I know an answer to the ultimate question.
What I am not sure about is whether I really want to know the answer to those types of question – why are we here; what is it all about when you get right down to it; what is the meaning of life, the universe, everything?
Little kids ask questions all the time, driving adults to distraction. The questions are seemingly impossible to answer, or else the answer is a disappointment. For some of us the fiendish complexity, the sheer quantum nature of the universe is a never-ending source of open-mouthed amazement and incredulity. For others there is no beauty in the stark reality of nature, only dull, dry facts.
Occasionally I want something more than facts too. It’s all very well knowing that the sun was formed so many billion years ago as particles coalesced in a nuclear maelstrom of mind-boggling power and energy. But isn’t it also more satisfying to think of the sun as the chariot of gods racing across the sky in frantic pursuit of, say, a doomed lover? To see a rainbow not as a prism splitting white light into several beams, but as Iris ascending to the heavens or a magical path leading to the Blessed Realms?
On sunny days we lie in the grass and make the clouds into bunny rabbits, and where’s the harm? (Note to gentle reader – I do not regard this in anything like the same light as anthropomorphism. In no way do I expect a cloud, or indeed a bunny rabbit, to think, act or feel like a human. Clouds do not have motives.) Creativity and story-telling comprise the social glue that binds us together. They are the building blocks of cultural identity, with all the risks and glories inherent in human relationships.
So why would I want an honest answer to a question that has no answer, which in my opinion means all the important questions? And if it’s a question with an answer, that’s what libraries (or research) are for. You can define the colour tones in a painting or the pitch and frequency of notes in a symphony, but that does not tell you if it is a masterpiece. Splitting the atom or understanding quantum mechanics does not help us appreciate the workings of the human heart, yet trying to complete that very journey must be the most vital undertaking of our species.