Douglas Adams on religion and puddles

. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in’an interesting hole I find myself in’fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

From a Speech given by Adams at Digital Biota 2, Cambridge, UK, 1998. Later quoted in Richard Dawkin’s Eulogy for Douglas Adams.

About probabilityZero

I'm a rather boring, geeky college student. Most of my time is spent at a computer, reading a book, or sitting in (mostly uninteresting) classes. My hobbies include reading, blogging, creating and running websites, creating amateur video games, arguing incessantly on discussion forums, and buying books on because I'm too lazy to go to the library.
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55 Responses to Douglas Adams on religion and puddles

  1. Dave says:

    Brilliant in its simplicity.

    I miss you terribly, Douglas.

  2. C says:


  3. Josef says:

    I think that this quote is not one of his greatest unfortunately – main reason being that a false hope is often the only thing that will give happiness to the ending. Yes, near the end a spiraling depression may befall because of the sudden realization that you are no longer wanted or needed but up until that point you think there is a reason to your existence. Is it better to live happily yet falsely or await for your demise knowing that it is coming?

  4. Rick says:

    A cold hard truth is better than a warm and fuzzy lie.

  5. Alex says:

    I love this quote.

    Ignorance IS bliss, though. Remember that quote about the man of faith being happier just like a drunk is happier?

    Faith is an existential lubricant, just like alcohol is a social lubricant.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Adams at his best. RIP.

  7. Bern says:

    I’m with you Rick, my eyes are wide open and I will take the truth, cruel, cold, and harsh as it may be, over the calming opium for the masses that is religion.

  8. Scott says:

    Very good quote, may he RIP.

    @ Josef: Isn’t it possible to live happily without false hope?


  9. Digital Aura says:

    “…may he RIP.”

    You obviously missed everything he stood for. Rest in Peace? If Douglas is right…he’s simply not anything now. He was, but now isn’t. Why that kind of talk would have him ‘turning in his grave’. ;-)

  10. Fatikis says:

    Douglas Adams was truly a great man.

    But that bastard owed us a few more books before he died. I mean come on when you’ve got talent like that you don’t just go die. I mean WTF.

    But seriously

    I want another fucking book by Douglas Adams.


    but yeah anyway great man.

  11. JoeShlub says:

    If you want more work by him, check out ‘The salmon of doubt’ if you haven’t already. It’s a partially completed novel he was working on when he died, and a collection of shorter writings (letters and the likes) of his. Worth the read.

  12. Illuminatiscott says:

    I think this is a very powerful quote. Yet I lament the fact that probably the only people who are reading this quote are the ones who already agree.

    @Scott: “May he RIP” is a redundancy, because RIP is Latin for “requiescat in pace” or, “may he rest in peace. Thus you said “may he may he rest in peace.” Nevertheless I believe the sentiment is contrary to his philosophy.

  13. Bunny says:

    Wouldn’t “I wish him manny happy returns” be better? (In the sense that other beings continually appear from apparently nowhere all the time. Death part of the life of the universe — just as inanimate objects like our bones, are part of ‘our’ lives.

  14. htiaf says:

    You people are all messed up… When you die as this fella did then you will be certain, “so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

    I couldn’t agree or paraphrase it any better…

  15. htiaf says:

    I do admire one thing – not blind following,
    Abraham (peace be on him) denied the gods of his people he contemplated creation looked in himself – knew the Creator existed – One GOD thats it follow HIM as you choose it will eventualy lead you to the truth,

  16. John says:

    “If Douglas is right…he’s simply not anything now. He was, but now isn’t. ”

    No, if Douglas was right, he never really “was” anyone at all other than a very complex chemical reaction, for there is physically no difference between him as a walking living body or as a dead body…

    If Douglas was right, he never truly made any decisions because they were automatically made for him by the chemistry in his brain.

    …of course this puts his story into perspective, too. Why should what he says be true if what he says would mean that nothing anyone (including himself) says has any “meaning” (true or false) but is rather a noise being made by a complex chemical reaction (our brains and bodies), making anything we say be on the level of a burp?

  17. Babet says:

    “Is it better to live happily yet falsely or await for your demise knowing that it is coming?”

    @ Josef: I think what Douglas meant is that when you have false hope, you won’t do anything about your predicament because you think everything will be fine in the end anyway. If you don’t have this false belief, you can actually do something about it and prevent your demise.

  18. Dave030966 says:

    42. I’m 42 now, and I feel fine. Actually, I’m 42.255760… so maybe I should start getting worried again.

    Seriously, I think it’s a basic allegory on life, religion and the aging process.

    The puddle fits in nicely for a while and feels that the hole was perfectly made just for it, as we feel secure in the world in our early years.

