The pages aren't actually stored are they?

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This topic contains 17 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Sandeep Narre 3 weeks, 5 days ago.

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  • #6674 Reply

    Kuaile Xing

    I just want to be clear about how this website is working. Forgive me if this has been answered elsewhere.

    Having read the ‘about section’ and a few posts in the forum, I’m guessing that pages in the library are not stored on a server, and that they’re generated by an algorithm on-the-fly?? Surely, it wouldn’t be possible to generate and store all of the pages on a server…

    If the pages are generated on-the-fly, then that’s a fundamental point. We can’t really say that everything that ever has or will be written is contained in this library – rather there is an algorithm that tells us where anything that might be written would be located if all the pages were actually generated and stored.

    Thanks

    #6686 Reply

    Jonathan Basile
    Keymaster

    https://libraryofbabel.info/theory4.html

    #6690 Reply

    As above

    Hmmmm, so the library doesn’t really ‘contain’ anything, contrary to what it says in the About section…

    #6691 Reply

    Jonathan Basile
    Keymaster

    I think that’s the wrong way to think about existence – here’s a description I wrote elsewhere:

    I think that the universal library, even when it was just a philosopher’s thought experiment (Borges traces it back to the Ancient Greek atomist Democritus), should lead us to question our confidence in the notions of real and unreal, presence and absence. There’s absolutely no difference for the user, between how they can use this version and how they could use the first, except that this version can return all possible output while the other fell well short of that goal.

    I don’t think that being stored on disk is the best measure of existence. Any digital archive we interact with, whether the first version of the website or something like JStor, stores its texts through some combination of binary encoding and compression. Before the file is accessed and opened, it would be unintelligible to just about any human user. But we don’t think of these pieces of writing as coming into and out of existence when we open and close their files. I’m not sure that there is an essential difference between that and the algorithm used at present. It is essentially a storage-light, processing-heavy way to accomplish the same goal.

    That something can be digitized at all is evidence of its permutability, which is where the idea of universal library comes into play, as I mentioned above. All the image, text, sound, or video that we can view on a computer can be created by an algorithm like this. The atomist philosophers were intrigued by this, because it seemed that reality was exhaustible for this reason—a finite set of basic elements underlay our experience in their view, and the permutations of those elements were the total possible configurations of reality. They perhaps invented the theory of eternal return, that once all these permutations were exhausted, all of natural and human history would repeat itself in the same order. Our language and our thoughts are composed in a similar way, we rely on pre-existing forms, whether sounds, letters, or concepts, to formulate what appears spontaneous and autonomous to us. It’s not that I would like, by any means, to celebrate the accomplishment of the universal library in any of its forms—I think in many ways it existed already in Borges’ story and before that. I would rather hope that we do not denigrate it in order to uphold an untenable view of what we imagine as a reality outside it. I think that existence merits the same denigration.

    #6699 Reply

    Kuaile Xing

    I take your point that you can think of this website as a storage-light, processing-heavy means of creating the library of Babel – I’d never thought of it that way.

    But the alluring thing about the concept of the Library of Babel for me is the idea that when someone says something that would seem to be totally unique, we can go to the Library of Babel and show them that, in fact, what they have just said has already been written and has been in a book sitting on a shelf somewhere for some time already (the ‘books’ may be electronic).

    With this website, we can merely recreate things anything after they are said or written. So, while we can browse the library of Babel as if it really existed, there is still a huge amount of stuff that has not been said or written.

    It is awe inspiring to flip through the pages of the library, and I realize the website’s goal is to be a source of inspiration. But I still feel it’s misleading to say that the library ‘contains’ pages – some visitors will think all the pages of the library actually exist in electronic form.

    #6700 Reply

    Jonathan Basile
    Keymaster

    I still think that this website reminds us of the tenuousness of what it means for something to actually exist, especially something as amorphous as a statement in a form as ambiguous as the electronic or virtual. The URL at which you will find any statement in this character set will be the same now and for as long as the website exists. Which in my mind is very similar to what you describe as each book having a location on a shelf.

    Ultimately I think that we shouldn’t think of the universal library as something that comes into existence with this website. It already existed embedded in the essence of language, as the inherent repeatability of all expression.

    #6958 Reply

    Dimitrios Karras

    “With this website, we can merely recreate things anything after they are said or written.”

    I have been looking at this site for a couple days now. I wholly disagree with that characterization of what the algorithm is actually doing. The algorithm exists. What it is doing is not a “recreation.” instead it is a method of determining a specific point that correlates to a specific string of text. That correlation exists by nature of the algorithms existence and is not “created” by searching, rather it is discovered.

