by Julia Galef
The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein gets credit for pointing out that many classic philosophical conundrums are unsolvable not because they are so profound, but because they are incoherent. Instead of trying to solve such questions, he argued, we should try to dissolve them, by demonstrating how they misuse words and investigating the confusion that motivated the question in the first place.
But with all due respect to Wittgenstein, my favorite example of the “dissolving questions” strategy comes from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which contains a cheeky and unforgettable dissolution of which I’m sure Wittgenstein himself would have been proud: A race of hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional beings builds a supercomputer named Deep Thought, so that they can ask it the question that has preoccupied philosophers for millions of years: “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?”
Tag Archives: Science Fiction
3quarksdaily: “Is there an answer?” Searching for the meaning of life in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Radio Drama Revival is a wonderful site and worth a visit (or 2 or 3). I hadn’t realized until last night when looking for Heinlein’s short story that the radio play was available online. I heard this when it was broadcast on NPR years ago and had been looking for the print version ever since. Unfortunately, I did’t have the sense to write down the author or the name of the radio play at the time, so I’ve been hunting fruitlessly.
An acquaintance at a somewhat weekly coffee gathering here in Santa Fe was able to identify the story when I described the radio show and gave me the title. I was immediately able to locate the print version, which can be found in pdf format here: www.xs4all.nl/~pot/scifi/byhisbootstraps.pdf. Had I waited another week to search, I might have found this 2010 blog post and the audio file.
Enjoy – in either format!
WOW. This week I have the great pleasure of presenting to you, rendered in brilliant stereo sound, this gem of a short story by the grand master Robert A. Heinlein, By His Bootstraps.
We again have to thank the esteemed Yuri Rasovsky, who produced these works for the Beyond 2000 series which aired on NPR. You can download many many more stories from this collection on Audible – search for 2000x.