Infinite monkey theorem

We entered the room. Anemic winter light filtered through small windows, fingering random parts of tarnished metal thingums, the like of which I’d never seen before. The apparatuses were stacked everywhere – on the ground, on tables low and high, on chairs and shelves…chunky, all-black relics that had to have hailed from our technological infancy. The “Arcane Tours” guide shuffled ahead of us and stopped when he could move no further.

“They look like Zipfian meteorites,” my wife whispered to me. I agreed. It was hard to imagine a time when humans used things so large, so opaque and mechanical. Rows of three-dimensional buttons composed the lower half of each instrument, and each button had a mysterious marking on it. A symbol of some kind. I’d seen images of such machines before, but I couldn’t remember where or when.

“What did these do?” I asked the guide, in wonderment.

“We-ll, they’re called typewriters,” he said, in a voice threaded with little unintentional buzzes and burbles. The man was no spring chicken. I guessed upwards of 140.

“Their ex-tinction goes back about, uh – three centuries – to when, uh, most information and literature was writ-ten… you know, writ-ten instead of pictorialized… People of the time created texts with them.”

“No kidding,” I said. I walked up to one, tried to press a button with my right index. It barely budged.

“The keys re-quire a lot of physical exertion to dep-ress,” the guide said.

“Huh. Why are there peanut shells everywhere?” my wife asked.

“We-ll, we have monkeys,” the guide answered. “They’re, uh, gone for the day now. But they’re he-re most days.”

“Monkeys! What on this big brown earth for?”

“Uh, a small group of anach-ronistic folks – a couple scientists, a historian, a linguist – made some big stink twenty years ago, claiming it was imp-erative to ‘better preserve our text-ual past’… and be-cause the majority of text-ual artifacts were near total disint-egration, and obviously no human could interpret or re-create the writ-ten symbols, they brought in the chimp-an-zees.”

“Amazing.” I noticed stacks of white rectangular material, possibly almost as thin as our miAll screens, in the far corners.

“The chimp-ees took very quickly to the task, and had soon rewrit-ten many of the old stories. At least, the scholars concerned were pret-ty sure that the new texts were the same. Their image soft-ware analyses concluded so, anyway. And our dear prim-ates have kept at it, diligent souls – for there was an enormous lit-erature that almost became dust.”

“What an extraordinary concept,” said my wife. “Would we be able to see a bit of this – ‘writing’?”

“In fa-ct. You can,” the guide said, and he pinched out a tiny smile, genuine, the first I’d seen from him. “We’re not sup-posed to offer unprompt-ed. But if the customer asks directly… Here.” He scuttled to a side bench and retrieved a handhold of white rectangles, like the piles I’d seen, with each thin piece encased in mylar, and placed them between my open fingers.

So many tiny symbols! So tightly crammed together. No colors, no cohesion. The idea of our unsophisticated ancestry using this as their entertainment was laughable and absurd. But fitting? Life must have been impossibly dull. My curiosity waned into boredom after a second or two. I handed the sheets to my wife. She looked at them just as briefly.

“Wait,” the guide said. “We have an app that lets you read them.” And he directed his miAll at mine and my wife’s in turn, transferring the software. “Hover your screen over the sheet.”

I did, seeing with renewed interest how the unknown symbols popped to bright, instantly-readable pictorials. “Cool,” I said, and scanned the remaining pages. “Seems the old writers were more creative than I’d have expected – look: in the end monkeys are sporting golden crowns, eating peanuts in the Oval Office. And here, troops of naked men and women are building massive pyramidal structures out of trees. What’s the title of this doozie? The author?”

“Y’know, uh, I don’t know. We’re mis-sing the cover page to that one.”

“Too bad. I’d have liked to know what intellectual nutcase produced such a gem. Oh well. The mysteries of history, I suppose.”

My wife chuckled. “It’s about time to go, dear,” she said. “I only got twelve hours last night. I’m exhausted.”

“Of course,” I replied. “A pleasure,” I said to the guide, “but we must be heading home. Thank you for this fascinating peep into the past.”

“You’re wel-come,” he said, and led us out to the exit.

~ by kingzoko on May 21, 2017.

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