THE ANSWER TO LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING
The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, or simply "The Answer" or "The Ultimate Answer" is a concept taken from Douglas Adams' science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the story, the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is sought from the supercomputer Deep Thought. The answer given by Deep Thought leads the protagonists on a quest to discover the question which provides this answer.
The Answer in the Story According to the Hitchhiker's Guide, researchers taking the form of mice, which are actually 3-dimensional profiles of a pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent race of beings, construct Deep Thought, the second greatest computer of all time and space, to calculate the answer to the Ultimate Question. After seven and a half million years of pondering the question, Deep Thought provides the answer: "forty-two".
"Forty-two!" yelled Loonquawl. "Is that all you've got to show for seven and a half million years' work?"
"I checked it very thoroughly," said the computer, "and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is."
Deep Thought informs the researchers that it will design a second and greater computer, incorporating living beings as part of its computational matrix, to tell them what the question is. That computer was called Earth and was so big that it was often mistaken for a planet. The question was lost five minutes before it was due to be produced, due to the Vogons' demolition of the Earth, supposedly to build a hyperspace bypass. (Later in the series, it is revealed that the Vogons had been hired to destroy the Earth by a consortium of philosophers and psychiatrists who feared for the loss of their jobs when the meaning of life became common knowledge.) Lacking a real question, the mice proposed to use "How many roads must a man walk down?" (the first line of Bob Dylan's famous civil rights song Blowin' in the Wind) as the question for talk shows, after considering and rejecting the question, "What's yellow and dangerous?"-actually a riddle whose answer, not given by Adams, is "Shark-infested custard". However, this may also refer to the Vogon Constructor Fleet that demolished Earth, in that they were yellow and most certainly dangerous.
In one of the books, Marvin mentions that he can read the Question in Arthur's brainwaves.
At the end of the first radio series, the television series, and the book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (volume 2 of the Hitchhiker's trilogy), Arthur Dent (as the last human to have left the Earth before its destruction, and therefore the portion of the computer matrix most likely to hold the question) attempts to discover the Question by extracting it from his unconscious mind, through pulling Scrabble letters at random out of a sack. The result is the sentence "WHAT DO YOU GET IF YOU MULTIPLY SIX BY NINE".
"Six by nine. Forty-two."
"That's it. That's all there is."
Since 6 × 9 = 54, this being the question would imply that the universe is bizarre and irrational; on the other hand, there is no proof that this was the actual question. After all, Arthur Dent comprised only a minuscule fragment of the vast and complex computer matrix that was the Earth, and besides, it was stated that the computer's run had not finished when it was destroyed. In addition, Arthur and Ford realized that the original ape-like inhabitants of Earth were displaced by the Golgafrinchams, which could account for the irrational nature of the question in Arthur's mind (as he himself is a descendant of the Golgafrinchans). On discovering the question in the original radio series, Arthur Dent remarks: "I always said there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe."
It was later pointed out that 6 × 9 = 42 if the calculations are performed in base 13, not base 10. Douglas Adams was not aware of this at the time, and has since been quoted as saying that "nobody writes jokes in base 13." and also "I may be a pretty sad person, but I don't make jokes in base 13." (Note, however, that the Scrabble board Arthur used had thirteen squares to a side, whereas an actual Scrabble board has fifteen. Furthermore, Arthur's board had four Y tiles to actual Scrabble's two.)
Alternately, some have suggested that the question may be, "Pick a number, any number." Although this is not exactly a question, Marvin the Paranoid Android asks Zem the mattress in Life, the Universe, and Everything to pick any number.
"I gave a speech once," he said suddenly and apparently unconnectedly. "You may not instantly see why I bring the subject up, but that is because my mind works so phenomenally fast, and I am at a rough estimate thirty billion times more intelligent than you. Let me give you an example. Think of a number, any number."
"Er, five," said the mattress.
"Wrong," said Marvin. "You see?"
