Later that night, the Heart of Gold speeds through space. To keep himself entertained, Arthur reads The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—if he has to live in space, he figures, he might as well learn about it. “The history of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases,” The Guide says, listing these phases as Survival, Inquiry, and Sophistication—these are “otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.” “For instance,” The Guide says, “the first phase is characterized by the question How can we eat? the second by the question Why do we eat? and the third by the question Where shall we have lunch?” As Arthur reads, Zaphod comes and asks if he’s hungry. When he says that he is, Zaphod says, “Okay, baby, hold tight. We’ll take a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”
The three “phases” that civilizations pass through ultimately signify a culture’s intellectual engagement with its own existence. In the first phase, the civilization figures out “how” it can survive. This is the most basic and essential question of the three. In the second phase, the civilization takes on a philosophical attitude, pondering deeply the underlying reasons that drive its customs. In the final phase, the civilization has already worked out both “how” it should live and “why” it should live this way, so all that’s left to do is decide the specific day-to-day ways that it will spend its existence. Interestingly enough, Arthur himself has gone through all three of these phases since the beginning of the novel. At first, he is preoccupied with learning “how” he has suddenly been flung into space and taken from his home planet. As he gets used to living on the Heart of Gold and exploring Magrathea, he slowly begins to question “why” what has happened has happened. Finally, he now embraces his new life, wondering only where he will eat his next meal.