Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 22 - "42"

"The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything", calculated by an enormous supercomputer over a period of 7.5 million years. Unfortunately no one knows what the question is. Thus, to calculate the Ultimate Question, a special computer the size of a small planet and using organic components was created and named "Earth".
-The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Sometimes in life, interesting things work their way into ordinary situations.  The above quote is, of course from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams .  Note now, if you haven't read this, do it.  In any event, as described, apparently by Douglas Adams, and after much speculation and theory, this number was randomly chosen because of its simplicity... but, in our Universe, the most simplistic things are the most infinitely complex...

Let's examine what I stumbled upon today, coincidentally, while showering (an ordinary and mundane task). I was attempting to define what a "living" thing (Life) is versus something non-living, such as a piece of iron.  I thought about what made them different, besides the obvious chemical structures.  The difference between a complex non-living object versus a complex living object is one basic thing.  It is the fact that all things living have some mechanism to continue the existence of life.

Single cell organisms have different methods, such as basic divide and conquer.  Multicellular organisms, such as us use various forms of reproduction.  An iron ingot simply cannot perform this task and has, as it seems, no desire to do so.

Using this concept, a virus would be alive since it does contain a mechanism for the persistence of life, even though it requires another organism to do so.  This is a key fundamental because, of course, without it life would not exist.  Therefore, it is safe to say that the base purpose of life is the persistence of life.  It is terribly simply and not overly exciting, but we all need a base point for anything, and this is it.

On a side note, I decided that what determines an intelligent organism versus a basic organism is the ability to willfully choose to not persist life.  But perhaps that is for a different discussion...

Moving on, what does this all have to do with "42" and Douglas Adams.  Well, the amazing thing about his book is that it is all around this idea that Earth was created for the purpose of discovery the question to everything, since the answer was found to be "42".  In the end, it boiled down to the fact that the question was inside Arthur Dent's head (one of the last 2 surviving Humans).  The problem with many solutions, especially in a computer system, is that they are answered in the context of their medium and their creator.  In this case, the medium was a Human and their creator, in that particular dimension was a lab rat...and here comes the beautiful part, what is 42 and is unique to a lab rat, that is especially particular to life... the number of chromosomes, yes a lab rat has 42 chromosomes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laboratory_rat

Why this is interesting to me is that Douglas Adams wrote the book most likely not knowing this and was most likely interesting in telling a great story, which he did.  However, a main point of his book is exactly what he has provided.  He had the answer, although obscure in his mind and it came out through here.  The number simply needed to be understood from an outside perspective and the puzzle put together, which I believe I have done...

Douglas Adams unknowingly gives us the answer to everything as 42, which happens to be the chromosomal count of the lab rats in his book that created the machine (which is Earth) to determine the question of everything.  Chromosomes are absolutely required for life to be persisted, which is exactly what I am claiming to be the purpose of life.

The question: What is the meaning of life?
The answer: The persistence of life.

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