This book has the nicest and most on point prologue I remember reading. It’s almost worth getting the book just for the prologue.
So long, and thanks for all the fish is the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy series. If you haven’t read the previous three it’s probably a good idea to start at the beginning, as there is some order in the chaos of traveling through the Galaxy. I do feel like the books are getting better with each one that I read, so if you can’t get into it right away it’s worth it to keep going.
Eight years after Arthur Dent was abducted by Vogons, which was seconds before the earth was destroyed to make room for a new hyperspace bypass, he’s back on earth. On earth, only a couple of months seem to have passed and Arthur has decided to slip back into his old life. This is surprisingly easy, as people have extraordinarily short memories.
There is one problem though. Arthur is not the same person he was eight years ago. Eight years of wandering across the Galaxy and experiencing all sorts of craziness alters your brain. Mind you, even ordinary experiences can alter our brains, so Arthur’s experience is hardly surprising.
Science has proven that once you have learned something new you can never go back to the way you were before that. You can’t even remember what it was like to not know this new thing that you learned. This makes it so hard for us normal people to have empathy for those around us who don’t already know what we now know. Arthur’s problem isn’t so much that he doesn’t have empathy, he would just like the Universe to stop doing whatever it’s doing to him.
I love all the funny and quirky references to science and the human condition in the book. You can enjoy the book without even noticing them but for me, they are the witty icing on the cake of a fun story. For example about confirmation bias and the fact that we have to apply critical thinking rigorously.
“He felt a spasm of excitement because he knew instinctively who it was, or at least knew who it was he wanted it to be, and once you know what it is you want to be true, instinct is a very useful device for enabling you to know that it is. ”
We shouldn’t just think critically about what others think and say, but we should also be critical of our own thoughts and intuition. We often see what we want to see and explain situations to fit our pre-existing narrative.
On his travels, Arthur meets a scientist who calls himself Wonko the Sane. He calls himself “the Sane” because so many people think that he’s crazy. He’s smart though and he says “You can’t possibly be a scientist if you mind people thinking that you’re a fool.”.
The world in general and social media more specifically make this even worse. Scientists are being called many names that are much worse than crazy for trying to share their knowledge with the rest of the world.
I admire the scientists who are able and willing to continuously endure this kind of abuse. You must be passionate about science and sharing what you learned to do that.
In a next life, I would like to be a scientist. I didn’t think this through but that’s ok because I don’t believe in a next life. It allows me to dream all I want.
I would find the abuse very hard to deal with, but I would love to work on discovering new things that would make the world a better, prettier, safer or nicer place. This is heavily romanticized, but it feels like it would be a wonderful way to make a difference to the world and the people on it.