Why Millionth Monkey?

I’m often asked about the origin and significance of the phrase “millionth monkey.”  On my website, I reproduce the following three quotations in an attempt to (somewhat cryptically) explain my company’s name.

 From Émile Borel, “Mécanique Statistique et Irréversibilité,” J. Phys. 5e série, vol. 3, 1913 (excerpt trans. by M. Huber):

“Imagine a million monkeys randomly hitting typewriter keys and that, under the supervision of illiterate foremen, these monkey typists work hard ten hours a day with a million typewriters. The illiterate foremen gather the pages and bind them. And after a year, they would find that these volumes contain exact copies of books of all kinds and of all languages stored in the richest libraries in the world.”

From Douglas Adams. The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, London: Pan, 1979:

“Ford!” he said, “there’s an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they’ve worked out.”

From “Monkeys Don’t Write Shakespeare,” Associated Press, May 9, 2003:

Give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, the theory goes, and they will eventually produce prose the likes of Shakespeare. Give six monkeys one computer for a month, and they will 
make a mess.

Researchers at Plymouth University in England reported this week that primates left alone with a computer attacked the machine and failed to produce a single word.

“They pressed a lot of S’s,” researcher Mike Phillips said Friday. “Obviously, English isn’t their first language.”

A group of faculty and students in the university’s media program left a computer in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo in southwest England, home to six Sulawesi crested macaques. Then, they waited.

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.


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