Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is numeric in Douglas Adams' series "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". In the story, a "simple answer" to The Ultimate Question is requested from the computer Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Unfortunately, The Ultimate Question itself is unknown, suggesting on a metaphoric level that it is more important to ask the right questions than to seek definite answers.

When asked to produce The Ultimate Question, the computer says that it can't, but it can help design an even more powerful computer (the Earth) that can. The programmers then embark on a further, ultimately futile, ten-million-year program to discover The Ultimate Question, a process that is hindered after eight million years by the unexpected arrival on Earth of the Golgafrinchans and then ruined completely, five minutes before completion, when the Earth is destroyed by the Vogons, to make way for a new Hyperspace Bypass.

The author was presented with many readers' theories about The Ultimate Question and The Ultimate Answer in his lifetime, all of which he rebutted with his own somewhat apocryphal explanations.

The search for The Ultimate Question

In the story, the Deep Thought computer has calculated the answer to the ultimate question to be 42. It tells the programmers that they should have been more specific in the question they had asked. It goes on to tell them that it will design a new "greater computer" to find this question. This new computer will incorporate living beings in the "computational matrix" and compute The Ultimate Question. The new computer is discovered to be the Earth, which the pan-dimensional creators occupy as supervisors by taking on the form of mice. At the beginning of the story, the Earth is destroyed by a race of beings called the Vogons. This is now discovered to have been just five minutes before the question was formed. The Vogons had been hired to destroy the Earth by a consortium of psychiatrists, led by Gag Halfrunt, who feared for the loss of their careers when the meaning of life became known.cite book|title=The Restaurant at the End of the Universe|author=Douglas Adams|date=1 January 1980|isbn=0-345-39181-0]

Lacking a real question, the mice proposed to use "How many roads must a man walk down?" (from Bob Dylan's protest song "Blowin' in the Wind") as The Ultimate Question for the "5-D chat show and lecture circuit" (in their dimension). One of the pan-dimensional beings called Frankie Mouse admits:

In a 2005 article for the magazine TV Zone, Lance Parkin noted that Majikthise might have accidentally hit upon the Question the day Deep Thought was activated. "I mean, what's the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives us his bleeding phone number the next morning?" God's phone number is 42, although, as Parkin noted, knowing that is no use without the dialing code.

The referance to the number "42" can also be seen on the apartment door of Fox Mulder on the "X Files".

Arthur's Scrabble tiles

At the end of the first radio series (and television series, and "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" book) Arthur Dent, having escaped the Earth's destruction, potentially has some of the computational matrix in his brain. He attempts to discover The Ultimate Question by extracting it from his brainwave patterns, as abusivelyHitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (TV series) Episode Six] suggested by Marvin the Paranoid Android, when a Scrabble-playing caveman spells out FORTY TWO. Arthur pulls random letters from a bag, but only gets the sentence "WHAT DO YOU GET IF YOU MULTIPLY SIX BY NINE?" cquote2|"Six by nine. Forty two."

"That's it. That's all there is."

"I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe"

Arthur and Ford are simply forced to accept "What a Wonderful World" the Earth is.

This 'question' is impossible with a standard set of Scrabble, as it has only two Ys. In the TV seriescite book|title=The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy|author=Douglas Adams|published=1979|isbn=0-330-25864-8] and book, the set has been handmade from Arthur's memory; in the radio series Arthur has a "pocket Scrabble set" at Milliways."". Douglas Adams, edited by Geoffrey Perkins. Pan Books, London. 1985. ISBN 0-330-29288-9]

The program on the "Earth computer" should have run correctly, but the unexpected arrival of the Golgafrinchans on prehistoric Earth caused input errors into the system - computing (because of the garbage in, garbage out rule) the wrong question - the question in Arthur's subconscious being invalid all along.

Fenchurch had figured out the ultimate question in a small cafe in Rickmansworth just before Earth's destruction, but lost her memory of what it was in the universe where Earth survived.cite book|isbn=ISBN 0-330-28700-1|title=So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish|author=Douglas Adams|published=1984]

The exclusion philosophy

The exclusion philosophy first appeared in Fit the Seventh of the radio series, on Christmas Eve, 1978:

cquote2|Narrator: There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

There is a third theory which suggests that both of the first two theories were concocted by a wily editor of "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in order to increase the universal level of uncertainty and paranoia and so boost the sales of the Guide. This last theory is of course the most convincing as "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is the only book in the whole of the known universe to have the words DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on the cover.

