A Finite Number

So this came to me: since we have a limited number of words in the English language, according to the Global Language Monitor approximately just over a million, that it would be possible to have a fixed amount of written works in the world at some point. This is difficult to wrap your head around, and it also has some rules that I, as the arbiter of this thought, came up with. Since there is only about a million words, one can rearrange those words to make up a specific and finite number of sentences, essays, books, poems, what have you. That is to say, we might not have an unlimited amount of written things to write about. At some point, after all these words have been rearranged in all possible ways, then every writer after that would be copying verbatim what some else has already written.

Now this would take a long time. I have no idea the equation needed to figure out how many of these potential works there could be. But as far as the rules, the sentences would have to make sense. For example, you couldn’t just write a book entitled “The” and write the word “The” 50,000 times and call it a book; you couldn’t do it for various reasons: it breaks the rules of a sentence, it doesn’t make sense, there is not plot, and so forth. Also, this would make this whole thing obsolete, because if you could write said novel of 50,000 words that were “The” you could then say that writing is now infinite because now you can write a novel with 50,001 words of “The” and call it something different.

So if you’re still with me at this point, since the English language has a finite number of words, then those words can only be rearranged a finite amount of times if they follow the rules. Now writers of the world, don’t be alarmed: this number of work is staggeringly large (as in, we’ll never reach it). But why won’t we reach it?

Two possibilities for why we won’t reach it: 1) Not that many people will write throughout the history of time and the number is so large that it might as well be infinite. 2) The humans of Earth will kill each other off before we could ever reach this number of finite amount of rearranged words.

Now here’s where it becomes even more interesting. Let us pretend we don’t kill each other off, that we don’t blow up Earth. Let’s pretend that we discover space exploration and colonize other planets and populate the galaxy and thus become immortal. Then, thousands and thousands of years and light years later, at some point, someone finally writes the last original work out there. Then after that point, everything everyone says or writes is a complete copy of something someone else said or wrote prior to them.

So maybe, in a galaxy far far away, a long time from now, someone will write exactly what I’ve just written, albeit they didn’t realize it. Perhaps we’ve already reached that point and I’m copying what somebody else has already written from long ago, but I doubt it. I think.

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One Response to A Finite Number

  1. Lisa Anderson says:

    there’s just gotta be an algorithm for that somewhere! :)

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