The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by

Douglas Adams

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Adams describes the Infinite Improbability Drive, explaining that it enables one to cross “vast interstellar distances in a mere nothingth of a second.” This, he says, is the story of its creation: a group of scientists have for a long time been able to generate “small amounts of finite improbability by simply hooking the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub-Meson Brain to an atomic vector plotter suspended in a strong Brownian Motion producer (say a nice hot cup of tea).” However, nobody knew how to make a machine that would generate infinite improbability, which would enable a spaceship to propel itself “across the mind-paralyzing distances between the farthest stars.” After considerable amounts of research, these scientists declared that “such a machine was virtually impossible.”
What’s remarkable about Adams’s description of the Infinite Improbability Drive is that it sounds as if he’s actually explaining something when, in reality, he’s not. Again, he uses make-believe terms like “a mere nothingth of a second,” thereby making it impossible for readers to follow the logic of his explanation. What’s more, Adams doesn’t say anything about how generating “infinite improbability” would cause a spaceship to fly “across the mind-paralyzing distances between the farthest stars.” Instead, he gives readers the semblance of an explanation, leaving them to struggle with the specific details and ultimately parodying the idea that everything in fiction must adhere to logic.
Themes
Meaninglessness and Happiness Theme Icon
Improbability, Impossibility, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Knowledge and Exploration Theme Icon
Language and Communication Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Thinking about the problem of creating an infinite improbability machine, a young student realized that if “such a machine is a virtual impossibility, then it must logically be a finite improbability.” From there, he understood that all he needed to do was “work out exactly how improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea…and turn it on!” The only thing that surprised him more than his ability to create this coveted machine, Adams notes, is that a group of scientists lynched him after his breakthrough because they “finally realized that the one thing they really couldn’t stand was a smart-ass.”
In this section, Adams once again provides an explanation that doesn’t actually explain anything at all. When he suggests that a “virtual impossibility” is equivalent to a “finite improbability,” he uses wordplay—not science—to advance his description. Even if this logic were sound, the young student then uses a fake machine (a “finite improbability generator”) that runs on hot tea. In turn, Adams makes it clear that readers aren’t expected to understand the underlying logic of the Infinite Improbability Drive. Indeed, his explanations do little more than encourage readers to embrace the fact that they simply don’t need to fully comprehend every plot point in order to follow this novel’s story.
Themes
Meaninglessness and Happiness Theme Icon
Improbability, Impossibility, and Absurdity Theme Icon
Knowledge and Exploration Theme Icon