write shakespear?

    werent we monkeys long ago?

    • Anonymous

      August 8, 2013 at 17:31


  2. Anonymous

    June 24, 2012 at 09:48

    Infinity makes improbability a certainty.

  3. Hassus

    March 2, 2011 at 11:14

    Just something that popped in my mind:)

  4. Hassus

    March 2, 2011 at 11:07

    Hey Hinto! It’s Hassus.

    I read this and thought I would add my two cents to your blog.

    As long as there is the slightest chance for a letter or a word to be spelled out at any given moment, infinity should take care of the rest and bring you everything from the bible to the collected works of Shakespeare. Despite a clear tendency with monkeys, I would still see it possible at any given moment – like the very first, for example – that there’s a small chance that the monkey will stop pressing “S” and instead touch the “O” button, having then spelled the word so, and so on – even if the odds are 1:9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999…
    And you can go on and on from there:)

    Good read
    – Hassus

    • Alexandre R.D.M. Coates

      March 2, 2011 at 23:40

      A very interesting thought, in practice it would never occur, however the number of letters that occur before a monkey settles into a pattern varies from monkey to monkey. So with infinite and non-identical monkeys one could find a single monkey that by the sheer number of monkeys is an outlier so large as to type out several thousand words, or possibly all of Shakespeare, however I do think that the pattern and even changes in the pattern can cause words, but not full blown non-repetition of sentences. Thanks for your input.


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