Literature

The Digital Library Of Babel Could Contain Every Word Ever Written

If it were real, the words you're reading would already exist in the Library of Babel, the fictional archive imagined by Jorge Luis Borges in his story of the same name. Luckily, we have the internet. The words you're reading do exist on libraryofbabel.info, the digital version of Borges' library created by Brooklyn-based writer Jonathan Basile. (We're not joking: this paragraph appears on this page of the library.)

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Every Book, Past And Future

"If completed," says the website, "[the library] would contain every possible combination of 1,312,000 characters, including lower case letters, space, comma, and period. Thus, it would contain every book that ever has been written, and every book that ever could be—including every play, every song, every scientific paper, every legal decision, every constitution, every piece of scripture, and so on." It doesn't yet have that entire combination. Basile has only reached every combination of 3,200 characters, but that's still 10^4,677 entire books. That's... a lot of books. Is your mind blown yet?

Related: The Largest Constructive Number: Graham's Number

Of course, it may not ever be finished. In an interview with Flavorwire, Basile points out that it takes more than a terabyte of storage to hold just a million books, or 10^6. The full library is more like 29^1,312,000 books. "Even if the universe were just racks of hard drives," he said, "it wouldn't be enough to hold all that."

This Will Definitely Break Your Brain

To really understand what Basile has unleashed upon the web, you need to visit the page yourself. Take the last thing you typed (a chat with friends? A Facebook post? Your home address?) and search the library. We're willing to bet you find your words. Don't feel so original now, huh?

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Messages For The Future

Vsauce explains this mind-bending digital space clearly around 17:00.

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Stochasticity

When you say something's "random," do you really know what you're saying?

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Stochasticity means randomness, which can be thought of as unpredictability happening within a set of predictable rules. 00:08

  2. An experiment at UC Berkeley had one group of students flip a coin 100 times and write down the results, and another group simply write down what they think the results of 100 coin tosses would be. A statistician looks at both results and knows which team actually flipped the coin, because the real results show patterns that don't show up in the fake results -- long stretches of only tails, for instance. 00:35

  3. In a stochastic system, you can never predict the exact results, but you can forecast the probability that certain sequences will show up. 01:20

How Random Is A Coin Toss?

It's more predictable than you think.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Here's how to plot the math behind coin-flipping: 00:59

Written By Curiosity Staff January 13, 2017