The Answer is Always 42

in #mathlast year

Mathematics. A love hate relationship for me. It really wasn't until later on in life and in my career that I actually became fond of mathematics. You would think that with having gone to school for computer science I would have already had that propensity and an interest in mathematics. Not so.

I was actually more in to art and story telling. I would draw endlessly. Whenever I could. Both my parents were commercial artists. It was all I knew.

Some of my art

art 2.jpg
Acrylic paint silk screen

art 1.jpg
Lithograph from a metal plate

art 3.jpg
Metal plate I carved

I found out in highschool that I could actually code and was pretty good at it. Coding was something of a cerebral blend of creativity and story telling. I built several "pick-a-path" games (on a C64) and a DOS based fishing simulator, graphics and all, for school projects and for fun. I got into character key mapping and overlays for hidden treasures. It was exactly that - fun and games.


Computer generated graphic arts was also something that I could see overtaking the commercial artist field and it would change that market. I figured that computer science was a valid career path. I could learn to create applications that would generate art and my art would be relegated to a hobby. As you can see mathematics never factored into my decision. Sure, I used all sorts of math; algebraic expressions, probability calculations and matrix operations to make games but in my mind it was not really math. It was not wonderful, or beautiful. It was a means to an end.

There are things that we witness or experience that make us think. Sometimes it's the most bizarre things. I read a fairly recent article about a mathematician solving a 64 year old problem. He solved this question, his life's work: How can the number 33 be expressed as the sum of three cubed numbers? That's it.

This is the expresion of that statement.

X^3 + Y^3 + Z^3 = K

The object is to pick a K value (K=33) and then find the whole numbers that when cubed and summed equal K. It's a diopantine equation. 33 and 42 were the only integers, under 100, that did not have a solution.

Ok, it's not the most beutiful equation. I can think of more elegant equations. I'm partial to the Fourier transform. That equation holds sentiment for me as the first impactful calculus equation that I really grasped. It only took a professor to explain it to me, drawing on a napkin over a few beers. It's one of those fundimental equations in physics... I haven't used it since. It's not really used in the field that I'm in presently.

Here's a simple explanation of the Fourier Transform

And if you want a really deep dive visit the following site:

Look at this beauty

Do you have a favourite equation?

So, the answer is really is 42?

The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

Douglas Adam may have hit the nail on the head with The Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy. Why 42? What is the question? 42 does seems to be a universal answer and can be found in a multitude of instances with remarkable uncanniness. Check out these references to the number 42. You tell me if it is indeed the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

42 is:

  1. the only remaining number under 100 not solved for K (sum of three cubes).
  2. the sum of the first 6 positive even numbers.
  3. the third of 8 primary pseudoperfect numbers.
  4. the number of all possible outcomes of a tournament consisting of 4 teams.
  5. the 6th Catalan Number.
  6. the sum of 3 × 3 × 3 magic cube can be constructed such that every row, column, and corridor, and every diagonal has the sum 42.
  7. the atomic mass of calcium isotopes.
  8. the critical angle that light refracts to produce a rainbow.
  9. the asterisk character in ASCII.

There are many religious references but they tend to cycle around death. That in itself is interesting.

It may actually take us 7.5 million years to find the answer to what the question of 42 is. It is rumored that Stephen Fry may be the only person who knows the answer to "why 42".

What are your thoughts around the number 42? Is the answer really 42... always? Do you have a favourite beautiful equation?

Can you solve? X^3 + Y^3 + Z^3 = 42?


images: pixbay unless otherwise stated


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i had my favorite numbers, im used to count things on the universe, i love 3, 6 and 9, also, i love binaural frecuencies, they had a lot to do with this simplier math

42 and 33 are both 6 and that's loos like a hint to me.