The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Study Guide

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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy | Chapter 25 | Summary

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Summary

The story of Earth began many millions of years ago with a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings. Questions concerning the meaning of life led to an unbearable level of bickering among them and, to solve the problem, a supercomputer was built called Deep Thought. On the day of the computer's Great On-Turning, two programmers—Lunkwill and Fook—assign Deep Thought the task of finding the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. In ponderous tones, Deep Thought responds, "Tricky," and then adds, "I'll have to think about it."

At that moment, two philosophers—Majikthise and Vroomfondel—break into the room and demand that the question be left to them. The Quest for Ultimate Truth is legally the right of working thinkers. Let Deep Thought answer the question and they will be right out of a job. They go so far as to threaten a national Philosophers' strike.

Deep Thought breaks in to advise the philosophers that his task will take seven-and-a-half million years. In the meantime, philosophers will enjoy tremendous public attention as everyone tries to come up with their own answer. Handled well, the publicity will keep them all in the public eye and on the gravy train for life.

Elated by the idea, the philosophers depart.

Analysis

Though designed to be a stupendous supercomputer, Deep Thought refers to itself as "the second greatest computer in the Universe of Space and Time." Much to the bewilderment of the programmers, Deep Thought claims there is a computer to come after "whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate, but which it will be my fate to design." This foreshadows events to come. It seems that Deep Thought already knows something is not going to go as expected with the program and that more will be needed to complete its required task. The programmers, however, are unable to get Deep Thought to clarify this further—it appears that they don't know the right question to ask.

The connection between the story of Deep Thought and Earth is not yet clear. But it is obvious that an answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is universally desired. Even hyperintelligent pandimensional beings don't have an answer and want one. Douglas Adams once wrote that "'Why' is the only question that bothers people enough to have an entire letter of the alphabet named after it ... When you hear the word 'Why?' you know you've got one of the biggest unanswerables on your hands, such as 'Why are we born?' or 'Why do we die?' and 'Why do we spend so much of the intervening time receiving junk mail?'"

It seems that something else is universal: individuals who are more interested in preserving their job than in getting the job done. The philosophers Vroomfondel and Majikthise argue ferociously against discovery of the Ultimate Answer only because they fear for their own job security. They are delighted by Deep Thought's assurance that philosophers will have millions of years of employment and profit from the continuing disagreement before the answer is computed. Adams loved philosophical ideas and the exploration of philosophical questions. He seems to have no patience, however, with professionals who use the tools of philosophy to keep ignorance alive and themselves employed.

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