Douglas Adams is most famously known for his “trilogy” Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, which started out as a radio series, then a book, then a tv show, and there’s even now a movie. He tends to be quoted mostly when people are searching for the meaning of life, because he figured it out, you see. It’s 42.
I have a great love for the Hitchhiker books, not least because the audiobooks are a great cure for insomnia. All I have to do is set one to playing, lie back and close my eyes, and I will be asleep soon enough. But lately I’ve been wondering if Adams’ Great Answer holds a bit more of a message for us. Most of the time people treat it is a glib answer, the punchline of a joke, and make no mistake, it is one of the best punchlines in comedy writing. But I do think there is something a bit deeper.
(Warning: Spoilers for Hitchhikers series ahead)
You see, the whole idea that one can spend 70 million years looking for an answer to everything, and then even more time building a computer that is actually a planet, just to make sense of the answer. It’s a bit futile, isn’t it
Which is the point I think Douglas Adams might have been trying to make. There is not real endpoint to the game of our not-very-heroic heroes: they tend to bounce around from one place to another getting very close to the answer but missing. I suppose the point is that there isn’t really a target. This is also the point Adams makes with the Total Perspective Vortex: the knowledge of exactly how much room you take up in the entire infinity of the universe (that being, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot) is going to destroy your soul. This is very likely true. We are all very small parts of the world, let alone the uncaring infinite reaches of the galaxy, and beyond, and really don’t, on a universal scale, achieve very much. I suppose that this is why we go about acting as though everything that happens to us and around us is very important. And it is, to us here on earth. It’s just that the rest of the universe doesn’t care.
Furthermore, Adams postulates that to know both the Answer and the Question would destroy the universe and replace it with something even more complex. I suppose this is like saying that to find an easy answer is so impossible that it would destroy our world. I mean, nobody has ever found the true (and easy) secret to Life, the Universe and Everything. Nobody has ever found an answer to ‘What is all about, really? What should I do?’ that will satisfy everybody. I guess that’s the point. Life is ultimately meaningless, sorry for the inconvenience, but it’s probably best to get along with our lives and not think upon these matters for too long less they destroy the world around us.