Wind Shares

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The "Many Stalins" Theory of Quantum Digital Imaging

Consider a computer monitor. Or the display on a cell phone or digital camera. Take the number of pixels in the display and raise it to the power of the number of discrete colors each pixel can show. That is the total number of distinct images the screen can display. It’s an incomprehensibly huge number, but it’s also finite. Every image that the screen can possibly show is included in that number, regardless of whether it’s ever existed or not. Anything you can imagine, no matter how beautiful or grotesque, is in that set. You having a threesome with Joseph Stalin and a mule? It’s in there. Just waiting for the right string of digital information to bring it to life.

But, of course, the overwhelming majority of those potential images will simply be random arrays of color, conveying no information at all. The percentage of those images that will be identifiable as real things is vanishingly tiny. Similar, perhaps, to the number of atoms that make up the human race in comparison to all the particles in the universe.  And that Stalin image will be one of them. But, when you think about it, you’ll realize that you having a threesome with Stalin and a mule won’t just be one of the images—it will be billions. Every possible position and grouping, all the possible backgrounds and accessories—they’re all in there. And then imagine that the image shows your first-grade teacher standing next to you, watching the proceedings with a look of mild disgust. And then replace her with your second-grade teacher. And then replace her, in succession, with all of the other seven billion people on Earth. And then with Harpo Marx. And every other dead person. And then do it all over again with all these people displaying not disgust, but barely-contained enthusiasm. And replace them with Batman as drawn by Neal Adams. And then Batman as drawn by Frank Miller. And then repeat it with Stalin wearing a blue propeller beanie. And then an orange one. As a minute’s thought will make clear, the number of potential Stalin-mule threeways that can be depicted will exceed the number of humans who have ever lived by incalculable orders of magnitude. And then what if it’s not a mule at all, but a draft horse? And sometimes the draft horse has a white spot on his head?

You can see where this is going. Anyone can imagine the number of visible variations to the Stalin scenario that maintain the overall theme spiraling off to infinity. But, as we’ve already shown, there aren’t an infinite number of images that the screen can display. We’re working with a tiny percentage of an already finite number. So as the number of Stalin threesomes proliferates towards infinity, it seems that they would fill up all the available image slots that aren’t taken by random color. And thus, logically speaking, the only recognizable image that a computer screen could show would be you having sex with Joseph Stalin and a farm animal. So, in light of these facts, Mr. Thompson, it hardly seems reasonable to blame me for Photoshopping that picture of you and emailing it to everyone in the office, since their computers could never really have shown anything else. It’s simple mathematics. ... Yes, I did think that might work. ... No, I didn’t know that about your grandmother and the gulags; that’s very interesting. So do I have time to clean out my desk, or… Okay. Well, you can just ship everything to—Ow. All right, guys, I’m leaving. There’s no need to—Ow.


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