The first two theories start the second novel ("The Restaurant at the End of the Universe") and are confirmed at the close of the third ("Life, the Universe and Everything") where Arthur encounters Prak (played on radio's The Tertiary Phase by the actor who was Arthur Dent in the 1 May to 9 May 1979cite book|title=DON'T PANIC - the official Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion|author=Neil Gaiman|date=1987|publisher=Titan Books|isbn=1852860138] stage show"). A Krikkit-robot caused a massive overdose of a truth serum to be accidentally administered to Prak, who was then sworn to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" which he did unstoppably. Prak confirms that 42 is indeed The Ultimate Answer, and confirms that it is impossible for both The Ultimate Answer and The Ultimate Question to be known about in the same universe (compare the uncertainty principle) as they will cancel each other out and take the Universe with them to be replaced by something even more bizarre (as described in the first theory) and that it may have already happened (as described in the second).cite book|isbn=0-330-26738-8|title=Life, the Universe and Everything|author=Douglas Adams|published=1982]

The final 42 resolution

At the end of "Mostly Harmless", the fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named Hitch-Hiker's Trilogy, there is a final reference as Arthur and Ford are dropped off at Club Beta: cquote2|'Just there, number forty two,' shouted Ford Prefect to the taxi-driver. 'Right here!'The entire Earth (in every version of the Whole Sort of General Mishmash) is destroyed by the Grebulon Leader in a "most terrible catastrophe"cite book|isbn=ISBN 0-330-32311-3|date=1992|title=Mostly Harmless|author=Douglas Adams] soon after this final 42 reference.

Adams and the choice of the number 42

Douglas Adams was asked many times during his career why he chose the number 42. Many theories were proposed, cite web|url=,,sid183_gci211501,00.html |title=In "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", 42 is the number from which all meaning could be derived. |accessdate=2008-03-03 |coauthors=Peter Minearo, Mike Smith |date=2007-04-03 |work=CIO (Chief Information Officer) Magazine ] but he rejected them all. On November 3, 1993, he gave an answer [cite web|url=|title= Why 42 ? - - Google Groups |accessdate=2007-09-01] on

Adams described his choice as

Despite this, there is evidence of other explanations.

Base 13

Some readers saw that 613 × 913 = 4213 (using base 13). Douglas Adams later joked about this observation, saying: [cite web|url=|title=BBC - h2g2 - A Conversation Forum|accessdate=2007-09-04]

Video Arts theory

Whilst 42 was a number with no hidden meaning, Adams explained in more detail in an interview with Iain Johnstone of BBC Radio 4 (recorded in 1998 though never broadcast [This interview is contained on "Douglas Adams's Guide to The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (BBC Cassette ISBN 0-563-55236-0) and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - The Collectors Edition" (BBC CD ISBN 0-563-47702-4)] ) to celebrate the first radio broadcast's 20th anniversary. Having decided it should be a number, he tried to think what an "ordinary number" should be. He ruled out non-integers, then he remembered having worked as a "prop-borrower" for John Cleese on his Video Arts training videos.

Cleese needed a "funny number" for the punchline to a sketch involving a bank teller (himself) and a customer (Tim Brooke-Taylor). Adams believed that the number that Cleese came up with was 42 and he decided to use it. [Several attempts by fans to find this particular video have been unsuccessful and it is possible it may never have been published or has since been deleted from use).]

The 1977 Burkiss Way: 42 Logical Positivism Avenue

Adams had also written a sketch for The Burkiss Way called "42 Logical Positivism Avenue", broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 12 January 1977 [This is found on the Douglas Adams at the BBC CD set (ISBN 0-563-49404-2)] - 14 months before the Hitchhiker's Guide first broadcast "42" in fit the fourth, 29 March 1978.

Listen|filename=42 Logical Positivism Avenue.ogg
title=Burkiss Way, "Logical Positivism" sketch excerpt |description=An excerpt from Douglas Adam's The Burkiss Way sketch, "Logical Positivism" excerpt

Radio Interview with Douglas Adams

in January 2000, in response to a panelist's "Where does the number 42 come from?" on the radio show "Book Club" Adams explained that he was

Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry, a friend of Adams, claims that Adams told him "exactly why 42", and that the reason is [cite web|url=|title=BBC News - Magazine - What on earth is 42?|accessdate=2008-03-22] cquote2|fascinating, extraordinary and, when you think hard about it, completely obvious. However, Fry says that he has vowed not to tell anyone the secret, and that it must go with him to the grave.

John Lloyd

John Lloyd, Adams' collaborator on "The Meaning of Liff" and two "Hitchhikers" fits said that Douglas has called 42 [John LLoyd speaking at the 30th Anniversary Hitchhiker's recording at Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture on Wednesday 12th March 2008 at The Royal Geographical Society]

Further reading

ee also

* 42 (number)
* 42 Puzzle
* Mathematical constants, such as:
** e
** Golden ratio
** Pi
* Meaning of life
* Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
* Universal constants, for example:
** Gravitational constant
** Planck's constant
** Speed of light
* The Meaning of Liff


External links

* [ W3C's Attempt to standardise the meaning of 42]
* [ Google Answers The Question] Google's

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