Going beyond the absurd to philosophize with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

book-cover-philosophy-and-hitchhikers-guideThe new book Philosophy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, edited by Nicholas Joll (out now from Palgrave Macmillan), might be the most invaluable text I’ve ever read too late. That may seem a bit confusing. To clarify: were that this book had been released fifteen years ago, as several of the essays contained within would’ve allowed me to possibly pass philosophy in college, rather than failing it abjectly.

Quite specifically, Michèle Friend‘s essay, “‘God…Promptly Vanishes in a Puff of Logic’,” on the Babel fish, so perfectly outlines basic logic that anyone who’s read Douglas Adams‘ titular installment in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will finally understand basic symbolic logic. It gets a little hinky in the middle, what with a lot of symbols, but Friend moves the reader through by explaining how it all works in a clear, concise, manner.

By way of contrast, “The Judo Principle, Philosophical Method and the Logic of Jokes,” by Andrew Aberdein, came very close to breaking my brain. It’s not that Aberdein does a bad job of explaining — simply that some philosophical concepts are completely beyond me. Euclid’s Common Notion Five, for example, seemed a basic notion that I couldn’t grasp, no matter how many times I read it.

Joll has compiled here a selection of essays that will appeal to any Guide fan, touching as they do on so many aspects of the five books, and even moving into less well-known works in the canon, such as “Young Zaphod Plays It Safe,” essays from the posthumous The Salmon of Doubt, and the various radio play scripts.

Pleasantly, those who always thought philosophy to be a big wank fest (such as myself) will discover that there are considerations to be made for contemplating ideas outside one’s purview. The reader will certainly gain levels of understanding beyond the giggle-inducing jokes of Mr. Adams, and being able to appreciate one’s favorite books in more than one way is always appealing.