The story’s central characters visit the legendary planet Magrathea and learn about a race of hyper-intelligent beings who built a computer named Deep Thought.
Deep Thought’s purpose was to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, that answer being a bewildering 42.
After briefly surveying theories of meaning The human desire for meaning finds vivid expression in the stories we tell, diaries we keep, and in our deepest hopes and fears.
According to twentieth century Freudian psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, “our greatest need and most difficult achievement is to find meaning in our lives” (Bettelheim 1978: 3).
Depending on whom one asks, the question, “What is the meaning of life?
” is either the most profound question of human existence or else nothing more than a nonsensical request built on conceptual confusion, much like, “What does the color red taste like? ” Ask a non-philosopher, “What do philosophers discuss?
Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said that the human will to meaning comes prior to either our will to pleasure or will to power (Frankl 2006: 99).
Questions about meaning arise and take shape within varied contexts: when struggling to make an important decision about what to do with our lives, when trapped in a job we hate, when wondering if there is more to life than the daily hum-drum, when diagnosed with a terminal illness, when experiencing the loss of a loved one, when feeling small while looking up at the night sky, when wondering if this universe is all there is and why it is even here in the first place, when questioning whether life and love will have a lasting place in the universe or whether the whole show will end in utter and everlasting desolation and silence.
The article then investigates three ideas that illumine what means in this context: sense-making, purpose, and significance.
The article continues by surveying important topics that provide a greater understanding of what is involved in our requests for meaning.