Do you see them? Those monkeys are banging away at their typewriters, trying to type out the complete works of Shakespeare. Every time there’s a problem involving randomness, the monkeys get called into action. But these are not your average monkeys. No, these are gedanken monkeys. They can madly type 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No banana breaks, no rest stops—just four fingers plus opposable thumb, keystroke after keystroke.
Since most of us don’t have the age of the universe to wait for these monkeys to finish this extraordinary assignment, it’s interesting to see how quickly they can proceed if selection is introduced. The British biologist Richard Dawkins talks about this in his book The Blind Watchmaker; here’s a video excerpt of the juicy bits (the gedanken monkeys make their appearance at 4:45; see the original on YouTube source).
It’s impressive to see how quickly the phrase “METHINKS IT IS LIKE A WEASEL” (a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), for example, can be generated with selection. Dawkins goes on to give a picture of how the eye could have evolved thanks to selection. The entire ten minutes is defnitely worth your ten minutes.