THE NINE BILLION AND FIRST NAME OF GOD

Consider a plebeian 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of white paper. Upon it may be printed, certainly in monochrome, an image of any of the great works of art of mankind (and all of the others throughout the entire universe). Upon it may be printed a page of any and all of the great works of literature (and all of the others throughout the entire universe). That human minds must be enslaved by the process of creation before any such image or content may exist can be rendered a moot point.

A laser printer can spray an 8 x 10.5 portion of that white expanse, 84 square inches of the potential 93.5, with at least 600 dots/inch of black or white. Encoded in that modulated albedo is a page of everything that can be conceived and projected by the mind of man as graphic or language. It is a conceptually simple process to drive a random number generator, a Monte Carlo simulation or an exhaustive combinatorial algorithm to create everything possible in all languages and visual perceptions - albeit accompanied by a rather greater acreage of noise.

Suppose we place a billion monkeys with a billion typewriters in a room and wait. Will we ultimately get Shakespeare or, on the average, a room with 500,000,000 pregnant monkeys and congressional legislation? Both Africa and Mexico suggest a real world answer.

An unformatted dot matrix printer ASCII page was typically 65 characters wide by 55 lines long. Ignoring punctuation and capitalization, each byte may be one of the 26 English letters or a space. The total number of combinations is therefore 27[(65)(55)]. The product is the number of slots on the page to be filled, each of which can take on 27 different identities. Pushing 27 to the 3575th power through a calculator gives 1.33x105117, or roughly a one followed by 5117 zeros different combinations. The number of seconds in 13.7 billion years (including leap years), a generous age for the universe, is 4.32x1017. Going through all the output... Hell, generating even an infinitesimal fraction of the output would try the patience of a god. The six least frequent letters of the alphabet are x,z,y,q,k and j. Remove them. Running 213575 gives 8.59x104726, and that is no improvement. If we print just a quarter page with our truncated alphabet we get 21894 or 1.16x101182 distinct images. That still busts our budget.

Let us try fully formed words. The average word is 5.2 letters plus a space for a total of 6.2 bytes. Running [(65)(55)]/6.2 gives 576 words. A basic working vocabulary demands about 5000 words to give 5000576 or 4.04x102130 total pages. A quarter page with even a severely truncated vocabulary of 1000 words yields 10432 different pages. Who can abide the time to look?

Let us consider graphics, since pictures of the letters are just as useful as the letters themselves and we get artwork as a bonus. Given 600 dots/inch or 360,000 dots/square inch, the printable portion of our paper holds 30,240,000 dots each of which can be black or white. Running 230,240,000 gives a mere 1.17x109,103,147 images - a one followed by a few more than nine million zeros. If we lower our expectations from the heroic limits of laser printers to the more mundane modesties of a nine pin dot matrix printer, 75 dots/inch or 5,635 dots/square inch, we run 2472,500 or 4.71x10142,236 images. If we settle for a meager quarter page we still generate 1.47x1035,559 images, which dwarfs the ASCII problem - itself unapproachable. Consider the canvases of the pointillist painter Georges Seurat.

The sorriest paragraph of prose is a miraculous distillation from an endless universe of random noise. What within the anatomy of our minds can in real time sift through such a volume of manifold complexities that the integrated duration of the universe is rendered negligible, dwarfed by the sheer size of the collection? Given that such an exquisite biological analytical engine exists, how can there simultaneously occur such a proportion of humanity who can only access a small and imperfect portion of the miracle? The task is terrifyingly immense. One could expect either success or failure, but hardly imperfection.

Human creativity points to a fundamental process accessed by our natal wetware and absent from our created hardware and software. The deterministic nature of digital circuitry and the programming it supports must be at some essential level be a rudimentary abstraction of the true workings of our minds, much as Newtonian physics gives way to relativity and quantum mechanics at finer levels of analysis. Chipping away at numbers like 105117, 102130, or 10432 will not get us to the finish line or even out of the starting blocks. Something resident within our skulls can dip into everything all at once and retrieve meaningful quarry. What a wondrous analytical engine sits in self-contemplation.

Let there be light! Uncle Al does not care how many Luddite Enviro-whiners get their noses bent out of joint by its actinic brilliance.


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