Since he often complains that his brain is "the size of a planet," it is somewhat feasible that he could have discovered what Earth was supposed to find out. Also, Eddie the shipboard computer in one part of the books mentions, "Pick a number, guys!" when Arthur wonders aloud what the Question is, but is ignored by the human inhabitants of the Heart of Gold.
At the end of Life, the Universe and Everything, the third book in the series, Arthur encounters a man named Prak, who through a significant overdose of a remarkably effective truth serum has gained the knowledge of all truth. Prak confirms that 42 is indeed the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, but reveals that it is impossible for both the ultimate answer and the ultimate question to be known about the same universe. He states that if such a thing should come to pass, the universe would disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable. He then speculates that this may have already happened.
Later, in So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish, the fourth book in the series, Arthur wonders if the ultimate answer might be the sudden startling revelation which Fenchurch had shortly before the demolition of the Earth. This theory turns out to be false; Fenchurch instead discovered God's Final Message to His Creation, the location of which was revealed to Arthur by Prak at the end of the previous book.
It should be noted that the first book it states that once the meaning to the universe is discovered, it will be replaced with something weirder. The book then moves on to say "a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything", and at that point the story takes off. It isn't unreasonable to assume that the universe before then had been 'normal' and that Arthur's life and everything that happened after that point was a direct result of the answer and question both being known (which would, of course, make the answer and question useless as the universe itself had changed).
The series ends with the destruction of Arthur and all possible Earths by the Guide. In the final pages of Mostly Harmless Arthur enters Stavros Mueller's club Beta and all of the twisting storylines come to a very final conclusion. The street number of the club is #42; this leads to the possibility that the Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is: "Where does it all End?"
Douglas Adam's View
On November 2, 1993 Douglas Adams gave an answer on alt.fan.douglas-adams:
"The answer to this is very simple. It was a joke. It had to be a number, an ordinary, smallish number, and I chose that one. Binary representations, base thirteen, Tibetan monks are all complete nonsense. I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought '42 will do' I typed it out. End of story."
See Also: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Douglas Adams.
Interesting 42 Connections
- Using base 13 (instead of base 10) 6*9 does equal 42 (4210 = 5613), which because of the supersticiousness of unlucky 13, this could mean life is unlucky.
- Google, being full of more Ph.D.'s with degrees in science and mathimatics than ever concived, has come to the same conclusion that the answer to the ultimate question is 42. Need proof? Do a search for "answer to life, the universe, and everything" on Google.
- It could be that Deep Thought simply had an arithmetic precedence error. If the macros varnum=6 is defined as 1+5 and the macros varnum=9 is defined as 8+1 then 6*9 is defined as (1+5) * (8+1). However if the parenthesis are removed a computer will read the problem as 1+5*8+1 and do the multiplication first resulting in 1+(5*8)+1 = 42. This could lead us to believe that 42 means life is not programmed correctly.
- The phrase "answer to life the universe and everything" has 42 characters (including spaces)
- In binary, 42 is 101010, which is the ASCII code for the asterisk (*). It is common knowledge that the asterisk is used as a wildcard in searching. This means if you search for "*" you are searching for "everything".
- There are 42 eyes in a deck of playing cards (remember the one-eyed jacks). This would suggest the meaning "life is just a game, and the object is to win".
- There are 42 countries in the game of Risk; this reenforces the meaning above.
- There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil; no huge connections in this one.
- Fox Mulder's apartment number is 42 (this was done on purpose)
- There are 42 decks on the Enterprise starship in Star Trek the Next Generation
- The Statue of Liberty's left arm is 42 ft long.
- A marathon is frequently 42 km
- A 42 mph wind knocked down the Tacoma Bridge
- The Cuban Missile Crisis resulted over the placement of 42 Soviet missiles in Cuba
- Elvis died at the age of 42
- Dogs have 42 teeth
- 42 = 24 (other than 24, 42 is the only number that this rule can be applied to its digits)
- All of the dots on a pair of dice add up to 42; Life is a "pair of dice" -- paradise.
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