Library of Google

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Yesterday, I picked up “Labyrinths,” a book of short stories and essays by Jorge Luis Borges and started reading “The Library of Babel” before nodding off. While only about 10 pages, it is a very dense 10 pages. For those unfamiliar with this story, it is sort of a variation on the “infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters” story/theory. The story is about a neverending library. Whether “neverending” means infinite in size or cyclical, we don't know — but we do know that ever possible combination of letters, space, period, and comma for every possible 410 page book is represented. Obviously, a lot is jibberish. Some appears orderly (like the three letters “MCV” repeated for the length of the book.) Some will actually be English (or some other language) which may or may not make sense and may or may not be true. There may be a book somewhere in there with the story of your life and death, just the same as there are countless other books very similar but differing in a plethora of details or outright incorrect in large sweeping portions. Getting all meta, there is bound to be a book that tells which other books are true and which books are false (although there is equal chance of a book that pretends to do this, but is wrong.) It's enough to make your brain hurt.

So last night, immediately after reading this, I had a dream. I dreamed that I “cracked” the system and that I did so using Google. I found that the symbols weren't completely random–that “9” appeared more often than “4.” Let's overlook the fact that numbers don't actually appear in the books, shall we? They weren't truly random, but built with a pseudorandom number generator (like a computer), which did not have a seed number with enough bits to possibly represent all possible books. Let's also overlook that in order to guarantee generation of all possible books you'd probably do it sequentially and not randomly, then “shuffle” them in the library so you don't have the “AAAA” book next to the “AAAB” book, etc. So, in my dream, because of this, not all books could be represented by a simple 32 (or 64) bit random seed. That could build 1.8×10^19 books, but not the complete set of all books (which, unless I'm mistaken, is 25^(80*40*410) possibilities according to the description of what makes up a book — big enough that Apple's calculator says “infinity” and Unix's bc command takes longer than I'm willing to wait.) I'm not sure what, exactly, this “cracked” or figured out — but it was important in the dream.

Posted in: Books Code Dreams

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