In Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy, Earth is a supercomputer that is computing the the Ultimate question, whose answer is 42.

I was wondering is Douglas Adams was inspired by any existing philosopher when he wrote this. Does there exist any philosophy which views human society as a computation, trying to figure out a solution to some ultimate problem?

Edit: BTW I am not talking about being in the Matrix. In the Matrix humans exist as a result of computation. Purpose of such simulations would be at the mercy of its creator, usually entertainment as shown in popular media. I am talking about humans themselves being a computation. For this humans dont need to be inside a simulation. Earth in Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy wasnt inside a simulation, it was itself the computer.

Before I start hypothesizing about what humans may be trying to compute, I want to know if any philosopher has thought in this direction already.

  • 1
    Yes.. it's called 'simulation theory'. The idea is that our universe is a simulation. Go with it for a second. What would be the purpose of the simulation?
    – Richard
    Dec 17, 2018 at 21:39
  • @Richard actually "we live in a matrix" is not what I am asking about. I am curious about a philosophy that sees humans as algorithms, and all humans together performing a computation. Our universe need not be a simulation for this to happen. Purpose? Humans are the end product of evolution of life. Purpose of life is to survive. Goal of the human computation is to survive, maybe past of the end of the universe.
    – Sid Datta
    Dec 17, 2018 at 22:19
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    sadly if we're not a simulation and all this is real... We have no purpose at all. Life itself may have the purpose of surviving.. but humans are temporary.. in 65 million years.. you..me.. Elvis.. Ghandi... Chevrolet Impalas and peanut butter ice cream.. will be a half inch thick black line in the strata of a world we'd barely recognise.
    – Richard
    Dec 17, 2018 at 22:29
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    Genes are digital computation devices. So from the POV of evolutionary biology, life is a computation of the a genetic sequence that meets a given set of objectives dictated by the environment.
    – user9166
    Dec 17, 2018 at 23:59
  • @jobermark people like Dawkins suggest that life has no ultimate objective. It simply is. DNA is a piece of matter on which evolution can act. If the result (the thing we call biological life) has a purpose it is to consume and change everything, everywhere.. into more life. Life is trying to eat the universe.
    – Richard
    Dec 18, 2018 at 1:38

2 Answers 2


Such theories are speculative, and tend toward demonstrating that information or computation are fundamental, which may be falsifiable and at least have material consequences. They're not very well-developed; the idea that the whole universe is one unified computation, existing for a single purpose, and (wildest of all) one that could be grasped by a tiny human brain, is metaphysics at best, religious science fiction at worst.

Wheeler's It From Bit doctrine is a paradigm, interpreting the fundamental components of existence as a series of yes or no answers. The Church–Turing–Deutsch thesis seems to support this. Tegmark's spin is that the universe is mathematical, which is probably an equivalent statement. Computational concerns seem to pose the most fundamental rules we know, of thermodynamics, and be key to unifying QM & GR in the behaviour of black holes.

For the universe to be finite and have a single purpose, it would need to have to decidable, that is considered as an algorithm it would have to provably halt.. That intuitively would be the case for the universe, but we expect vacuum fluctuations for infinite time, and there is a solution for any Big Crunch that suggests infinite vibrations around collapse, and so potentially computations, in finite time.

Another angle might be the universal wavefunction, which considers all quantum possibilities as part of a multiverse landscape. Its implications are not clear but are certainly suggestive, especially for string theory (eg. Bubble universes).

I like Gott's idea, about a closed time-like curve in the early universe 'spinning off' multiple universes. You might think of each one as a computation, running until an equilibrium halting condition.


I admit I only saw the movie, and didn’t think earth was the supercomputer, but I could be wrong. But YES!! The computation is ethics. Ethics is what the computation is about. How to make life as ethical as possible. And many philosophers have philosophized about it. And 42, here, is the answer to the question of ethics. One may also like to refer to Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse for a continuation of this ethical idea put into context.

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