== Love God == Delight in Light ==

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Random Writing

In the last two posts (on this topic) I have talked about the information and the conditions that would be needed for the first living thing to come into existence.

For this post, let's assume that we (somehow or other) already have the first living thing - so now what we are interested in is getting that thing to change over time into something more sophisticated.

What I'm not planning to do this time is go into the whole mathematical calculation of the probabilities again. For two reasons:
  • I did that already in the Hello World post - all I would be able to show is that as the quantity of information grows so the improbability grows exponentially to figures that no-one can actually conceive of.
  • Because of the fact that the thing is now "live" and so has some kind of interest in survival, the maths becomes a lot more complex and involves factors that are not really very easily quantifiable, so the overall point would be rather obscured by questions about how exactly the calculations should be done.
Instead, what I thought we could do is try a little experiment of our own: to improve a piece of text by applying random changes to it. Here's the approach:
  1. Find some text that is Ok but could do with being improved. I chose one of my poems, but feel free to pick any text - not too long (or the experiment gets a bit cumbersome), but also not too short. The one I chose was about 1000 characters long (including spaces).
  2. Count the number of characters (or let your word processor count them for you!) and get some way of generating a random number in that range (you could use a spreadsheet or you could cut out lots of bits of paper with all the numbers on them). We will use this random number to work out the start location for our random change.
  3. Get a dice to use to work out the length of the random change (we'll assume that our random changes can be anything up to 6 characters long)
  4. Cut out bits of paper with the letters of the alphabet on them (we'll stick to just capitals for now) and one to represent a space.
  5. Generate your first random change: get a random number to show you where to make the change within the text, use the dice (or whatever) to work out how long the change should be, and pick random characters out of a hat to see what you should change the letters to (don't forget to put the letters back in after each draw so that you allow for words with the same letter in more than once). Then go ahead and change the original text and decide whether the result is better or worse than the original.
  6. Repeat until either you are satisfied that you have generated a masterfully crafted piece of prose (or poetry) - or until you die, whichever comes first. (I gave up after 200 attempts because there are other things that I would like to do with my life!)
Basically, this is the process involved in producing literature by evolutionary processes. Except that each person only gets to make one change - when they are born. So if we want to make our experiment a little more accurate what we should really do is make just one change ourselves, then get our children to each make one, and then get the grand-kids to make one each and so on. Once we get to the point (sometime down the generations), where we think we have made a small improvement, then we can pick that version and start improving it.

And so on until we have achieved our goal of producing that wonderfully crafted piece of literature.

Unfortunately, by then, no-one will have the faintest idea what English is (or was), so no-one will be able to appreciate the fruit of all this effort, so we will have to start all over again. (Bother!)

My conclusion is that this is not a particularly viable approach to writing. I suppose that it is not impossible that we may eventually hit upon some word that we wouldn't otherwise have through of that adds something to our text, but writing something in its entirety or making significant and far-reaching improvements? I'm not convinced.

For the same reason I have to admit to being less than convinced when I watch nature films that talk about the incredible and intricate design that is evident in the animals and plants around us but then want me to believe that it all came about by a similar random process.
Note: This is part of a series of posts about why I believe in God. See my post "You Believe that Stuff???" for more info and links to the other related posts.

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