Tuesday, April 19, 2016

All That Matters is Matter in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

I conducted a smaller review of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on my Goodreads, which I will leave a link to down below. In this review, I mentioned how much I enjoyed the existential genius that went in to telling this story from the universal perspective, while expressing a bit of disdain for the pacing and sequence of events. Ultimately, though, the positive outweighed the negative and I rated it somewhere in the range of an 8/10 or a 9/10, which is 4-4.5 stars on Goodreads. This post is more of a critical analysis than it is a review: so it is subject to spoilers. If you are interested in reading this and you have either read the book or do not mind be spoiled, I encourage you to stay along. Otherwise, I would encourage you to read the book first. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is known greatly for its universal meaning and the exploration of the meaning of life as we follow the steps of an Earthling (from Britain) named Arthur Dent, saved just before his planet was destroyed in favor of a galactic freeway.

Taking this story into the context of the universal perspective, Earth is seen meaninglessly, which makes any of its inhabitants even more meaningless. So meaningless that as we draw ourselves back further and further, each being becomes a speck among a speck. Earth is described on the very first page of Adams' novel as being, "An utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea." Humanity is bound to be criticized for multiple reasons, but to say that their ideas remain "primitive" compared to the rest of the world definitely takes into account the meaning that inhabitants of Earth see within themselves and (in some cases) others and watching it become incredibly pointless when placed among the greater scheme of the universe.

As far as the universe is concerned, naturalism can be applied to the idea that there are only two types of things that exist: living matter and dormant matter. Living matter is what ever is alive, while dormant matter is what ever was once alive and is currently non-living. Depending on one's belief, dormant matter has the potential to become living matter. For instance, if an item, like a cardboard box, decays, it will eventually turn to dirt and develop purpose among the land once again. Douglas Adams was a confident atheist, denying any higher being. Whether or not he followed the idea that death was "going out of one car and into another" theory that John Lennon mentioned or that death was just "the lights shutting off" remains in question, but one that believes that death follows Lennon's ideas or just in reincarnation in general would believe in dormant matter having the potential to become living matter. The universe sees both as being the same.

This image of similarity among matter is seen by the two mice, Benjy and Frankie, when they are looking to continue their research on humanity (like mice did on Earth through human experiments for human interests). In order to continue, they need Arthur (since he is a human)'s brain. Of course, this is much to Arthur's dismay, especially since they plan to chop it up and do what ever they need to come up with the results that they need. They are, however, willing to provide Arthur with a mechanical brain, which works the same. Like most humans, the idea of having a mechanical brain is not the same as having a real brain, but when you look at this universally, both the living (Arthur's brain) and dormant (the mechanical brain) matter are viewed equally.

The greatest question at hand in the entire novel is one we ask ourselves: What is the meaning of life? In this novel, the answer is 42. Why 42? Why not something more basic like to do good, to be successful, or to follow your religion faithfully? The answer lies in the question. The reason the answer is so absurd is because the question is just as absurd, given the facts that the ideas regarding matter do not just cover people, places, and things, but also ideas. Like the physical things in life, ideas and things that are found among processing systems on the computers also come from a matter known more commonly as "0s and 1s." These 0s and 1s develop what we see. As you are reading this post, the 0s and 1s are developing the words I am typing and the background to which it is appearing. The question about "42" being the meaning of life is really "Is there really a meaning of life among matter?" One can also ask as to whether or not the meaning of life is the same or if there really is a meaning to life.

Of course, the meaning of life as portrayed in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is only a reflection of what Douglas Adams believes or possibly what he wants his characters to convey, which I believe is one of the same. Whether you agree or disagree with his universal point of view, taking that perspective really does away with humanity and what any and all of them believe. As far as this novel is concerned, Earth is just another one of the universe's creations and in the bigger picture, humanity from Earth has not exceeded itself, but instead created so much confusion. The "end of the world" may prove to be detrimental to the world that is being affected, but from the universal perspective, those inhabiting that world will simply return to being the matter that makes up the universe. The question is whether or not the matter will amount to anything spectacular, whether living or dormant.

Like dystopian novels, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy takes an aspect of absurdist literature and does its best to explain its meaning. For Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll concentrates on what it really is to be normal and questions the practices of society when compared to the abnormal (abnormal to us) practices of Wonderland. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams concentrates on the meaning of life according to the perspective of the universe. While he directly says this meaning is "42," I feel that the meaning of life being conveyed is that "all that matters in the universe is matter."

You can find my Goodreads account here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5687551-josh-caporale

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