(photo credit: 42. Photo by ILenny on Flickr. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/legalcode)
It’s late Saturday night. I forgot to write a post for tomorrow. I can’t (won’t) break the dailiness of FIFTY on day 42. But what am I to do? I don’t have any ideas about what to write.
So I Googled “the significance of the number 42.” I wasn’t expecting much. Boy was I surprised.
Unbeknownst to me, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, a group of hyper-intelligent beings ask the supercomputer called Deep Thought to provide the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. After 7.5 million years of computation, Deep Thought comes up with the answer, “42.”
After publication of Adams’ book, the idea of the significance of the number 42 took on a life of its own. If 42 was the answer, people wondered, what was the question? And to take it a step further, what did it mean? According to Wikepedia, “Many theories were proposed, including that 42 is 101010 in binary code, that light refracts off water by 42 degrees to create a rainbow, that light requires 10−42 seconds to cross the diameter of a proton.”
When asked in 1993, Adams publicly rejected all of the theories. He said, “The answer is very simple. It was a joke. . . I sat at my desk, stared into the garden and thought, ’42 will do.'”
Adams died ten years ago, but millions of Hitchhiker fans continue to try to decipher what they imagine was Adams’ secret meaning. A dedicated fan and investigator, Peter Gill, has written a book, published this week, called 42: Douglas Adams’ Amazingly Accurate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, in which he attempts to establish just why 42 is the answer.
Some of his reasons include:
- On page 42 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry discovers he’s a wizard.
- Adolf Hitler turned vegetarian at the age of 42.
- Elvis Presley choked on his hamburger and died at the age of 42.
- Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear’s spaceship is named 42.
- In the Book of Revelation, it is prophesized that the beast will hold dominion over the earth for 42 months.
- Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has 42 illustrations.
I’m not sure any of those examples (or the many more Gill proposes in his book) qualify as reasons why 42 is the answer to the meaning of life, but it is amusing to read about all of the incidences of the number 42 in our cultural history.
In the past, I never had any interest in reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But I have to admit that this whole 42 business has piqued my interest in the book.
I wish Gill had asked me about my relationship to the number. From what I can gather, my “To Be Read” pile now could fill 42 rooms.
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