Plan for the Day
- Anything from last class…
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Part 1)
More Questions than Answers
We’re down to the last week and a half of the semester! Next Monday, 11/25, you will have Test 5 on Canvas. There are no Wednesday (11/27) or Friday (11/29) class meetings next week because of Thanksgiving Break. When you come back from the short break, we’ll only have two classes remaining: Monday, 12/02, and Wednesday, 12/04. Your Final Exam will be Wednesday, 12/11, on Canvas (two and a half hours, 100 questions, cumulative). I want to take a moment to emphasize the overall goal of the course and college-level education in general.
An Adventure in Absurdity…or Life as We Know It!
Ok, so this really isn’t a book that gets assigned in many science fiction classes because, as the mice’s ruse did on Earth, it’s veiled as pure juvenile entertainment. As I mentioned before, science fiction isn’t given too much literary weight because it’s considered genre fiction–formulaic stories that entertain audiences but don’t have them contemplate broader issues of life, the universe, and everything. Well, at this point in the semester, you know science fiction is way smarter than that. In Adams’s novel, he tackles the big question–THE MEANING OF LIFE. No easy task, but he does it brilliantly if we look closely enough. I’ve tried to divide our time (today and Wednesday) for this book by going over the main points of the text and grounding us into what’s going on; for instance, what’s an Improbability Drive. Then, on Wednesday, we’ll focus more on interpretation. Don’t Panic! I promise to leave you with more questions than answers…
Major characters in the novel
- Arthur Dent
- Ford Prefect
- Zaphod Beeblebrox
- Tricia McMillian/Trillian
- Marvin–the depressed robot
- The Vogons
Bureaucracy, Politics, and Human Existence
Eminent domain and why do we make the rules? What if a more advanced species thought we were in the way? Perspective on who or what’s important.
Anthropocentrism: Consider the fact that you are would stop and call an ambulance if you hit someone with your car, but you’d keep going about your day if you ran over a squirrel. Sure, this logic gets complicated if you hit a deer, bear, or moose…that will ruin your day.
- Zaphod [Zay-fahd] Beeblebrox is president because he’s successful at what presidents are supposed to do: Presidents don’t have power. Their job is to draw attention away from it (p. 41).
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy vs The Encyclopedia Galactica
- Direct experience vs. second-hand knowledge: Ford is one of the writers for the Guide and goes out and compiles data about the places and things he visits. The assumption about an encyclopedia is that it’s the interpretation and (re-re-re-)reinterpretation of knowledge compiled by others. It’s success is due to its appearance of authoritativeness.
- What story did we read where 2nd, 3rd, 10th-hand knowledge was best?
That’s impossible…No, just very improbable
This drive is a nice plot device that allows the characters to meet and get to Magrathea. Obviously, it’s science fiction, and the drive passes through space, time, dimensions, the universe and ends up in improbable places. The use of such a device on the surface is supposed to be just a goofy technology for getting around the universe, but we’re more interested in the deeper meaning. One possibility is that the drive acts as an allegory about impossible vs. improbable and possible vs. probable. We could have a rich philosophical discussion on the paradoxes “nothing is impossible” and “anything is possible.” We like to deal in proof, logic, validity, etc.: Two plus two is four, measurements, cause and effect, induction, and deduction. Here’s where it gets tricky: If there’s no proof of something, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Can you prove (offer proof) that something doesn’t exist?
Burden of Proof
In order to debate successfully, you need to establish the parties’ responsibility for burden of proof. Our legal system (in theory) places the burden of proof on the state (the prosecution) in criminal case: Is the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? And innocent until proven guilty. Imagine the situation one would find himself or herself in if the burden was on the defendant to prove his or her innocence and the motto was “guilty until proven innocent.” This would be a radically different system.
When a person tries to debate the existence of something, he or she has the burden of proof to prove (usually with evidence) that this something exists. The speaker gives reasons for the existence of the thing. For instance, if a speaker claims to know that aliens have visited Earth, they will provide pictures, artifacts, and other evidence of such encounters. The burden of proof is on the speaker.
Now, let’s reverse the burden of proof. Imagine if the speaker just stated that there are aliens that came to Earth and told the audience that they had to prove it was wrong. That changes the nature of the debate and makes it nearly impossible (maybe just highly improbable) to refute because refuting requires proving the nonexistence of something. How do you know aliens don’t exist?
This concept of the burden of proof is important to remember when trying to find meaning in Adams’s novel. He is presenting readers with possibilities of how the Earth and the Universe were created and how the Galaxy appears to be governed. One meaning we can take from this is to scrutinize the stories we tell ourselves about the origins of life. In our limited worldview, we think of our planet as the most important place (and for good reasons), but it is dwarfed by the seemingly infinitely possible scenarios for life. Why are our stories believable and Adams’s is goofy?
Talking to Aliens
Interacting with different aliens, a metaphor for intercultural communication.
- p. 49: Ford Prefect has assumptions about why humans repeat things
- Imagine the absurdity of talking with someone not on the same page as you
We’ll continue with Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979). Again, the movie is a poor substitute. It’s a trite, pathetic love story that butchers the richness of meaning that the novel offers. I will have plenty of questions on Test 5 (next Monday, 11/25) to make sure you read the novel and didn’t just watch the movie.