Recently, I have been heard to argue that the “weather forecast” section of nightly newscasts should be replaced by a segment of more obvious practical utility to viewers – specifically, I have suggested that the weatherman make way for the monkey news.
First, as to the irrelevance of weather-related information. The fact is that most so-called “forecasts” consist of little more than vague equivocation about what might happen tomorrow combined with pointless recitation of what the weather has already been today. It is exceedingly unlikely, here in urban North America, that tomorrow’s weather will be suddenly and ferociously predatory to the point that it constitutes an immediate physical danger. If nature should happen to drop a surprising and dangerous storm on us city dwellers, we will do what rational humans should do – stay indoors*. These facts tend to suggest that having even a reliable forecast is of no especially critical importance in the first place; I would argue – loudly – alongside innumerable senior citizens in doughnut shops across this great land that the forecasts with which we are provided fail miserably to achieve the status of “reliable” and thus must be even more superfluous. As to that portion of the program devoted to advising what the weather was, I fail to see the point, aside from the odd occasion when it might come in handy to be able to thereafter say with some authority, “See Bob, that was a tornado that trashed your barn”, anyway.
By now, the reader should be in earnest agreement that weathermen must surely soon be replaced. Thus will dawn the inevitable age of news of the monkey. Would you rather hear that it’s (maybe) going to be “partly sunny” tomorrow, or would you prefer to be made aware that chimps are arming themselves? What about the differential rates of vomit ingestion as between temple-dwelling and free-range macaques – still think you need to spend time hearing that it did NOT rain in the past 24 hours? Wouldn’t you rather hear about monkey evictions in Plano, Texas rather than the time the sun will set tomorrow?
And now there’s monkey math:
One mathematician calculates that if the universe contains 17 billion galaxies, each containing 17 billion stars, each containing 17 billion inhabitable planets, and each planet supported 17 billion monkeys all typing a random line of type per second for a billion years, their chances of producing To be or not to be, that is the question is almost but not completely zilch. You stand a much better chance of winning the lottery a hundred times in a row.
Despite this, probabilists figure that, given enough time, it is not only probable but inevitable that the monkeys will write Shakespeare. They also argue that if the monkeys had started their project far enough back in time, they would have written the plays before Shakespeare himself.
That’ll teach the monkeys to stop putting things off to the last minute.
As an aside, wouldn’t you love to see the originating work action request for this research project?
To: Bob, Head Mathematician.
From: Phil, V.P. – Research
Subject: Monkeys. LOTS of Monkeys.
Bob, the Board has determined that it is important, for reasons I am not at liberty to disclose, that we more fully comprehend the probabilities inherent in 17 billion monkeys spontaneously generating a specific line from William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Let's touch base in my office ASAP to discuss further parameters for this research – it may be that we toss in a few extra galaxies, stars and planets (with the necessarily implied additional typing monkeys) to give the work some context.
Also, in order to give your results a concrete, ready real-world reference point comprehensible to the ordinary fellow, I’ll need you to compare the above-noted probability to something well-known and intuitively understood, such as (for example) the probability of winning “the lottery” a hundred times in a row.
So as to be absolutely clear, and to avoid any more embarrassing incidents, let me make it clear that the Board is interested in a specifically quantifiable order of mathematical probability, and not (as in the case of your last research memo, previously discussed and noted in your personnel file) a merely bald and conclusory declaration that “there is no fucking chance whatsoever, at least in any sense relative to the duration of a human life, of this shit happening.”
I’m going to need you to go ahead and figure this out by, say, next Tuesday.
*Unless you’re homeless, I guess. There can be weather forecasts on channels designed for the homeless.