Posted by: Jamie Hahn | February 10, 2012

Questions, Answers, and the Number 42

The answer is 42.

What’s the question, you ask? I have no idea.

According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 is the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” It took a supercomputer 7.5 million years of figuring and calculating to arrive at that answer. The problem? No one knows what the question is.

Despite not really connecting with that book, I have always appreciated this concept. It’s the height of absurdity to struggle for 7.5 million years to come up with an answer, only to realize that you need the question to make any sense of it. This could be the jumping off point for a philosophical discussion of the meaning of life and our search for answers within this great mystery of our existence, but honestly, I’m a bit tired for that today.

The actual reason that I’ve been thinking about 42, is that I’ve been struck recently by my seeming need for answers. I need answers all the time. I’m not comfortable with uncertainty, mystery, or loose ends. I’m terrible at puzzles and word problems because I don’t enjoy the journey of arriving at an answer. I want the answer immediately, and I’m nervous and stressed until I get it. I’m the kid who peeled off the stickers on the Rubix Cube because I never believed I would figure it out.

In addition to my impatience and discomfort with uncertainty, I am also terrible at asking questions. I’ve realized that there is an art to asking good questions—questions that will get to the heart of the matter, questions that will lead you to a new understanding, questions that will help you connect with someone, questions that will start to unveil tiny pieces of the mystery of life. This is where I need to spend my time. Not looking for 42 or picking at the stickers on a cube-like puzzle. I need to learn to ask better questions—of myself, of my friends, of the universe.

Asking good questions requires you to know yourself and stay open to all possibilities, even if you don’t like the answers you get (even if you never get an answer). I’m talking about the hard questions. Questions like, what is it that makes me truly happy, who are the people that have a positive impact on my life, what can I do today that will take me out of my comfort zone, which of these paths is the harder one, what behaviors and choices in my life are hurting me and those around me, what can I do to be a better person.

Now, those are questions worth spending 7.5 million years pondering. I’m hoping I can get those figured out in less time than it takes me to solve the Rubix Cube. I guess I know what I’ll be doing this weekend.

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Responses

  1. While I personally did relate to all the absurdity in Hitchhiker’s, you’re right about the question/answer dilemma, of course & I was wondering if you were familiar with Asimov’s take on Genesis. In this very short story everything but entropy is understood, but the universe continues to settle into the lowest energy levels and man is gone. Only one computer remains working on the entropy problem. When it arrives at the answer, there is no one to tell! (& I won’t spoil the ending).
    So we need all three, question, answer and asker.
    Love your work!

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Mickey. I love the insight that we need questions, answers, and askers. I’m not familiar with Asimov’s take on Genesis, so I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for the recommendation.


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