If you haven’t read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy yet, I should warn you that this post includes spoilers. However, I should only be spoiling the first couple of chapters of the first book, and it is a truly marvelous series which I highly recommend.
Spoiler Alert starts now.
In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the very first events to take place is the Earth being destroyed.
The book starts with Arthur Dent waking up to a construction crew gearing up to knock down his house to make way for a new bypass, for which the paperwork has been “on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard'” for months now. Arthur is very put out about the whole thing, even after his friend Ford Prefect shows up at his house, takes him for several pints of beer, and informs him that the world will be ending in a matter of minutes.
True to Ford’s prediction, a fleet of ugly alien spacecrafts reach Earth and, through a global transmission, informs the humans that Earth will be destroyed to make room for a new hyperspace bypass, and they needn’t act so surprised because the paperwork has been on display for some fifty Earth years somewhere in the system of Alpha Centauri. These spacecrafts belong to a species known as Vogons, from the planet Vogsphere, which are universally known for their disturbingly ugly appearances, and their paralyzingly horrific poetry.
This trick here, however, is that Ford Prefect knew this was going to happen, because he received news of the Vogon’s arrival on his sub-ether radio several hours beforehand. He and Arthur Dent manage to hitch a ride on one of the Vogon vessels, and thus escape the destruction of Earth.
Ford is the only person on Earth (that we know of) to have received any indication of the planet’s impending doom, and this is because he was the only one capable of receiving the message, through a small alien device he happens to be in possession of.
Last night I was out for dinner with my family, and we ended up thinking on the question, “Would we be Ford Prefect?” In other words: if the world were to be destroyed, in real life, by an alien fleet building a bypass, would we (as a family) be the kind of people to know ahead of time and therefore be capable of escape?
Here is my conclusion.
Many different religions believe in some kind of end to the world. Maybe it’s Ragnarok, maybe it’s God’s judgement, maybe it’s something else, though I am going to focus on a Christian point of view in my statements here, because I have a better understanding of these beliefs than I do of other religions. Many believers of these faiths believe that if they follow the rules set out for them by their religious texts and leaders, they will be saved from that final destruction. Many also spend their time trying to save others from the same event.
Now what if you really truly believe that the world will end due to an alien constructor fleet building a hyperspace express route?
With all due respect and while trying to keep my own blasphemy to a minimum, I am comparing the Vogons to Armageddon. And if the Vogons are Armageddon, and you can survive or be saved from Armageddon, then you must also be able to survive the Vogon attack, as Ford and Arthur did.
To grossly simplify some concepts, a Christian may believe very strongly that if they follow a set of guidelines, they will be judged Good at the end of existence and continue to live in Heaven, and if they pray, God will hear and will help or speak to them.
In a manner similar to prayer, someone on Arthur Dent’s Earth may believe very strongly that if they request the message and open themselves to receiving it, they will be informed of the Vogons’ presence ahead of time and therefore be saved.
Ignoring the fact that it is, in reality, very difficult to hitch a ride on a spacecraft, the only thing that Ford Prefect had and the rest of the population of Earth didn’t have, was a few hours of notice. If you wanted to be Ford Prefect, all you would have to do is be capable of receiving the news.
If you read about Quantum Entanglement or Akashic Records, you become aware of the idea that information can travel faster than light, or that it exists in some other dimension or collective human consciousness, unbound to the linear nature of time. If you consider multiverse theories, you might think that every time a decision is made it creates another reality. Assuming some combination of theories, it is not difficult to guess that the moment the Vogons made the decision to build their hyperspace express route, that information now existed somewhere in the universe. (In fact, it existed in the Earth’s planning department in the system of Alpha Centauri and had for several years). But assuming that somewhere out there, there’s a little idea floating around that says, “Earth will be destroyed on this particular Thursday,” it should theoretically be possible to also find that information, if you knew how. And there are people on Earth who say they do know how.
So it seems to me that it is totally possible to be Ford Prefect, if you can muster the belief to carry you through and the skill to carry it out.
On the other hand, you might believe that someone else will be the one to actually receive the message, and just hope that they will take you along for the ride. Because for every Ford Prefect there is also an Arthur Dent.
And then there’s the rest of us.