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Why is "42" the ultimate answer to the universe?

by Test 2 months ago in fact or fiction
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Cold Knowledge

In 1979, the first book in British author Douglas Adams' series of science fiction novels, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was published.

In the novel, a highly intelligent inter-latitudinal race of beings builds a supercomputer called Deep Thought to find the "ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything in between". After 7.5 million years of calculations and verification, the final answer the supercomputer came up with was "42".

British author Douglas Adams

Why is 42?

This is not only the answer that the protagonists in the novel roamed the universe, but also became a mystery that countless science fiction fans tried to solve in reality. In the original author Adams's 14 years of unexplained background, a variety of speculation has proliferated.

From a scientific point of view, some say it is because 42 is 101010 in the binary code, some say it is because the time for light to pass through the diameter of the proton is 10-42 seconds, and some propose that light refraction through the water surface 42 degrees to form a rainbow and so on.

From the cultural point of view, some people suggest that the dead had to face 42 judges in ancient Egyptian mythology, that the Greeks traveled 42.195 kilometers from Marathon to Athens after defeating Persia, and that the Gutenberg Bible, which was first published in Europe with movable type, had 42 lines per page and was called the "42-line Bible". The Gutenberg Bible was the first in Europe to be printed in movable type and had 42 lines per page.

All these speculations sound plausible, but with a little logic, it is clear that these are just "coincidences about the number 42", not "why the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42".

Regarding these outside speculations, I think one of the more interesting findings is that in the Standard Code for Computer Information Interchange (ASCII), the decimal 42 corresponds to the character "*" - a wildcard character that can be used in place of zero or any character above 0. It makes sense, then, that a computer would consider "*" to be the ultimate answer to anything.

In 1993, Adams finally revealed the answer - it was a number that he had tapped down while writing, with no hidden meaning.

However, the enthusiasm of science fiction fans for the "42" statement did not dissipate with the original author's explanation. On the contrary, thanks to the widespread dissemination of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of science fiction novels around the world, the phrase "the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything in between is 42" has become an unspoken "code word" among science fiction fans. The generation that grew up watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has since paid tribute to this work of scientific enlightenment in a variety of ways in their work.

In the Allen Telescope Array, the SETI Society was largely responsible for the first phase of construction, with a total of 42 antennas erected and put into operation; in the game "No Man's Land 2", the introduction of the boss bunker has a fragment of "number 00101010, the ultimate theory of the universe"; in the film "Spider-Man: Parallel Universe", the number "42" as a symbol throughout the film but no real meaning constantly appear ......

If you set your iPhone's Siri language to English (UK) and ask her "What's the meaning of life?" for the first time, you will get the answer "42". The first time you ask her "What's the meaning of life? And in Google search type "the answer to life, the universe, and everything" and press enter, will also get the computer to calculate "42" results show.

A former unknown popular science number has also published two popular science books, each consisting of 42 articles.

In the original story by Glass Adams, to explain what the so-called ultimate question about the answer "42" is, "Deep Thought" has designed another more powerful computer - the Earth to perform calculations. However, after 8 million years of waiting, just five minutes before the result was due, the Earth was destroyed because it blocked the route of the interstellar highway.

Sometimes reality can be so absurd that, with your head in the sand, you can look up and be shattered by an irresistible force.

So, what is the meaning of everything?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy gives us a reference answer: it is more important to ask questions than to know the answers, or at least equally important. The author's perception is that in the process of asking questions, exploring the truth, and sharing knowledge, the most "ultimate" meaning has already been established.

Just as in the novel, after the destruction of the Earth, the calculations of the ultimate questions remain in the bodies of the surviving Earthlings. The results of the search process do not disappear because of any external influence.

To know why the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and anything is 42, it is more important to figure out what the ultimate question of life, the universe, and anything are. Adams did not give any clear answer, and no one can answer that question. But the old man gives us another, more important piece of advice: "Don't Panic" (Don't Panic).

This phrase, originally printed on the cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has become another famous science fiction staple. Another British science fiction writer, Arthur Charles Clarke, has commented that Adams' "Don't Panic" may be the best piece of advice for all of humanity.

Don't panic in the face of an unknown and deadly universe; don't panic in the face of a temporarily unanswerable puzzle, and don't panic in the face of a dangerous future.

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, Musk's Tesla Roadster with "Don't Panic" written on it

It may be true that we cannot know what the ultimate question of the universe is, and why the answer is "42". But that's not important.

What matters is that we are back together again, searching for questions, exploring answers, spreading the word, and - no more panic.

*** Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version) ***

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