In referring to the possibility of chance forming our universe and us, Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time, writes: ”It is a bit like the well-known hordes of monkeys hammering away on typewriters — most of what they write will be garbage, but very occasionally by pure chance they will type out one of Shakespeares sonnets” Let us calculate how occasionally the ”very occasionally” will be that a sonnet of Shakespeare will appear.

In William Shakespeare : The Complete Works, all Shakespeare’s known sonnets are listed. All are quite similar in length. Sonnet number 18 in the last has the well-known opening line: ”Shall I compare you to a summer’s day?” The sonnet continues through the usual 14 lines, ending as:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

There are 488 letters in the sonnet. Neglecting the spacing between the words, the chance of randomly typing the 488 letters to produce this one sonnet is one in 26^488. Using the more familiar 10-base decimal system, the chance is one in 10^690. The number 10^690 is a one followed by 690 zeros! The immense scale of this number is hinted at when one considers that since the Big Bang, 15 billion years ago, there have been only 10^18 seconds.

To write by random one of Shakespeare’s sonnets would take all the monkeys plus every other animal on Earth typing away on typewriters made from all the iron in the universe over a period of time that exceeds all the time since the Big Bang and the still the probability of a a sonnet appearing would be vanishingly small. At one random try per second, with even a simple sentence having only 16 letters, it would take 2 million billion years (the universe has existed for about 15 billion years) to exhaust all possible combinations.

Gerard L. Schroeder 


Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins employs the typing monkey concept in his book The Blind Watchmaker to demonstrate the ability of natural selection to produce biological complexity out of random mutations.

Ja herre min skapare, om inte Dawkins existerade så skulle icke-darwinister behöva uppfinna honom.