The Library of Babel is an online repository that holds within every word, sentence or paragraph ever spoken or will ever be spoken. The library, created by Jonathan Basile, contains every page of any book that has ever been printed.1 It contains every song that has ever been sung or will ever be sung. The repository also contains every thought ever conceived or will ever be conceived by human beings. Let’s take an example to contemplate its scale and utter amazingness. Let’s copy all of the above string of characters and paste it within the Library of Babel and see if there’s a match. I strongly encourage our readers to try this out.
How does it work
The library uses permutations and combination based algorithms on an extremely large scale. For instance, let’s take a smaller and simpler example to understand how it works. The word ‘bat’ can be arranged in the following 6 different ways: Bat, tab, atb, abt, tba & bta.
This means that there are 6 different ways we can arrange a string of 3 characters. The English language consists of 26 letters2 and various punctuation’s like commas, colons, semicolons and periods. The Library arranges every character, sentence and special character in the English language using the same permutation & combination technique mentioned above. It’s simply done on a seemingly inconceivable scale.
According to the 20th volume of The Oxford Dictionary, there are a total of 171,476 words in the English language.3 Just imagine what all permutations and combinations of over 170 thousands words would result in. It would truly be massive. The library however does not take words into consideration, when it permutes and combines, it takes characters into consideration. That’s the reason why the library contains over 104677 books. The number of atoms in the human body are between 727 and 927.4 I.e 9,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The total number of stars in the universe are estimated to be around 124.5 Thus, the size of the library is truly inconceivable.
Time travel using the Library of Babel
Since every permutation and combination of 3200 characters are within the library, anything and everything that could happen in the future has already been written and stored within it. It simply needs to be looked up. Donald Trump became the 45th President of The United States, and assumed office on January 20, 2017. The Library already had this information written and stored within its repository long before it actually happened. Every possible decision President Trump will ever take, every possible word he will every say, every possible route he’ll ever take, is all documented within the repository, even before it happens.
Another exciting way to test out the library is, write a paragraph about the likely course of events that you feel are going to transpire in your immediate future and look it up at the library. It could be as simple as: ‘[Your name] will wake up in the morning, brush his teeth and catch the local yellow train from [your home] to [your workplace], there he’ll have some coffee and will catch some lunch later. He’ll also get yelled at by his boss. He’ll come back dissatisfied and have a sandwich and go to bed’
When you look this up, it’ll be present, and if the events pan out the same, the book would have accurately predicted your future.
Let’s take another fantastic example for better understanding. At the time of composing this article, there was a recent development in the country of Israel. Israel decriminalized the use of Marijuana. I came across the news through an article on CNN, on March 6, 2017. I went to the Library of Babel’s repository and pasted the entire article there. The string had an exact match The location of the book, page number and title are mentioned below:
- Location of the text: df0t65ff7dlni2u8wvucbr38dxex79…-w3-s2-v12
- Title of the book: dkwyqesjnh
- Page number: 235
Looking up the above page will give you an exact copy of the CNN article, and it was stored in the library years before the news broke out.
The virtual library is in an hexagonal shaped room that has books on all the four sides. The room is also connected to other rooms that house other books. All of the rooms are interlocked with each other. Each shelf has a number of horizontally stacked books. Each book is 410 page thick and each page has 40 lines.
There are 2 primary functions of the Library. First, a browse function, where you can browse the library and second, the search function, where you can enter any combination of strings in a search box and look it up. If a user wants to browse the library, he / she would need to go to homepage and click on the browse button. Once this is done, the user would be redirected to web page where a virtual image of a room appears. This room contains books on 4 sides. The user may click on any one of the 4 walls and start browsing the books on the virtual shelf.
Jorge Luis Borges
The inspiration behind the online tool was taken from Argentinian librarian, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges, published a fictional story titled ‘Library of Babel’ in 1941,5 where there is an alternative universe that only contains books, rooms and a seemingly never ending library. Various story lines include:
- Inhabitants searching for a messiah that contains all answers within this strange universe
- Formation of cults within this universe to ration out meaning
- The universe contains magical books with unusual abilities
Jonathan Basile, was intrigued by Jorge Luis Borges’s story and decided to work on a virtual tool that would bring the library to life. Thus, creating The Library of Babel website.