[Haskell-cafe] Who started 42, and when?

Phil Molyneux molyneux at kingston.ac.uk
Fri Feb 1 10:24:02 EST 2008

Hi --- The arbitrary constant was made popular by Douglas Adams in  
the mid-1970s radio series ``A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy'' (a  
trilogy in 4 parts) --- however it does have a basis in the standard  
model of physics --- a paper in Phys.Rev. of the early 1970s  
described the unification of the Electro-Weak and Strong nuclear  
forces --- the arbitrary constant (of nearly) 42 appears in the  
calculations. I forget the original paper but if you get hold of  
Frank Close ``The Cosmic Onion'' a graph reproduces the result. I met  
Douglas Adams once at a book signing and asked him how he got hold of  
the Phys.Rev. paper so early. Technically he should have written that  
``42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything except for  
gravity and a few other arbitrary constants''

Adams was interested in computing --- I think his reaction to being  
told about functional programming was to wonder what non-functional  
programming might be.


On 1 Feb 2008, at 14:03, Loup Vaillant wrote:

> I have read quite a lot of Haskell papers, lately, and noticed that
> the number 42 appeared quite often, in informal tutorials as well as
> in very serious research papers. No wonder Haskell is the Answer to
> The Great Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything, but I would
> like to know who started this, and when.
> Google wasn't much help, and I can't believe it's coincidence --hence
> this email. I hope I didn't opened some Pandora box. :-)
> Cheers,
> Loup
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