Chosen One of the Day: The falling bowl of petunias in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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Nov 21, 2017

We often ponder the secrets of the universe, endlessly searching for the answers to the big questions. The masters of science fiction have done this a lot. Perhaps the answers reside in deciphering the mysteries of Interstellar's time-and-space-hopping tesseract. Perhaps it's about understanding the language of the universe, as in Arrival. Maybe love really is the fifth element. Maybe all we have to do is figure out the space fetus at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey!

But no. I think it might be more complex than that. I think the keys to life, the universe, and everything might actually be hidden in the reasons why a single, very large bowl of petunias seems to be endlessly falling through space in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

You know the scene. The crew of the Heart of Gold uses the Infinite Improbability Drive, but instead of finding themselves made of pasta or blipped into the heart of a dying star, they instead spontaneously create a sperm whale and a large bowl of petunias which are now falling to their deaths. The whale, just now brought into existence, quickly has an entire journey of self-discovery before crashing to the ground. The petunias, meanwhile, only have time to think "Oh no, not again" before reaching their own splattered demise.

As Douglas Adams himself writes, "if we understood why the bowl of petunias thought that, we would know a great deal more about the nature of the universe." So I ask you: When did the petunias start on their journey? Have they somehow become trapped in a Sisyphean nightmare, wherein they are cursed to fall and smash for all eternity in an endless cycle of dirt and ceramics? Were they always a bowl of petunias, or were they perhaps once a person who is now living through their own floral hellscape?

If we were to save the bowl from crashing, would it reveal to us the secrets of the universe? Or would it simply offer a sarcastic remark before shriveling up and dying like all the other plants we've ever tried to take care of?

Perhaps we will never know. 

Oh well. Until then ...