Why 42 is the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything

In Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” the computer Deep Thought famously gives the answer to “The Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything” as 42. Ever since geeks have pondered and wondered about the reasons why Douglas Adams choose 42. Did he just pick an arbitrary number? Or was there really something to ‘get’?

It is my opinion there is something to ‘get’ and it all involves understanding a little bit about C and ASCII. You see, Deep Thought, as a computer, would have to be programmed, and you will know, if you are a programmer, that programs generally have BUGS!

It is my contention Deep Thought had a bug.

To understand why this is, consider the following piece of code:

int main(){
char x = ‘*';
printf(“The meaning of life is %i”, x);

It prints to screen “The meaning of life is 42″. The ASCII representation of an asterisk “*” in the computers memory is the number of 42. In the above code ‘%i’ take an integer as an argument, but since we have declared the variable x as a character type, instead of printing the character ‘*’, the printf statement instead prints the ASCII (integer) representation of “*” which happens to be 42.

“The meaning of life is *”

The asterisk makes sense. An asterisk is a pointer, a marker than stands in for something else. Was it that perhaps Deep Thought was about to return the contents at memory location of The Answer? Maybe, but I haven’t figured out a way to make a C program do this yet. But I think its more likely that there is nothing there and that the asterisk represents something ‘over the horizon’ pointing at the space where after our computation that is life is complete the answer will be stored.

Is it is all a giant metaphor? Is Douglas Adams is saying “fucked if I know”? Or perhaps, ‘see the footnotes’, conveniently missing.

22 thoughts on “Why 42 is the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything

  1. Thanks. I realize what I said above is a little bit vague, but there is something in this discovery, yes no? I am off to sleep now, but I realize this is getting a little bit of traffic. I will respond to peoples thoughts in the morning.

  2. I don’t know if the programming of Deep Thought, a massive computer designed and built by hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings, can be boiled down to a simple accidental character to integer conversion. But, seeing as how I dug through my code as often as I have looking for that missing semi-colon it may be possible.

    You may remember in the books that even the Earth, created as a computer to calculate the question, came upon the answer in it’s early stages. So, unless they simply installed a library from deep thought to calculate the answer first, the problem wouldn’t have gone to both systems. I am not even sure that the earth would even be able to be programmed in the same way as deep thought, as the earth uses chemical reactions for it’s processing and deep thought used electrical impulses.

    I think the book explains it nicely in essentially, that the universe is so inexplicable, that knowing the answer and the question at the same time would cause it to be instantly destroyed and replaced by something even more inexplicable.

    In that book it is more likely that god screwed up than the computer. “We apologize for the inconvenience” in 50 foot tall flaming letters says it all.

    Sorry, bit of an overenthusiastic fan of DNA.

  3. As far as Adams goes, he has gone on record as saying he has no idea why he chose it. He just kind-of thought it fit. Which may say something even more over-reaching about the nature of the universe and collective truth and thought.

    But, the chances of finding out what is really going on are so astronomical, that you might as well sell bugger the whole thing and just keep yourself occupied. You could design fjords, for example.

  4. This was my signature circa 1990.

    ultimate_answer_t deep_thought(void)
        return 42;
  5. Actually… not to be a downer or anything, but I was fortunate enough to see Adams give a speech and Q/A years ago (1995? 96?). During the Q/A session a kid of maybe 17 began a long-winded rambling question filled with all kinds of neat equations and proofs that ultimately led to 42.
    The kid was very keen on his process and asked if Adams had followed the same path when determining the Answer to be 42.

    “Ah… no. See, I was drunk and thought that it would be rather funny if the answer to life, the universe, and everything was a nonsensical number and 42 popped into my head.”

    Which, if you want to get very conspiratorial about the whole thing could mean that our brains have the same bug inherent in DT… just sayin’.

    • But also there’s the fact that it doesn’t matter that much what the question is, knowing the answer spoils the question, because when trying to find the question, as you already know the answer, you’ll try to look for a question that fits with 42, that’s why that kid found so many equations for 42, he was looking for it.

  6. Absolutely delightful….. the comments that is.
    Just remember Spike put it best. “We saw strange lands no human eyes had set foot apron.”….. a goonism for those old enough to remember……remember the immortal term “pftang!” (naturally in Greek) ahhhh where is Bluebottle, Gridpipe Thin, Col. Bludnock (he of the curried eggs) and the immortal words of Spike on his passing “I told you I wasn’t feeling well!”
    Better to remember D.A’s classic words “Time is an illusion: Lunch time doubly so”……

  7. I think the point is that in trying to find out why the Answer is 42 is that you construct meaning around something in which there is no meaning. Constructing meaning is the purpose of life.

  8. Actually, there is a real reason why the answer is 42, and it’s simpler than you think. Douglas was involved in Doctor Who for a little while, as a writer or something. Anyway, in Doctor Who, there was a part where a computer that could answer any question was made, and they asked it what the meaning of life was, and it replied “42”. There is a bit more to it, but that most of it. Douglas’s answer to the meaning of life is a Doctor Who refrence. :D

  9. Perhaps the number 42 intentionally contains a purposeful meaning which Douglas Adams accidentally applied, or at least, thought he accidentally applied. Here it is:

    42 represents the journey. The time between times, between the loss of all and the saving of it. It is the barren desert of life before the oasis is found. The danger that occurs between the pages of a book before the happy ending. The story.

    Consider from God’s perspective:
    Israel camped 42 times in the wilderness during the exodus before coming to the promised land.
    Jesus, Savior of the world, was 42 generations from Abraham, father of the nation of Israel.
    In the Book of Revelation the beast will hold dominion over the earth for 42 months.
    The Gutenberg Bible contained 42 lines of print within its pages.
    An angle of 42 degrees is required to see a rainbow (sign of God’s covenant with man).

    42 = 6 * 7
    Seven is God’s perfection.
    Six is man, made in God’s image, not quite perfect.

    42 = man multiplied by (grown by) God…or God multiplied by (working on the earth through) man.
    It is the relationship between God and man. His perfection and our imperfection.
    It is the story, the time between our loss and His saving us, our barren desert away from Him.
    It is the working out of our salvation.

    The meaning of life the universe and everything is that God saved man.

    • Consider Arthur Dents suggestion of the meaning:
      “How many roads must a man walk down?” You see. It’s the journey in between. What a man must go through to be saved.

  10. 42 is not the answer to “life, the universe, and everything.” It is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

    You start from an incorrect premise, and therefore reach in incorrect conclusion. Please rewrite your thesis, and resubmit to the committee for further review.

    Vampire Chicken, Dean of the Dept. of Sheep Dip and Fan Fiction.

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