    We are then taught that, no matter what, everything will be all happy and groovy and don’t worry your pretty little head about it, everything’s just peaches. And we believe it, because some invisible man says so.

    So even as the puddle gradually shrinks (declines in old age), it still clings to the hope that it will always exist.
    Then, eventually, it ceases to be, despite that fierce belief that everything will be all right.

    I know someone could write that better than I have, but that’s just the way I read it.

    You were one of a kind, Douglas, and you are sorely missed!

  19. rosie says:


    Life is ultimately meaningless, therefore giving us the opportunity to apply our own meanings, our own reasons for living. I may only be a piece of meat, but this meat is content with her chemically-based thoughts and feelings about the whole situation. :)

  20. Anonymous says:

    …stupid. compaire human life to a puddle…a far stretch that was NOT achieved……nice try wiseass. I know you like to feel high and mighty with your “wise” words…is douglas adams dead?….he sould be….your all ignorant for truly thinking this is all meaningless..

  21. Connie says:

    Troll. Posting anonymously, so you can disrespect a great writer. Try spell-check next time.

    “…stupid. compare human life to a puddle…a far stretch that was NOT achieved……nice try wiseass. I know you like to feel high and mighty with your “wise” words…is douglas adams dead?….he should be….you’re all ignorant for truly thinking this is all meaningless.”

  22. Anonymous says:

    To the _other_ Anonymous: some are more like puddles than others, you great puddle of bat’s piss. As for people who aren’t stupid enough to believe your dumbass religion, do you hate us for disturbing your daydreams and fantasy?

    How much do you hate us Sir? Is it an impotent rage that you feel? Does it well up from deep inside you? Does it feel nice Sir, does it, does it?

    Oh do tell..

  23. Marvin says:

    Douglas always had a way instating the obvious so that you felt stupid for not seeing it earlier. That is a great quality that will be missed terribly, especially now that KV is gone two.

    Doug and Kurt. May you both continue to cease existing.


  24. Jason says:

    It is funny how someone essentially proclaiming reason as religion, attempts to express that using an analogy where a PUDDLE WAKES UP?!?! Ha ha, I have to laugh a bit.Oh well.

  25. No-EL says:

    “It is funny how someone essentially proclaiming reason as religion, attempts to express that using an analogy where a PUDDLE WAKES UP?!?! Ha ha, I have to laugh a bit.Oh well.”

    Because a burning/talking shrubbery makes SO much more sense…

    they never get it.

  26. says:

    I think this quotes brilliant. I’m a fan of pessemism myself, as if you always expect the worst, if it doesn’t happen it’s a nice surprise. Whereas if you expect the best, there’s always room for diaaspointment. I’m not keen on false hope.

  27. Jamoke says:

    Why is it okay to relish your chemically based existence but at the same time demean the chemically based beliefs of others? If there isn’t any truth, or meaning, or point, why bother establishing yourself as an authority on true meaning? It’s because your human nature is corrupt, and you need to place yourselves and your ideas above others and lord over them. it’s the heart of fascism. Unfortunately, dougie’s ideas didn’t die with him, and things will only continue to get worse before they get better.

  28. Noel says:

    “and things will only continue to get worse before they get better”

    Well, your lack of a coherant argument is an indication of things getting worse, I guess…

  29. DC says:

    i am a meat computer. i am sentient. i am the product of wholly materialistic processes. i am conscious.

    the only options are not soul or robot. our minds are the product of countless modules (“designed” by evolution) running and interacting. out of this arises I. that doesn’t make it any less real or true. does it make life any less life because it is chemical reactions?

    someday my brain will stop working and i will cease to exist. that does nothing to demean my current existence.

    we make meaning. douglas and kurt made entertaining meaning.

  30. Dr Dmo says:

    There’s no proof that when your brain stops working you cease to exist. On the contrary. Quantum interconnectedness suggests that the patterns of chemical 7 electrical charge that appeared inside of your brain, your thoughts & feelings, are written into the greater pattern for all time. Like the Mandelbrot set of chaos fractals the same patterns reiterate over and over on different scales and with infinite variety, evolution & emergence.
    Also there is no difference between forwards & backwards in time at quantum scale, suggesting that time is indeed an illusion (lunchtime doubly so, thanks Douglas) and that the life that we live in the forward (towards entropy) looking direction has timeless qualities that exist forever (or rather outside of ‘real’ time)
    We understand almost nothing about the uni(multi)verse, so please don’t be too keen to rule out possibilities. There could be a creative force without calling it God, and an afterlife without calling it Heaven.
    Lastly, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics places the observer (you & I) in a central role in the existence of matter, what we call reality or ‘the universe’. Without the need for egocentricity or religion we could still be at the centre of all creation.

  31. Dendroica says:

    To Dr Dmo, #30.

    That’s a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys.

