This article first appeared in the GenWise Newsletter on the 16th of July, 2021.
We live in a world of many answers. I’ve dismissed volumes full of answers that my ancestors would never have seen in many lifetimes. Answers listen to our whim—slaves at our beck and call.
We live in a world where we are taught answers. We are taught to answer. We are searching for answers.
Is that a way to live? Is that a way to learn? Is what we need an answer?
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a “pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent species of beings” creates Deep Thought, a computer, to formulate the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. After seven and a half million years, Deep Thought produces the Answer: 42.
That’s it. 42.
The obsessive search for answers is meaningless. It provides no real insights, develops no real skills, and is ultimately useless. But hey, I got 86% in tenth grade, so that’s gotta count for something, right?
Textbooks are a never-ending series of answers to questions that are either formulated arbitrarily, or sometimes do not even exist. They are a collection of arbitrarily chosen facts that we’ve all been gaslit into thinking are the important. The whole textbook could be replaced by 42, and I would know exactly as much as I knew before.
Because what the pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent species of beings didn’t realize is that they were asking for an answer, but they were not asking a question.
“What is the square root of 1764?” is not a question, it’s a plea for an answer.
Who decided that the textbooks I was given contain the exact information I need to know in order to become a functioning member of society? Why have these specific facts and events been chosen? What is the Question that yields the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything?
Now, those are questions.
In fact, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide, that same pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent species of beings created a computer to figure out what the Question was. What do you think that computer was called?
“Earth.” A computer so large that it began to house life, and it became home to a race of primitive ape-like beings known as humans.
If The Hitchhiker’s Guide is to be believed, our purpose was to ask the Question.
Let’s take this sentiment and unpack it a little, setting aside its comedic and absurdist origins.
We’re here to ask questions. The answers have already been found, they’re out there. We’ve created a massive database where all the answers are on our fingertips. We have devices in our pockets that allow us to know the answers within seconds. All we have to do is ask the questions.
And yet, what do they teach us in schools? To find answers.
The institutions that we pay to help us understand our roles in society, and carry them out to our fullest extent do not teach us to do what may well be our primary function. Instead, they teach us to do what has already been done for us. They have become a redundant part of our society. And yet, they are the rock around which every life in our society is built.
To look for answers, one must know the question. And if we know the question—the true question—we know that things are a lot more complicated than just one answer.
You see, any question that has only one answer is not the question you should be asking. If it has only one answer, it is redundant to ask it, because the answer has already been found. To try and find another answer, we must ask a question to which not all answers have been found.
We should not be looking for one true answer, because there is no such thing.
And in our never-ending search for answers, we will have no context for what we have found. Our computers will stare at us and calmly declare: “42.”