Adams states that life is full of difficult questions. Millions of years ago, he explains, “a race of hyperintelligent pandimensional beings” got tired of “the constant bickering about the meaning of life.” As such, they decided to build a supercomputer to answer their questions. “The size of a small city,” this computer was named Deep Thought. When Deep Thought was finally turned on, two programmers named Lunkwill and Fook asked it if it was the most powerful computer “in all time.” Deep Thought answered by saying that it was the second most powerful—the first, it explained, had not yet been built; this computer would be Deep Thought’s predecessor. Moving on, the programmers asked Deep Thought to tell them “the Answer” to “Life, the Universe and Everything.” Deep Thought confirmed that there was indeed a “simple answer,” but told them that it would take some thinking.
Although the individuals who design Deep Thought are “hyperintelligent pandimensional beings,” it’s worth noting that they’re not that different from humans. After all, Adams has already made clear that one of the most pressing conundrums in human history has been the discontent that comes from wanting to find meaning in life. Like humans, these hyperintelligent beings also want answers regarding fundamentally existential problems, so they design a supercomputer that will tell them the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything.” The fact that this desire to find meaning in existence is so ubiquitous ultimately suggests that such considerations are simply part of being alive, regardless of what dimension an individual lives in.
Suddenly, two philosophers burst into the room where Lunkwill and Fook are talking to Deep Thought. These men are Majikthise and Vroomfondel, and they are part of the Amalgamated Union of Philosophers, Sages, Luminaries and Other Thinking Persons. What they want—what they demand—is for Deep Thought to be turned off. “You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” says Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. You want to check your legal position, you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we?” Jumping in, Vroomfondel adds, “That’s right, we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”
The outrage expressed by Majikthise and Vroomfondel once again highlights the ways in which intense intellectual thought can sometimes lose sight of its intended purpose. Majikthise and Vroomfondel have spent their entire lives on a “Quest for Ultimate Truth,” but now they suddenly want to stop Deep Thought from coming to a conclusion about this “ultimate truth.” In doing so, they reveal that they are more concerned with the actual process of engaging in philosophical thought than in finding an answer. Also, they want to ensure that they have job security. Adams perfectly outlines the absurdity of this outlook by having Vroomfondel demand “rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty,” which are two things that are, by nature, vague and “uncertain.”
Interrupting the philosophers, Deep Thought points out that its “circuits are now irrevocably committed to calculating the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything,” but that the program will take 7,500,000 years to run. “It occurs to me,” Deep Thought says, “that running a program like this is bound to create an enormous amount of popular publicity for the whole area of philosophy in general. Everyone’s going to have their own theories about what answer I’m eventually going to come up with, and who better to capitalize on that media market than you yourselves? So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other violently enough and maligning each other in the popular press, and so long as you have clever agents, you can keep yourselves on the gravy train for life.” This satisfies the philosophers, who happily turn around and leave the disappointed progammers alone.
In this moment, Deep Thought displays a shrewd understanding of how fame works. “So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other violently enough and maligning each other in the popular press,” the computer says, “[…] you can keep yourselves on the gravy train for life.” Saying this, Deep Thought points to the fact that these philosophers simply want to argue with one another about conflicting theories regarding the nature of life. For people like Majikthise and Vroomfondel, the field of philosophy is more about exploring various ideas than it is about finding answers. Because of this, they’re happy to hear that the program will take 7,500,000 years to come to a conclusion—a period of time during which they can attract attention by setting forth their own conjectures about the answer to “Life, the Universe and Everything.”