Dear Mr. Addyman,
Thank you very much for your letter asking about the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I cannot provide you will an answer but I hope to show in what way phiolsophy tries to contibute towards an answer.
Philosophers investigate questions about the nature of many different things, such as, what exists, what is possible and impossible, the nature of mathematics, logics, ethics, value and knowledge, to name but a few. I am a philosopher of mind and i study the nature of perceptual consciousness. Thus, I do not directly address the question of the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Nonetheless, i believe that my work has bearing on this issue, as I shall explain.
How would one arrive at an answer to your question (if indeed there is one)? I suggest that we would need to know what everything was (that is find out what exists) and find out what the nature of the universe is (that is find out the nature of everything that exists). We have a good idea of what life is from science, but life seems to get much of its meaning from an aspect of life we know very little about, namely, consciousness. Find out answers to these sub-questions is often what philosophers attempt to do. The frustrating thing is that investigating answers to these questions often raises many other and equally difficult questions.
As you will no doubt be aware, in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where the question of life, the universe and everything was famously posed, the answer was said to be ’42’. In the book, those who had asked the question could not see why this was the answer, so they set out to investigate in more detail what the question was. I think there is a moral in this story, as I hope is brought out in this letter.
In my work i investigate the nature of perceptual consciousness. I don’t know what what it is but I am trying to find out by asking questions about the relationship between intentionality and consciousness and about the differences and similarities between the senses. I hope that some ot the answers I get will be a small part of the larger puzzle about what the meaning of life, the universe and everything is. I am not optimistic that an answer to the big question will be reached at all soon but answers to parts of the question are valuable in their own right, which is why I study them,
Girton College, Cambridge