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Author of TheHitchhikersGuideToTheGalaxy, a comic radio series and set of novels, which predicted a digital encyclopedia of all (important) knowledge.

Quora Answer : Do Douglas Adams'a "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" books have a real philosophical basis, or are they simply humor oriented?

Dec 3, 2019

This quote had a huge effect on me :

And to this end they built themselves a stupendous super-computer which was so amazingly intelligent that even before its data banks had been connected up it had started from I think therefore I am and got as far as deducing the existence of rice pudding and income tax before anyone managed to turn it off.

It launched me on the first "philosophical" thinking that young me ever experienced, as I actually started trying to figure out how you would get from "I think therefore I am" to "rice pudding and income tax".

I couldn't have put it like this at the time, but it literally opened up my mind to the glimmer of possibility of trying to figure out how the world was, by deduction and reason.

Of course it's basically a great joke. And it's not intended to "teach" in a rather obvious, pedestrian "educational" way.

But it's informed by real philosophical ideas. And it's witty. And so inevitably it can teach. Like many of the philosophically informed ideas in H2G2.

Here's another classic :

"So your brain was an organic part of the penultimate configuration of the computer programme," said Ford, rather lucidly he thought.

"Right?" said Zaphod.

"Well," said Arthur doubtfully. He wasn't aware of ever having felt an organic part of anything. He had always seen this as one of his problems.

"In other words," said Benji, steering his curious little vehicle right over to Arthur, "there's a good chance that the structure of the question is encoded in the structure of your brain - so we want to buy it off you."

"What, the question?" said Arthur.

"Yes," said Ford and Trillian.

"For lots of money," said Zaphod.

"No, no," said Frankie, "it's the brain we want to buy."


"I thought you said you could just read his brain electronically," protested Ford.

"Oh yes," said Frankie, "but we'd have to get it out first. It's got to be prepared."

"Treated," said Benji.


"Thank you," shouted Arthur, tipping up his chair and backing away from the table in horror.

"It could always be replaced," said Benji reasonably, "if you think it's important."

"Yes, an electronic brain," said Frankie, "a simple one would suffice."

"A simple one!" wailed Arthur.

"Yeah," said Zaphod with a sudden evil grin, "you'd just have to program it to say What? and I don't understand and Where's the tea? - who'd know the difference?"

"What?" cried Arthur, backing away still further.

"See what I mean?" said Zaphod and howled with pain because of something that Trillian did at that moment.

"I'd notice the difference," said Arthur.

"No you wouldn't," said Frankie mouse, "you'd be programmed not to."

This is so very good. (Although I'm sure in the radio series it's Zaphod who offers the classic reply to Arthur's "I'd notice the difference")

It very much brings up all the big issues in philosophy of mind / artificial intelligence etc. that are still some of the most troubling and fashionable today.

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