    “But the alluring thing about the concept of the Library of Babel for me is the idea that when someone says something that would seem to be totally unique, we can go to the Library of Babel and show them that, in fact, what they have just said has already been written and has been in a book sitting on a shelf somewhere for some time already (the ‘books’ may be electronic).”

    Well then, continue with being allured! the correlation between the location point and the specific string of text exists. That correlation will continue to exist so long as this site is maintained. Because that correlation already exists, the text that it references, also already exists (in every reasonable sense that would really matter.) it’s just impossible to find unless you know what to look for. Once you know what to look for, (ie. someone says something totally unique), you can then pinpoint the exact location of where the algorithms correlation is.

    Someone saying something unique now or in the future, does not change the fact that this algorithmic function already had a location for that exact thing. The only thing to change, was that you now knew what search for. The algorithmic link between the “unique new” thing being said and its location in the library existed before the “unique new” thing was ever said in real life.

    The alluring value that you describe is absolutely there. Had you a method of determining the “unique new” thing’s location in the library prior to knowing what the “unique new” thing was, you could actually discover the “unique new” thing before it was ever uttered in real life.

    To the man who made this happen:
    I think it is absolutely beautiful. Kudos. Don’t let the guys who don’t understand what you’ve actually accomplished get you down. What you have done is incredibly thought provoking, as all great artistic expression should be. Again, I am thankful for what you have done and I hope that you can keep this project up indefinitely for others to enjoy as well. Thanks again!

    #6959 Reply

    Dimitrios Karras

    One last thing:

    “But I still feel it’s misleading to say that the library ‘contains’ pages – some visitors will think all the pages of the library actually exist in electronic form.”

    I don’t really see the difference between an algorithm which establishes a location of a specific string of text and a “traditional” file. Its just a different way of retrieving data. it doesn’t change the value of the data retrieved.

    for instance: Lets say I want to read The Republic. I have two computer programs.

    One program works by storing bits of data in electronic form, and every time it was opened it needed to look through that stored data. That stored data determines which letters are supposed to placed in which locations on my screen so that I can read it.

    The other program works via an algorithm which determines which letters are supposed to be placed in which places and then displays those on my screen so that I can read it.

    I fail to see the functional or philosophical differences between these two approaches. The end result is the same. If I open a file, I see text. If I know the page number and I open that page, I see text. That text existed at that page number all along. I just didn’t know where to look before.

    #6981 Reply

    Jonathan Basile
    Keymaster

    Thank you, Dimitrios! You describe the site quite eloquently, and I completely agree with how you present it. I’m very glad you enjoy it!

    #7564 Reply

    mute muse

    visions:

    a library existing from nothing, indeed!

    knowledge is as fragile, temporal as its custodians

    bravo, well described

    #8170 Reply

    Mark Monnin

    I love this. In fact, by developing an algorithm that generates all combinations of 3200 characters (given 29 characters) the same way every time, you’ve written/generated all of those combinations and you’ve stored them at a near infinite compression ratio.

    Awesome!

    “But the alluring thing about the concept of the Library of Babel for me is the idea that when someone says something that would seem to be totally unique, we can go to the Library of Babel and show them that, in fact, what they have just said has already been written and has been in a book sitting on a shelf somewhere for some time already (the ‘books’ may be electronic).”

    So in a way, you could say that he wrote and indexed everything anybody ever has and ever will say/write. It’s all right here. It’s just in a library that’s almost 100% gibberish.

    #8751 Reply

    bzfgt

    If I search a (possibly) unique string of words and the algorithm locates it in hexagon such and such etc., does that imply that in the astronomically unlikely event that I had browsed to that location before conducting the search I would have found the phrase in question there? So, even if the hexagon has a 3,000 character name, if I had typed that name in and went to the right shelf and volume, would I have found “bzfgt struck it rich” or whatever I searched for today that yielded that hexagon and volume?

    #8789 Reply

    bzfgt

    I know the answer to my question is in the Library, but please don’t make me browse for it!

    #8893 Reply

    Eddie

    I agree with the tenants that it’s essentially a similar but different way of interpreting data. I think, bzfgt, the idea is if you knew exactly what book to look for, YOU WOULD find that exact string, since the algorithm acts the same regardless. But that would be very hard to … pull off?

    I would also like someone above thread to tackle that question though.

    #8904 Reply

    bzfgt

    Right, that’s the key to me. If that’s the case, then to me the Library is genuine.

    Of course your chances of even browsing onto an English word longer than three letters are probably astronomically small, much less a sentence or more.

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