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Thread: The Library of Babel

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2009
    Location: thiefgold.com

    The Library of Babel

    The Library of Babel is a project that uses an algorithm to generate every possible book known to man, whether written or unwritten, containing 104677 books (10 with 4677 zeroes), based on Luis Borges' literary concept. You can search for specific words, sentences, and whole passages, and each will be found countless times in the Library.

    So theoretically, everything that has ever been and could be written - all the lost works in the Library of Alexandria, the key to time travel, every future book, &c. - can be found here. The catch is sifting through essentially an infinite amount of books, and since all combinations are used, a good deal of them are nothing but gibberish. Even full coherent passages you can search for and easily find, are usually immersed in a sea of nonsense. Fascinating nonetheless.

    I have a feeling this could be cracked some day with better search functions to filter out gibberish and zero in on books that have coherent passages without having to search for them.

    The Library of Babel is a place for scholars to do research, for artists and writers to seek inspiration, for anyone with curiosity or a sense of humor to reflect on the weirdness of existence - in short, it’s just like any other library. If completed, it 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. At present it contains all possible pages of 3200 characters, about 10~4677 books.

    Since I imagine the question will present itself in some visitors’ minds (a certain amount of distrust of the virtual is inevitable) I’ll head off any doubts: any text you find in any location of the library will be in the same place in perpetuity. We do not simply generate and store books as they are requested - in fact, the storage demands would make that impossible. Every possible permutation of letters is accessible at this very moment in one of the library's books, only awaiting its discovery. We encourage those who find strange concatenations among the variations of letters to write about their discoveries in the forum, so future generations may benefit from their research.

    Last edited by Azaran; 29th Jun 2022 at 11:28.

  2. #2
    New Member
    Registered: Feb 2014
    Rightly so! This is endlessly, incredibly, blow your mind fascinating. It's akin to attempting to visualise and comprehend the number of stars in the universe, but way more useful. Potentially. Can I ask how long it took to find that text?

  3. #3
    They have a search engine, so about two seconds, but you only get stuff like the above, a coherent word or sentence lost in a sea of gibberish. It is an interesting exercise, but the signal-to-noise ratio is too prohibitively large for it to be more than a curiosity.

  4. #4
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Location: Canuckistan GWN
    Creationist fodder.

  5. #5
    verbose douchebag
    Registered: Apr 2002
    Location: Lyon, France

  6. #6

    let's bring out the classics


  7. #7
    Member
    Registered: Jun 2003
    Location: Darmstadt, Germany

    What classics?


  8. #8
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2009
    Location: thiefgold.com

  9. #9
    Member
    Registered: May 2004
    Location: Canuckistan GWN
    Quote Originally Posted by dj_ivocha View Post
    What classics?
    One Million Monkeys: "Hold our bananas."
    Last edited by Nicker; 1st Jul 2022 at 23:29.

  10. #10
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo


    This reminds me a little of the Boltzmann Brain hypothesis. If you've studied quantum physics, you know quantum fluctuations sometimes bring particles briefly into existence at random only for them to vanish away in a femtosecond. If you wait long enough, these fluctuations could actually form atoms, then molecules, then groups of molecules. You probably have to wait longer than the heat death of the universe for the latter, but eventually they have to happen. If you wait long enough, eventually it could bring an entire brain into being for just a moment. But if you waited even orders beyond orders of magnitude longer than that, then your entire city could fluctuate into existence, your entire country, the entire planet Earth, the entire solar system, and if you wait long enough, the entire universe as we know. Unlike our universe, it would only flash into existence at random and quickly disappear back into nothingness. But it is extraordinary that so much structure has to come into existence at some point if you're really cycling through every possibility at random. Even our very existence right here and now...

    That's one interesting thing I can notice from this little app anyway. No matter how long you write your novel, eventually you'll have to run into it fluctuating into existence somewhere. But it's interesting to note the frequency. If it's just a few words or a sentence, you're going to run into it more often. If it's a long passage, you'll have to wait over vastly longer stretches before you run into it again. If it's a whole book, it's vastly longer stretches away than that. But you have to run into it eventually.

  11. #11
    It's way cool for GoT fans because that means Winds of Winter will probably be published in this library before GRR Martin finishes it

  12. #12
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2009
    Location: thiefgold.com
    Quote Originally Posted by rachel View Post
    It's way cool for GoT fans because that means Winds of Winter will probably be published in this library before GRR Martin finishes it
    They'll have to sift through 20511149 books with that title

  13. #13
    Still faster.

  14. #14
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2006
    Location: Berghem Haven
    Quote Originally Posted by Azaran View Post
    LOL

  15. #15
    Member
    Registered: Sep 2002
    Location: 1, Rotation: 0
    So this means that everything that can and will ever be written already has been written? I guess that means copyright is dead, and we're all just copycats now.

