The Real Meaning of 42
In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a super intelligent race of beings builds a computer, called Deep Thought, to get an answer to the universe’s ultimate question: “What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?”, and in response to this question Deep Thought gives a very simple and supposedly off the wall answer: “42”.
Now, what if I told you there was a theory that explains exactly what the meaning behind 42 is? Would you believe it? Well, you’d probably be hesitant at first. I was, but once I got to sit down, read through it, and do a little bit of fact checking I became a believer. This is a theory I ran across on Facebook first, I believe. I think it was a meme I saw. I don’t remember one hundred percent, but in researching for this article I did come across a couple, both in meme form, and as a post on several subreddits. I’ll go ahead and link the subreddit post here.
With that out of the way, I’ll go ahead and give my explanation of the meaning of 42 and how I’ve taken it and incorporated it into my life and my writing.
So, back to the question: “What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?” Deep Thought gives “42” as the answer, and with the proper context this is the best answer Deep Thought could give because Deep Thought is giving the answer in the only way a computer understands.
What am I talking about?
Context. All of this relates to context. One of the theories I saw said that Douglas Adams spent part of his time in school and professional life as a computer programmer.
The primary programming language at the time was ASCII.
In computer programming the asterisk (*) is a symbol that represents a wildcard, a variable input by the end user and not by the computer program. The asterisk can mean literally anything. What you need to take from this is that, as the end user, the asterisk/variable gains the meaning you give it.
How does this have anything to do with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? This brings us back to Deep Thought’s answer. Deep Thought answers in the only language it knows, it says “42” giving life an equivalent meaning to that of a variable or wildcard. In essence, Deep Thought is saying that the meaning of life is whatever you want it to be.
42 = life is what you make of it.
So, how can this become something that relates to my life and can double as an inspirational message?
Well, I have unfortunately started down the path that will lead to a divorce. The end of a ten-year marriage and the literal loss of my best friend. So, right now, life seems to have no meaning for me. I’ve been combating depression daily, and I’ve found a few things that are helping me move on with my life. 42 is one of those things.
42 with the proposed meaning, means I have the ability to choose what my life is worth. It means I have a choice to make about where I’m going from here. It means I can either wallow in depression and self-pity feeling as worthless as a sack of rotten potatoes, or I can dust myself off and chose to live life. I can choose to take this terrible situation and transform it into something that will lead to positive change.
I’ve gotten a good look at the mistakes I made in the past. For the first month after the announcement came I did nothing but relive those mistakes. Then the damn broke. I knew if that path continued I would kill myself. So, I made my choice. I chose to get better. Now, because of the power of choice, because of the power of 42, I am well on the way to meeting the new me.
What does this have to do with writing?
Shouldn’t it be obvious at this point. Life is what you make of it. Life means what you want it to mean, and I want to be writer. So, that is what 42 means to me. I am a writer; each day I sit down at this computer and I bleed words onto the screen. Those words represent the whole of my body and soul. These words are precious too me, because I choose for them to be precious.
Now, if you don’t mind my asking, what does 42 mean to you and what lead you in too that choice? Let me know in the comments.