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Notes Towards the Complete Works of Shakespeare is a small, hardbound volume that presents and documents a five-page set of notes typed on a computer, written and published in 2002. Its six authors are known only by their first names--Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan. They are Sulawesi crested macaques (that's Macaca nigra for the taxonomically inclined) and live at the Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in beautiful Devon, England. The notes' ostensible purpose is to prepare for a rewrite of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

The creation of this book was part science experiment, part performance art, and was set up by the staff and students of Plymouth University, based on the well-known infinite monkeys theorem. Six monkeys and a computer is, of course, too small a sample to offer statistical validity (apart from the obvious flaw of it being a very specific and finite natural number) but it provides insight regarding the behaviour of monkeys in the presence of mechanical or electronic writing devices.

At first, the report states, the alpha male took a rock and began bashing the keyboard. This has interesting sociological implications as it demonstrates the typical reaction of the ruling class towards means of educating and enlightening the ignorant plebs. I think it can be considered likely that aforementioned male would have done the same to Gutenberg's press. Subsequently, again according to the report, the monkeys "were interested in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard." This, I believe, demonstrates admirably the inclination of the uneducated lower classes of primate society towards dismissing and insulting what they don't understand. It follows that the ruling class needn't bother suppressing what the masses cannot or will not appreciate, however all primates like bashing things with rocks.

The text itself shows a strong disposition towards use of the S key, series of which make up a significant part of the text. Other letters used in significant numbers were G, A, Q and F. The work begins with an F and ends with an N. Apart from the last page, which includes many Ms, Ns and Js, there's a preponderance of letters located on the left side of the keyboard. The five pages represent the combined output of all six monkeys during the month of the experiment. No words present in the English language were found in the text.

Given the character and quality of this preliminary work, empirical evidence of the validity of the infinite monkeys theorem could take a while to materialise. Infinity, in this case, might end up being a wee bit longer than you thought it would be. In essence, it substantiates the opinions of the skeptics. An infinite number of monkeys disposed towards typing 'sssss' or other strings that are at no point found in Shakespeare's works, and unfailingly doing so at intervals less than the total length of the Complete Works, insert a non-random factor that would preclude the possibility of any individual monkey ever completing the uninterrupted sequence of said Works. Perhaps using an infinite number of monkeys taking turns on a single typewriter would yield better results. The monkeys also displayed "a level of intention," since they could see that something changed on the screen when they typed a letter. This further discourages true randomness. It should be noted that these are lower primates, not Koko the gorilla, and definitely not old Bill.

At the time of writing the book could be found on Amazon UK for £25 (ISBN 0-9541181-2-X) but was not in stock. It was also available in PDF at http://www.vivaria.net/experiments/notes/publication/, and has been translated into German, French and Spanish. A limited edition book and DVD set documenting the monkeys' progress is apparently (in 2009) no longer on sale anywhere in the known universe.

I don't know about the other languages but would assume that the German one transposes the Ys and Zs and has more umlaute and fewer semicolons and square brackets. Which leads to the question whether infinity could be shortened (or at least the definite goal brought closer) by changing the keyboard or typewriter--or the monkeys. Insert joke about English majors.

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