  16. #16
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    If you convert your numbering system to 128-decimal (every ASCII character, or some subset like this is doing) and set an upper limit, e.g., 500 pages of 50 lines of 50 characters, then every "book" represents a number up to a finite value (you can append them to get longer books), and every book that can and will ever be written (in ASCII characters) will just be counting up with that numbering system.

    All this algorithm really does is let you search for consecutive digits in that numbering system. It would take longer than the history of the universe to actually do the counting. So in that respect, every possible value has not actually already been written yet, but then again you don't have to literally count up to 14,598 to know 14,597 is there as soon as you hear it.

    In the big scheme of things, if you believe infinite inflation is the answer to some cosmological problems (horizon, flatness, magnetic monopole, etc.), then entire universes are continually being seeded with random values forever. In that version of reality, every book in every conceivable writing system is actually written somewhere [edit: okay, not really, only every physically possible book; I'm mixing quantum fluctuation, where everything really is fluctuated in and out, with multiverse theory], including this very universe being replayed exactly the same (an infinite number of times already), and a vastly greater number of universes (what's vastly bigger than infinity?) almost like this one except for one quantum difference, an even vastly greater number with just two differences, etc... We've had this discussion before, and we'll have it again. See y'all the next loop around.
    Last edited by demagogue; 1st Jul 2022 at 21:30.

  17. #17
    verbose douchebag
    Registered: Apr 2002
    Location: Lyon, France
    Has this been verified as real?

    I.e. it doesn't just take the search text, bookend it with gibberish and then log it as having a distinct reference so there aren't duplicate references?

  18. #18
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2009
    Location: thiefgold.com
    So I'm still trying to wrap my head around how this works. Apparently storing all possible variations of text of that magnitude would require more drive space than we currently have on earth, so how the algorithm can 'store without storing 'is perplexing. This person on the forum seems to think it just takes the text you input and randomly saves it at a specific location indefinitely. There's no way to prove or disprove it though. You'd have to browse to a page with coherent text first (without actually searching for it), which would probably take you 10 million years, then input that text in the search function and see if that location was listed, in which case it would be legit.

  19. #19
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    It seems to me the easiest way to handle the issue y'all are talking about is just treating the output as a 3200 digit number in base-40 (or however many characters it is), with a few extra digits (60 it turns out) for the page number and book title and other meta-info. Then you just assume the shelves are organized in alphabetical/numerical order, and putting it in a unique place on a unique shelf is just a simple division and modulo operation.

    Edit: At the top you'll see the text search box is called "Hex Name", hex being the location in the library. That tells me that the text content and its reference location in the library are one and the same thing.
    Last edited by demagogue; 4th Jul 2022 at 00:07.

  20. #20
    Member
    Registered: Jun 2001
    Location: under God's grace
    Quote Originally Posted by hopper View Post
    So this means that everything that can and will ever be written already has been written? I guess that means copyright is dead, and we're all just copycats now.
    The act of writing a text and that text existing as a concept are two different things. Numbers existed before anyone wrote the first one, same as the concept of rocket propulsion. Although the term 'exist' means two different things when we're talking about something physical vs a concept.

    Now that I think about it, what would it even mean for a concept to not exist? Is existence even a property assignable to concepts at all? Maybe in the mathematical sense yes. A rational number that is bigger than 10 and smaller than 9 does not exist. But I can still name this non-existing number and talk about it as a concept.
    Last edited by Qooper; 5th Jul 2022 at 11:34.

  21. #21
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2004
    We have whole branches of mathematics built around numbers that clearly don't exist, lol.

  22. #22
    Member
    Registered: Jun 2001
    Location: under God's grace
    Exactly my point. What does it mean for a concept to not exist? Concepts are great for a range of cool stuff, but they're not so good at not existing. Like, a cake can easily cease to exist. It's a trivial task for a cake to accomplish. But for a concept it's a whole different concept. In the end it's a very bureaucratic process involving dirty politics and possibly some four-dimensional Gerrymandering.

  23. #23
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2001
    Location: Marlboro, MA, USA
    I haven't quite followed the thread, but it sorta reminds me of procedural generation, where you can put in coordinates and what is there is "determined", without having to build the entire world forever. It sort of always exists in theory, and can be visited if desired.

    Is that in any way related, or am I way off on that comparison?
    The Keep for Thief 1 and 2 FMs, Shadowdark for Thief 3 and Dark Mod FMs

  24. #24
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2006
    Location: Berghem Haven
    You're perfectly on spot!

  25. #25
    Member
    Registered: Aug 2004
    Yeah, it's basically No Man's Library, lol.

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