Friday, 23 July 2010

Finitely Yours

The other day I asked Brenda the barmaid, "How many different images can your laptop display?"
"Display or store?"
"Simultaneously or one after the other?" she asked.
"One after the other." Jeeze!
"Ummm ... loads," she said. Then, after some thought, while polishing a wine glass, she added, "Infinite?"
"Not quite," I said, referring to the doodle pad next to the crossword in The Northern Echo. "Because of its fixed number of pixels and the fact each pixel has a limited number of colours, my old laptop can display just over 16,000,000786,432 unique images."
"Sounds like one hell of a slide show," said Brenda.

Loads of images indeed, but still finite.

Finite ... interesting.

My humble laptop's screen is capable of displaying images of long dead dinosaurs, planets yet to be discovered, formulae for wondrous new materials, poetry yet to be written, faces of folk yet to be born, far flung nebulae, leaves on trees yet to evolve, car accidents that haven't happened yet, murders yet to be committed ...
A very long list. But a finite one nevertheless. Does this mean the universe can't be infinite after all. Or if it is, there's repetition?

How about writing a computer program that simply marched through every possible pixel combination? Would be simple enough to write. Let it sit there as an art installation called, 'Everything'.
The screen would, if given enough time, display every possible picture. How much time depends, of course, on the speed of the computer. (Is there enough Time in the Universe? Hmmm ... going to need a bigger doodle space ...)

Set up another camera to 'watch' the images produced. If something 'interesting' appears ... ring a bell? Sound a klaxon? Awoogah! Snake doing hoola alert!
But don't watch it too long. Something you probably don't want to see may appear: your own demise, a fat bloke in a skin tight lycra cat suit. But then again, you may spot next weeks lottery numbers.

Or how about this? Limit the colours to black and white. That's a mere 2786,432 images to glance through. It could start generating black and white text: recipes for amazing chocolate chip cookies, how to build a cold-fusion reactor, ten sure fire ways to get your teenage daughter to actually listen and not ... don't get me started.

Brenda thinks I need to go home and lie down.


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