Thursday, November 08, 2007

Douglas Adams Had it Right

The answer is forty-two. That is indisputable. However, it raises an interesting question - "What exactly is the Question?"

The Question has troubled mankind since the dawn of time. Since that fateful day ten million years ago when Deep Thought awoke from his slumber, to be precise. Over the years, many different theories have been proposed to seek this elusive question. They range from the philosophical ("How many roads must a man walk down?") to the mythical ("How many gallons of beer does a barrel hold?"), to the outright abstruse ("What is the orbital period of a grazing satellite whose orbital radius, R is equal to the radius of the Earth?"). None of these, however, seem satisfactory.

The most popular theory for the Question was propounded by Douglas Adams himself. In Adams' book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the protagonists Arthur and Ford try to decipher the ultimate question by drawing scrabble tiles out of a bag. As a result, they come up with the perplexing query, "What do you get if you multiply six by nine?"

Now this question stumped many, since six by nine is clearly fifty-four and not forty-two. It continued to stump many with unerring regularity until someone cleverly pointed out that six multiplied by nine could indeed be forty-two, if computed in base 13, rather than base 10.

This was widely hailed as an astute observation.

However, it failed to impress the cynics. They claimed that it didn't really resolve the issue, but merely substituted one number for another. Instead of trying to find out why forty-two was the ultimate answer, now they had to figure why the number thirteen was central to the ultimate question.

Once again, several heads were scratched, and several theories bounced about, but none proved conclusive. Until that is Itzhak Bars, a theoretical physicist from USC, revealed that he had finally cracked it.

The Universe, according to Bars, consists of a total of thirteen dimensions as opposed to eleven, as was previously believed. Having a thirteen dimensional Universe would not only resolve the conflict between string theory and quantum mechanics, but would solve pretty much all known problems in Physics, providing us with the elusive "Theory of Everything".

If Bars is right, the ultimate answer, the universal question and all the mysteries of the universe have all finally been solved. All that remains to do now is to sit back, light up the proverbial pipe, and wait for the Universe to implode.

If however, you are still reading this, and the Universe shows no signs of imploding, it is very likely that someone somewhere has found a fourteenth or perhaps even a fifteenth dimension, and this entire post is moot. In which case, we apologise for the inconvenience.


At November 8, 2007 at 4:44 AM, Blogger Sujith said...

Wonderful post dude!
This is the kind of prose that makes me reach for the nearest keyboard and attempt a few paragraphs.

At November 9, 2007 at 12:23 AM, Blogger raoul said...

Thanks Sujith, I knew you'd appreciate all the h2g2 allusions. And you really should be reaching for that keyboard more often.

At December 24, 2007 at 4:39 AM, Anonymous svr said...

:) me trying to understand the middle two paragrpahs. Remind me NOT to ask you about this when we talk next!


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