Essays On The Library Of Babel

Essays On The Library Of Babel-30
Another (very much consulted in this area) is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the next-to-last page says Oh time thy pyramids.As Borges’ narrator explains, the people of the Library of Babel have finally discerned the nature of their world, based on two observations: first, that every book uses the same twenty-five symbols for letters and punctuation; second, that no traveler has ever come across two exactly identical books.

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There must be books that tell the true history of the Library of Babel, and explain how such a fantastic cosmos came into existence.

There must be books that contain the truth about the existence, nature, and attributes of God.

But how many slight variants are there, versions that differ by just one character?

Again, there are 1,312,000 positions in the book, each one of which can differ from the canonical version in 24 ways (since the original character at that position can be replaced with any of the other characters).

These people have come to the realization that the Library contains all books – that is to say, not just all books that have been written, not just all books that ever will be written, but all possible books, every single permutation of letters of a specified length.

Life in the Library is both a blessing and a curse.The number of three-character variants is exponentially larger, and the number of four-character variants larger still; and then there are the versions that differ by five, by six, by seven…(Dennett points out that even a copy with several typos on each page would still be quite recognizable.) And none of this includes translations of the book into other languages, retellings of recognizably the same story in different words, abridged versions, summaries, versions with scrambled page order, versions with alternate endings, commentaries, commentaries on the commentaries, reviews, parodies, scholarly analyses, denunciations, deconstructions… Assume that the thickness of a sheet of paper is 0.1 mm, and that each sheet is of standard 8.5 x 11-inch dimensions (about 21.6 by 28 cm).This works out to 410 x 40 x 80 = 1,312,000 positions per book, each of which can be filled in 25 distinct ways: 25 x 25 x 25… In other terms, the Library of Babel contains 25Since it is all but impossible to get a handle on the size of this number, let us consider something more manageable: the number of variants of just one book, say, War and Peace.(I do not know if this book actually has something like the 1,312,000 characters possessed by each book in the Library of Babel, but say for the sake of argument that it does.) In all the vast Library there is only one book that replicates it exactly as it was written by Tolstoy.Thus there are 24 x 1,312,000 = 31,488,000 one-character variants.By the same logic, there are an incredible 991,493,388,288,000, or about 991 trillion, copies of this book that vary by just two characters (31,488,000 ways to vary one character, times 24 x 1,311,999 = 31,487,976 ways to vary a different character).And the Library of Babel must contain these books, as well as all the other character variants, plus all the other relevant books mentioned above.The amount of space required to store all these near-duplicates – Tolstoy Space, let us call it – is, by many orders of magnitude, larger than the entire observable universe.There must be books that tell the true biography of every individual’s life, perfectly foretelling their every action from birth to death, if only there was a way to find them; Borges’ narrator refers to these books as the Vindications.Of course, because this library contains all possible books somewhere, every such work of perfection will be undetectably camouflaged among an immense number of sinister counterfeits – books that tell you your life story in perfect detail up to the age of thirty, say, but diverge radically thereafter.


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