    Quantum interconnectedness only deals at the quantum level, which is to say anything more complicated than a single particle can’t carry it off. And as you’ve said, “at a quantum level” there is no arrow of time, but nothing more complicated than individual particles (and we must assume that DNA’s brains were just a tiny bit more complicated than an individual particle) can travel that arrow in both directions.

    We do know quite a bit about the universe/multiverse, and one thing we do know without a doubt is it is materialistic in nature.

    One last note- Copenhagen deals with superposition of states, not with the existence of matter. It seems to be quite frank, that you’ve got a strong knowledge of the surface of physics, and absolutely little of the details.

  32. James says:

    I know my demise is coming, so I live like there’s no tomorrow, just enjoy the time you have, because you won’t get another chance.

  33. cuna says:

    the continuity of space and time as a refractive angular modifyed aspect of related interactive bipolar existence subject to ones interpratations.

  34. Nathan says:

    Well this is the way I see it: Perhaps it’s just random chance that we are here, and there’s no real point to our existence. So what? Even if that is the case, we, as human beings, are still capable of happiness, love, and enjoyment. There is no reason to say or think, “I’m random and meaningless, and therefore there is no reason for me to be happy.” And perhaps there is no creator, no god, or anything like that. But if we’re here by random chance, then perhaps so is some supernatural figure as well.

    That being said, this is a brilliantly-worded idea, and is certainly worth thought. It’s not offensive to any belief, but simply a statement of one’s own belief, and for that, it has a great amount of validity.

  35. Rosa says:

    This seems to be allegorist of humanity and our species’ attitude to life, the world and our ‘purpose’ in it.

    We look around us and see how well we fit into the world, and being an arrogant species conclude that it must have been created for us, by some benevolent force. [rather then we evolved to meet the circumstances we live in]. Awhile later some ‘clever leaders’ realise that if the poor all believe that their blind acceptance of their ‘fate’ in return for eternal reward in the ‘afterlife’ then that pretty much puts paid to any challenge to the status quo.

    p.s. re wishing rip to Douglas, while not believing in an afterlife, we all live within a society in which convention allows you to express your respect for the deceased by wishing them rip, irrespective of personal beliefs, or the origins of the phrase.

    With that in mind Douglas Adams RIP


    p.p.s. It is not particular beliefs which are the problem, but the building up of hierarchical structures on these beliefs, leading to the dogmatic refusal to accept that anyone else might be justified in believing what they believe, irrespective of whether it is a ‘true’ belief or not.

    It is the dogmatic fundamentalist belief that you are right and anyone who disagrees is wrong, which is the problem and atheists as well as theists are guilty of.

  36. CPC says:

    Even if the puddle realized it was evaporating, it could do nothing to stop it. WE still have a chance.

  37. Dr Dmo says:

    We do know quite a bit about the universe/multiverse, and one thing we do know without a doubt is it is materialistic in nature.

    ..yet 9 10ths of it is missing!

    Permit me to doubt.

  38. Adam says:

    This idea is taken from the book “Ishmael”

  39. Steve says:

    I have long used a similar scenario to argue the point that how well we fit in here implies intelligent design. Great post.

  40. Thomas says:

    I think you missed the point.

  41. cm says:

    religion and atheism, they’re almost the same in one regard.

    the religious comfort themselves with false hope, and the atheistic comfort themselves because they know the truth.

    what difference is there? everyone is looking for the same thing, a way to deal with it. what difference does it make to someone else how others deal with it?

  42. Anon says:

    A lot of mention about truth – as in capital ‘T’ – for atheists. I like my truth as much as the next guy but I smell a double standard.

  43. Rob says:

    Nice quote. It is interesting how the arguments in the posts drift inexorably into the usual blinkered defence of religion by twisting the words and meaning of the original quote and then refuting that reinterpretation. An approach used so (in)effectively in the intelligent design argument.

    So to start let’s clarify what the quote means (I’m sure most of us atheists got it first time, but it appears many of the religious believers misunderstood it, whether deliberately or not I leave to your judgement).
    So the quote is pointing out by use of an analogy (or possibly more correctly an allegory) that the existence of a
    seemingly ideal situation in the real world (the perfect fit of the puddle to its hole), when viewed from the (necessarily) limited perspective of the puddle, is not necessarily evidence of planned intent (and by inference Divine intent). Douglas then extends this to warn against complacency – just because things seem to be designed for the puddle now, the world can change.
    To clear up some superficial attacks on this – the use of an imaginary sentient puddle does not debase the argument. Therein lies the power of our brains – we have imagination, and the whole power of rhetorical language to use and enjoy. If you want to argue against the ideas and concepts so cleverly and concisely wrapped up in the quote, then do so, but don’t point at the talking puddle and giggle ‘oh look he used a talking puddle to illustrate his ideas, Douglas believed in talking puddles’.
    To answer one of the anonymous comments – the quote is not comparing a human life to a puddle. It is using the puddle/hole fit to encapsulate the vast range of anthropocentric arguments used by religious believers to explain their faith (surely the point of faith is that it defies explanation). It covers everything from intelligent design, evolution, to deeper cosmological principles (ie how come the universe seems to be ‘designed’ support life – for discussion on this I point you to long running discussions on the weak and strong anthropic principles)

