Tuesday, March 12, 2013

don't panic

I'm a day late, as his birthday was yesterday (he would have been 61) but I think it would be appropriate at this point to offer you a couple of quotes from Douglas Adams, who died back in 2001. The anthropic-principle-torpedoing puddle analogy is one of the more famous ones, but I've referenced that at least once here before, so we'll go with a couple of different ones:
Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
If you describe yourself as 'Atheist', some people will say, "Don’t you mean 'Agnostic'?" I have to reply that I really do mean Atheist. I really do not believe that there is a god—in fact I am convinced that there is not a god (a subtle difference). I see not a shred of evidence to suggest that there is one. It’s easier to say that I am a radical Atheist, just to signal that I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously. It’s funny how many people are genuinely surprised to hear a view expressed so strongly. In England we seem to have drifted from vague wishy-washy Anglicanism to vague wishy-washy Agnosticism—both of which I think betoken a desire not to have to think about things too much.
Needless to say you should read everything Adams wrote, not that there is actually that much of it. Some people are put off reading the fiction, which basically comprises the five-part Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy series and the two Dirk Gently novels, by the perceived nerdiness of the sci-fi associations and the books' extreme cultiness, but the trick is to realise that Adams was first and foremost a great British comic novelist in the same vein as PG Wodehouse or Kingsley Amis, and the stuff about spaceships was just the genre that he happened to choose to express himself in. If you're too lazy to bother with all of it, I'd suggest just reading the first two Hitch-Hiker books (The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy and The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe) and the first Dirk Gently one (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency). Oh, and you should also read the spoof dictionary The Meaning Of Liff, co-written with John Lloyd, an entire online transcript of which, with occasional typos, appears to be here.

Lots more great stuff here; this is where the first quote came from. The second one was from Jerry Coyne's website here; a truncated version also appears on this excellent list. The full text of the interview from which it's taken appears to be here, which is a bit bizarre since the interview was with American Atheists and the website appears to be a Buddhist one.


The Black Rabbit said...

I don't particularly agree with Adams' notion that agnostics have a desire to think less about "stuff" than atheists, but I know you agree with Adams on that score.
On the subject of his books, I'm afraid I have only read "Last chance to see" (for obvious reasons with me).
Never read Hitchhikers... Always felt a bit too sci fi for me, though it probably wasn't and I maybe should have given it a chance.
Oh... Liff was ALWAYS on the lav cistern at home, for those satisfying long craps whilst reading.
I particularly liked his definition of "Abilene" (if I remember correctly). "The pleasing coolness found on the reverse side of the pillow".
Or "amersham".
"A sneeze which never arrives. Named after the tube station in Bucks, on the metropolitan line, at which the tracks always rattle, but the train never arrives...."

electrichalibut said...

my favourite was always this one:

SKIBBEREEN (n.) The noise made by a sunburned thigh leaving a plastic chair.