In Douglas Adams’ brilliant Science-Fiction novel (originally a radio series) The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a central part of the plot is that a race of ultra-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings once became tired of their endless bickering over the meaning of life. So they decided to solve the matter once and for all.
To this end, they built a mighty computer – the second-most powerful ever – and asked it to find the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The computer’s name was Deep Thought and it spent the next seven and a half million years pondering over this problem. Then it announced that it had calculated the answer. The answer was:
The programmers were enraged and asked how it could think for seven and a half million years and come up with just “Forty-Two”?! Deep Thought replied that it had double-checked everything, and that “Forty-Two” was most definitely the answer. The problem was that nobody had ever known the right question! And unfortunately, Deep Thought was unable to calculate that!
So the same pan-dimensional beings set out, with the aid of Deep Thought, to create a new computer which could calculate the ultimate question about Life, the Universe, and Everything. A computer so complicated that organic life itself was to be part of it. You have probably already guessed that the new computer was…
Unfortunately, five minutes before its ten-million-year program is complete, the Earth is destroyed by the galaxy’s bureaucracy to make way for a hyper-spatial express route. Which is where the story takes off.
If you haven’t read Douglas Adams’ books yet, I can warmly recommend them for a good laugh or two … OK, a lot of good laughs!
(Incidentally, isn’t it quite common that we fail to answer our most pressing questions, or fail to see the answers, because we don’t know which questions to ask? 🙂 )