    And now some of the other comments -
    Regarding John’s interpretation of Douglas’s ‘beliefs’ (see below for discussion on this word) “he never really “was” … anything other than a chemical reaction”, yes he was, palpably, a creative individual with the ability to reason, argue, imagine hugely entertaining comic stories, and contemplate at a very deep level our existence and the ‘meaning of our lives’. The fact that he did all this without the need for a crutch of belief in the supernatural surely says more about the power of our minds than any religious text. The rather pathetic attempt at reductio ad absurdum of the comment “If Douglas was right, he never truly made any decisions because they were automatically made for him by the chemistry in his brain.” almost doesn’t need refuting, firstly no explanation of how the brain works implies our thoughts are predetermined, controlled by some uberchemical reaction. The brain is a complex organ, the mind a complex self aware structure. Obviously we are all (religious or not) influenced by our physical electrochemical makeup (without this there would be no effect of chemicals on our minds, and obviously neuroscience tells of of the links between physical structures and thoughts – read oliver sacks for some fascinating insights into the mind/brain links.
    Oh and another thing – ‘for there is physically no difference between him as a walking living body or as a dead body’ well yes there is, in a dead body the various biological processes have shut down, there are no electrochemical signals passing through the brain, no heart pumping, no activity in the mind, no self awareness. Dead.

    It is interesting to consider whether the evaporating puddle was chosen deliberately to hint at global warming as a potentially species threatening change that we need to be aware of.

    Oh and a comment on the final argument (see replies by cm and anon)thrown in by religious believers when logic starts to bite. Note the word believer – faith is the basis of religious belief not rational interpretation. I do not believe in supernatural interference in the world or my life. That lack of belief *does not* imply comparable belief (as faith) in another world view. I have been charged by religious friends of having as strong belief in the lack of god as they do in the existence of god. Not true. I have conviction in a rational interpretation of the world, but my view is *not* faith based.

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  45. Stefan says:

    It seems silly to argue that an atheist can not believe in resting in peace. A total lack of existence should surely qualify as resting in peace. It’s hardly an uproar of strife. If anything it seems to give credence to the beliefs of atheists. After all, resting in peace is far closer to atheism than descriptions of an afterlife.

  46. AwaisKemal says:

    Yes we are Random, Yes there is probably no “God”, BUT that doesn’t mean that we have no meaning but we HAVE TO CREATE IT an I thank Douglas Adams for teaching that to me. I will miss you Douglas Adams…


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  48. Steve Murray says:

    I’ve had to wait this long since Douglas’ funeral to post any inquiries, because I was so furious that all I would have been able to do was scream in print! Can anyone explain the extremely religious funeral services that were held for a man who described himself as a radical atheist? It appeared to me that it was a vicious slap in the face to everything he believed in. Were his so-called ‘friends’ unaware that he would have been sickened by this religious orgy? If any reader is unsure what I’m referring to, please feel free to research the event. The list of church functionaries is staggering, as is the entire program. No christian will find any fault I’m sure, hypocrisy being their stock in trade. Was his wife taken advantage of, or was she waiting to get the last word on the subject?

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  51. Genevieve says:

    I don’t think that the world is meaningless, but I do sympathise with Adam’s existential plight. I happen to be a theist but the idea that consciousness was a very unfortunate evolutionary mistake resonated strongly with me for the longest time. The philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe held a lot of the same ideas as Douglas did- worth a look if interested in nihilistic philosophy and the likes.

  52. mahdylife says:

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  53. John Birch says:

    Re-reading Salmon of Doubt again (in which the Parable of the Puddle appears). What is amazing about DNA (Douglas N Adams) is the way his writings on IT – all of it now over 10 years old – is still so right. It is now possible to see that man saw the future with remarkable clarity. The greatest man I ever met, or will ever meet, and the man whose death shocked me most and whose death continues to sadden me despite the time that has passed.

    BTW – the Puddle story comes up in an off-the-cuff speech he made, without notes. It seem he came up with this near perfect analogy of religious believer virtually off the top of his head. Breathtaking genius lost at a stupidly early age. Moral – do not go to gyms!

  54. Frighteningly appropriate for the modern era.

  55. Arthur Phillip Denu says:

    get thee to a Total Perspective Vortex!

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