Sub. #42: The Infinite Monkey Theory
Sub. #42: The Infinite Monkey Theory
Graphite, Pigment Pen and Metal Foil on Cold Press Illustration Board mounted to Panel overtaken on right side by Hand Carved, Butane Torched and Sealed Mahogany Sculptural Growth
W30 x H40 x D2 in
2015

This is another piece exploring ethical topics surrounding the position of man within the natural world. I was concerned with ethical-cultural relativity and value accretion with respect to non-human lifeforms in Western society and the etymological and ontological forces behind the character of thought on the subject.

The Infinite Monkey Theorem is a mathematically supported thought experiment that assumes that given an infinite length of time, a chimpanzee punching at random on a typewriter would almost surely type out all of Shakespeare's plays. In this piece, I thought of the infinite monkey theorem in terms of western conceptions of human-animal ontological relationships. Here, the animal is used hypothetically, as an idea, subject to an eternity of befuddled interaction with a typewriter. I thought of this as a completion of man's dominion over animal, i.e. both in object and idea or concept. Of course, the "monkey" in the experiment is not meant to be a “real” monkey, but a metaphorical expression of an abstract device capable of producing an endless random sequence of letters and symbols. I was less interested in the plausibility of the theorem itself, than what I thought was so revealing about the use of the monkey in the experiment and, what its use says about the way we think about all that is “other” than human. In this case, both literally and figuratively, the monkey is itself a metaphor for not just nature, but all that is not identifiable human, all of which correspondingly exists often only with respect to its relative utility to human existence. It seems to me the scope of ownership within this experiment is complete, e.g. we own even the idea, the potential rational permutations of the animal as an evolving agent within the box. This is also to say that we dismiss the concept that the animal would independently evolve by processes entirely out of our control (as we have evolved ourselves), and would possibly evolve toward some mode of sentience that would lead the animal out of the box, discontinuing the experiment. There seems to be an interesting logical position taken within the experiment: that is that if the time interval that the chimp types Shakespeare is something on the order of age of the universe, it paradoxically seems unlikely that the test subject in the hypothetical time necessary to complete the task would remain essentially un-evolved, inept, or in a static evolutionary condition (something that we know to be false). The ape in this concept is truly the “other”, negated as an individual agent within the system of the natural world. By withholding this logic from the chimp in the thought experiment, we essentially divorce ourselves from the evolutionary logic encompassing our relationship with the chimp. We do not regard the chimp as ever being capable of being like us, e.g. we were never the chimp. The chimp is useful only as an inert object, in terms defined only by its relative utility.
I was left with this question: What would the metaphorical chimp in the box look like if evolved into a sentient being? What would the character of this sentience be? I wondered at what point, before or after it had completed its somber task, the animal would stop writing and walk out of the box. Would it be a man walking out of that box?

In addition to continuing 2-D inquiry of the objectification of the natural world I also explore the potential of incorporating sculptural elements in this piece for that same purpose, again exploring the visual discord arising from the sculptural and 2-D elements. This piece amplifies this discord, in that the sculptural elements literally overtake the surface of the piece in my mind interfering with, or halting the completion of the expression it frames.