We stand on guard

Monkey Shakespeare

This one’s been blogged all over the place, but what the heck — I’ll post it here, too. Apparently, a gang of artists decided to test the old infinite-monkeys idea. So they put six monkeys in a room with a word processor for a month to see if they’d write King Lear. Thirty days later, they had not managed to write a single word — and in fact mostly just pushed the letter “s”. As Wired News reports:

At first, said Phillips, “the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it.

“Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard,” added Phillips, who runs the university’s Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies.

Eventually, monkeys Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in.

On their web site, they note that this was more of an art project than hard science — and that they wanted to explore the question of creativity:

The joke (if indeed there is one) must not be seen to be at the expense of the monkeys but on the popular interest in the idea - especially those in the computer science and mathematics community (interested in chance, randomness, autonomous systems and artificial life). The fact that the work of Shakespeare is probably the work of a group of writers working under a pseudonym adds further irony to the work. Clearly, Shakespeare did not produce his works by some chance operation but it is also entirely disputable that he existed at all or certainly that he was one person in fact, one commonly held view is that he was an illiterate actor and a consortium of writers used his name as an ironic joke. The creative thinking subject as the site of consciousness, and the subject as a crucial part of a sentence and text - that which the action is determined by - remains a contested and contradictory set of ideas. Creativity is neither random nor entirely predetermined, in other words.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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