Debating Douglas Adams' Ultimate Question

1 Conversation

[Conversation between Deep Thought and Loonquawl on the occasion of 'The Readout'] 'I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you've never actually known what the question is.'
'But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life,The Universe, and Everything!' howled Loonquawl. "Yes,' replied Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, 'but what exactly is it?'
1 - Douglas Noel Adams

NOTE: This website does not encourage, promote, or incite debate on the question; but neither does it forbid debate in the forum threads or researcher conversations. It is hoped that this entry proves helpful by defining the scope of the debate, for potential debators, based on the Adams' universe.

There exists, in human philosophy, a concept called the Ultimate Question. In fact, much of philosophy consists of reasoned discussion about the ultimate questions of life. These are normally questions based on ethics, morality, and religions. The traditional key is that the question is proposed, and it is the answer which is debated.

Flipping this upside down, Douglas Adams created a marvelous, fanciful universe where the answer to the Ultimate Question, of Life, the Universe, and Everything, is forty-two. As such, in the Douglas Adams universe, the debates (when they arise) are about the framing of the actual ultimate question to which the answer is forty-two.

His stories contained notes and hints as to the parameters of the question without actually giving us the question. These were partially communicated through Guide Entries in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and through the conversations that the super-computer, Deep Thought, carried on with its programming and readout technicians.

Conversations or debates, on what that Ultimate question might actually be, should pay proper respect to the source material and not violate its precepts. Diverging from the source material takes the debate out of the Douglas Adams created universe, arguably the only place where the debate belongs. It would also make the debate so much less structured that it would likely descend into senseless chatter and chaos.

One should not, for example, argue that the question might be 'What colour are god's eyes?', when it is not a question that could result in a numerical answer without additional references.

Of course, the Question/Answer only needs to agree and make sense within the confines of that fictional universe; it does not need to pertain to ours.

Here then are the strictures as gleaned from the stories of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; The Ultimate Question according to Douglas Noel Adams:

1: The answer, according to Adams, is a smallish, base 10 number, between forty-one and forty-three; specifically, it is forty-two. Arguments that it is not base 10, or some similar sounding phrase (For tea, two; For tea, too; Fortitude, etc.) fail to meet this test. The answer was heard by a Human, who's language was English, as heard through the conversion of a bablefish. Any user, of a different race, would have heard the answer in their own language.

2: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy tells us that the philosophers, of this alien race of pan-dimensional beings, wanted to know the answer to the question: What is the meaning of life? Unfortunately, that was not what the programmers asked.

The stupendous super-computer, Deep Thought, was asked for 'The Answer'. When it responded, 'The answer to what?', they told it 'Life! The Universe! Everything!'.

When came 'The Day of the Answer', after a tricky seven and a half million years of computations, Deep Thought delivered the simple answer it had promised, forty-two.

3: The two men, selected to attend the read-out, were puzzled at the answer. The computer announced, 'I checked it very thoroughly, 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.'

This tells us that the question and the answer must agree in sense. If the question is open ended, or the answer cannot be expressed as forty-two, the proposed question fails this test.

4: They asked what the question was, but Deep Thought could only offer to help them design an even more powerful computer to calculate the Ultimate Question 'Of Life, the Universe and Everything'.

So, the scope of any proposed Ultimate Question is defined as something broad enough to encompass the subjects of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Life: These people new of many other alien races, though they did not know humans, so the scope must include all life in the universe that Douglas Adams created.

The Universe: the scope adds the entire Adams universe.

Everything: The addition of 'everything' allows the scope to increase beyond the Adams universe in terms of other peoples, forces, gods, creators, etc.

So the entire scope of the question is: 'All life, the whole universe, and everything else.'

Feel free to join the discussion, knowing that you are now armed with all you need to discuss or debate the concept and the Question.

1 Chapter 28 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy'

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