Wednesday, November 14, 2007

adjudicating probabilities.

Could an immortal monkey, given an infinite amount of time, an incorruptible typewriter and an endless supply of ink ribbons and paper, reproduce the complete works of Shakespeare?

The prima facie case that Albert II, the immortal monkey, can:

(1) Albert II has the functioning capacity to press every key on the type writer, such that any letters and punctuation found in the English alphabet is within Albert II’s ability to duplicate.
(2) All texts are the mereological sum of a certain arrangements of letters, spaces, and punctuation marks.
(3) By (2), the complete works of Shakespeare is the mereological sum of a certain arrangement between letters, spaces, and punctuation marks.
(4) Because Albert II has the capacity to produce any and all English letters and punctuation marks, he has the ability to reproduce any given word found in Shakespeare’s complete works.
(5) Given an infinite timeline all possibilities are actualized.
(6) To have a capacity is to make something possible.
(7) (1)-(6) entail that Albert can reproduce, verbatim, the complete works of Shakespeare.

Some might find premise (5) suspect, which said that on an infinite timeline all possibilities are actualized. Isn’t it possible that on an infinite timeline something never actualizes its possibility? For instance, we say that it’s possible that an orange could be painted red. But despite this fact it might so happen that in an infinite timeline this possibility is never actualized? If so, then (5) is false.

Crap. I just realized that in order give this issue adequate attention I need to write a whole book on modality, intentionality, and causation. And I don’t have the time for that… nor the proper understanding…

But my hunch is that Albert II cannot; that possibility, under these conditions, is null. It’s metaphysically impossible. And my reason for thinking such is this: Albert II does have the capacity to communicate but lacks the cognitive capacity for abstraction, and the ability to use language depends heavily on a robust capacity for abstraction. In order to reproduce the work of Shakespeare one would need to be able to know the content of his works, and then use language to represent it. Albert II simply lacks this ability, and therefore he couldn’t reproduce it. Albert II could of course, happenstantially, reproduce a few Shakespearian sentences; but happenstantially reproducing a single page of Shakespeare, let alone all of his works, is simply impossible.

So what of the original prima-facie case? What premise would I deny? I would accuse premise (1) of being causally insufficient to entail (7). Albert II can press keys on a typewriter but he cannot form sentences with the appropriate type of teleology; and having a telos is necessary for duplicating the arrangement of letters, spaces, and punctuation marks that Shakespeare used to compose his work.



Blogger Louis said...

just wait another 10,000 years. it'll happen.

7:29 AM  

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