Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Question to The Ultimate Answer

After mentioning dear Douglas Adams in a couple of recent posts, I thought I should confess that he is the only person to whom I have ever written a fan letter.

I never got a reply, of course. I was probably only one of several tens of thousands of people who wrote to him during the height of the 'Hitch-Hiker' craze, most of us claiming to have solved the riddle of The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. However, I like to think that I was the only one of them who got it right. Pity Douglas never got back to me on that!

Briefly, for non-HHGG buffs, the search for The Ultimate Question was a wonderful
MacGuffin (surely the greatest of all MacGuffins!) in the story. The Answer to the Ultimate Question had, of course, been worked out long before, by Deep Thought, a gigantic supercomputer constructed especially for the purpose. After many thousands of years of calculation, this computer pronounced with absolute confidence that The Answer was 42. The Question, however, remained beyond its grasp, and it declared that it would itself have to design another even more intricate computational device, incorporating living organisms within its operational matrix, in order to determine what that was. As it happened, this second computer was the planet Earth - which was tragically destroyed only moments before the 'program' was finally set to produce the answer..... or rather, The Question.

Now, this always seemed quite a simple matter to me. Adams, a self-proclaimed "devout atheist", was naturally fascinated with the notion of God, and there were many, many jokes about God (who was, it would appear, generally assumed to exist) in both the radio and novel versions of HHGG. There were also a lot of references to the overriding importance of the telephone and telephone numbers in people's lives, and to strange coincidences involving them (I seem to recall, for example, that one of the 'improbability factors' recited by the shipboard computer ['Improbability' providing the motive power for the stolen space/time-travelling starship Heart of Gold] was revealed by the narrator to also have been the phone number of one of the human characters in the story). Even more significantly, very early on in the radio series (I think perhaps even before the Ultimate Question plot strand had been introduced) there was a throwaway line about someone on Earth having worked out the secret of life (how to end wars, famine, promote brotherly love, etc.)..... and having been on their way to a payphone to tell someone about it - just as the Earth was destroyed! In one of the later books, this person becomes an active character in the story (a girl called Fenchurch, who, having been miraculously rescued from the Earth at the instant of its demise, eventually meets up with and becomes the lover of the only other human survivor, Arthur Dent, the story's chief protagonist).

And SO....... well, it is generally assumed that The Ultimate Question is whether or not there is a God; but in fact that is only The Penultimate Question, because this knowledge is fairly useless unless you also know how to get in touch with Him; so, if you find out, for an absolute certainty, that God exists, then The Ultimate Question that forms in your brain is inevitably, "Well, what's His telephone number, then?" The girl, Fenchurch, had had a revelation which showed her how to sort out all the mundane details of getting people to live in peace together; but what was she going to do with this wisdom? She was about to decide that the first person she should talk to about it was God Himself; but then she would realise that she didn't know his telephone number. But the Earth was destroyed seconds before she formulated that question in her mind - The Ultimate Question.

There we have it. QED.

What's God's telephone number?

You heard it here, on Froogville, first.


Anonymous said...

"Froog" sounds very much like Frood (as in "hey you, sass that hoopy Ford Prefect, there's a frood who really knows where his towel is"). Any connection?!

Froog said...

No - not unless Douglas Adams was consciously or unconsciously influenced by John Carpenter's debut film 'Dark Star'. That's where 'Froog' comes from, as I explained in one of my early posts on here.

I haven't heard 'frood' in years. Thanks for reminding me of that.

I always used to especially like the insult "He's so un-hip it's a wonder his legs don't fall off." I can't now remember the context. I suspect it was Ford. Or maybe Roosta? But who was it said of?

Usually, when I try to explain my alias to people out here, they assume I have misspelled 'frog'!!

Anonymous said...

"`Hand me the rap-rod, Plate Captain.'
The little waiter's eyebrows wandered about his forehead in confusion.
`I beg your pardon, sir?' he said.
`The phone, waiter,' said Zaphod, grabbing it off him. `Shee, you guys are so unhip it's a wonder your bums don't fall off.'"

Nathan Sellers said...

Nathan sellers,
Here's the question: when Marvin was on the volcanic planet, on deaths door, he read God's last message to creation. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE. Then the smartest most depressed (ignorance is bliss) robot ever with a brain the size of a planet actually felt good about something before he died. What's the inconvenience God was referring too? 7 is the number of perfection, 6 the number of man, 42 is what you get when an imperfect creation spends its life trying to reach perfection! Well, there's your answer, or question rather. Please do not send any mice to disect my brain!

Froog said...

Really?? Where the hell did that happen - in one of the later books I didn't get around to reading? (For me, the original radio series will always be canon!) And how can Marvin DIE??

And actually, the message was: WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.

And who the hell assigns those significances to those numbers? I very much doubt if that's in the books.

It's pretty unlikely Douglas Adams would opt for anything based on numbers or numerology. He famously scoffed at one such fan theory by saying, "I do not write jokes in base 10."

And you haven't actually formulated a Question here; or demonstrated in what way it is Ultimate.

Moreover, the Ultimate Question can't be anything to do with Man, who is only an (inadvertent?) creation of the Deep Thought computer, and a tiny irrelevance in the vastness of the Universe. It might be to do with Sentient Life, I suppose.

Ingenious NONSENSE, I'm afraid.