I really am not sure what to make of this guy. In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio drama, Secondary Phase, CD disc 3 track 19, "Pussy Want His Fish?", our heroes finally meet The Man, the secret ruler of the universe. He is not what they expect: he lives alone with his cat, and refuses to take a stand on anything. Here's some dialog:

The ruler of the universe, speaking to his cat:

...Pussy not eat his fish, pussy get thin and waste away. I think. I imagine this is what will happen, but how can I tell? I think it's better if I don't get involved. I think fish is nice, but I think rain is wet, so who am I to judge? ... Fish come from far away, or so I'm told, or so I imagine I'm told. When the men come, or when in my mind the men come, in their six black shiny ships, do they come in your mind too? What do you see, pussy? And when I hear their questions, and there are many questions, do you hear questions? Perhaps you just think they're signing songs to you! Perhaps they are singing songs to you and I just think they're asking me questions. Do you think they came today? I do. There's mud on the floor, cigarettes and whiskey on my table, fish in your plate, and a memory of them in my mind. ... I think they must be right in thinking they ask me questions. ... Who can tell?

Zarniwoop, Ford, Arthur, and Zaphod speaking to the Ruler:

Ford: Uh, excuse me, do you rule the universe?

Ruler: I try not to. Are you wet?

Zarniwoop: Wet!? Well doesn't it look as if we're wet?

Ruler: That's how it looks to me, but how you feel about it might be a different matter. If you find warmth makes you dry, you'd better come in.

Zaphod: Like, man, what's your name?

Ruler: I don't know. Why, do you think I ought to have one? It seems odd to give a bundle of vague sensory perceptions a name.

Zarniwoop: How long have you been ruling the universe?

Ruler: Ah, this is a question about the past, is it?

Zarniwoop: Yes.

Ruler: How can I tell that the past isn't a fiction designed to account for the descrepancy between my immediate physical sensations, and my state of mind?

Zarniwoop: Do you answer all questions like this?

Ruler: I say what it occurs to me to say when I think I hear people say things. More, I cannot say.

Zarniwoop: People come to you, yes?

Ruler: I think so.

Zarniwoop: And they ask you to make decisions, about wars, about economies, about people, about everything going on out there in the universe?

Ruler: I only decide about my universe. My universe is what happens to my eyes and ears. Anything else is surmise and hearsay. For all I know, these people may not exist. You may not exist. I say what it occurs to me to say.

Zarniwoop: But don't you see, what you decide affects the fate of millions of people.

Ruler: I don't know them, I never met them, they only exist in words I think I hear. The men who come to me say, "so and so wants to declare what we call a 'war.' These are the facts, what do you think?" and I say.

Ruler: But it's folly to say you know what's happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist.

Zarniwoop: Do you think they do?

Ruler: I have no opinion, how can I have.

Zarniwoop: Look, but don't you see that people live or die on your word?

Ruler: It's nothing to do with me, I'm not involved with people.


Ruler: It merely pleases me to behave in a certain way to what appears to be a cat. What else do you do?

Was Douglas Adams poking fun at a particular philosophy, or perhaps a political movement? There are traces of skepticism, sophism, and post-modernism here, but I'm no philosopher.

  • I edited your title and body to make your precise question clearer, in the hope of warding off votes to close as "unclear what you're asking". Hope you don't mind!
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 2:00
  • @randal'thor: Thank you, that was helpful!
    – user1786
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 3:42
  • 4
    I do think there is certainly something else here beyond Rand's diagnosis of solipsism. While the Ruler's conclusions may be solipsist, he gets there by a broader philosophical process. He rejects ontology entirely - he refuses to even assert or question whether things exist independently. He has awareness of the inquiry of phenomenology, since he makes statements about his own mind, but he's not comfortable forming any phenomenological principles. Unfortunately I don't know enough about philosophy to elaborate.
    – recognizer
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 18:55
  • Philosophical Skepticism seems like a closer match than solipsism. For example ‘ “Perhaps they are singing songs to you,” he said, “and I just think they’re asking me questions.”’ (unsupported assumption), and also ‘ “How can I tell,” said the man, “that the past isn’t a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?”’ (Five minute hypothesis). Commented Aug 29, 2020 at 19:45

4 Answers 4


The Ruler of the Universe is a solipsist.

Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. As an epistemological position, solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside the mind. As a metaphysical position, solipsism goes further to the conclusion that the world and other minds do not exist.

Here is a short discussion of solipsism on a philosophical blog, with reference to this particular character.

  • 1
    That certainly is part of it, but I get the feeling that there's more to it. Perhaps it's just the NIN talking, but I associate solipsism with nihilism - why care about anything if they're just hallucinations of your own mind? The Ruler has a kind of detachment from reality that seems at odds with this. Some kind of Buddhist philosophy, perhaps.
    – user1786
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 4:38
  • 1
    @user1786 You may associate solipsism with nihilism, but they are nevertheless two different things. Neither one necessitates the other.
    – Misha R
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 7:39
  • @user1786 A solipsist may still care about themselves. For example a solipsist may end up torturing people for their own amusement because "other people don't exist" but obviously "feeling good" exist because they feel it. If anything that is not nihilist, that is hedonistic.
    – slebetman
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 5:39

Don't know about philosophy but consider this:

Once a man wants to hold a Public Office, he is absolutely no good for honest work - Will Rogers

There is a long held belief by many that the job of ruling should be done by someone who doesn't want the job, and anyone who does is unsuitable.

Adams is joking along these lines, the man in the shack is unaware of his role (and importance) in the universe so is able to give unbiased recommendations.

By contrast, Zaphod (Galactic President) has no real power, and is there to distract from the real power base.


Pyrrhonist skeptic. "Pyrrhonists withhold assent with regard to non-evident propositions, that is, dogma. They disputed that the dogmatists had found truth regarding non-evident matters. For any non-evident matter, a Pyrrhonist tries to make the arguments for and against such that the matter cannot be concluded, thus suspending belief. According to Pyrrhonism, even the statement that nothing can be known is dogmatic. They thus attempted to make their skepticism universal, and to escape the reproach of basing it upon a fresh dogmatism. Mental imperturbability (ataraxia) was the result to be attained by cultivating such a frame of mind." Wikipedia; many more technical explanations online. Solipsism is a form of Pyrrhonism that tends to assert the validity of purely mental experiences as known to the mind that has them (again, see standard sources), and to assert that the mind can know only itself - assertions that a Pyrrhonist would question as dogma.

  • 2
    Okay, but how do we know this?
    – amflare
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 16:40
  • 1
    @amflare - While there's no guarantee that Adams had this specifically in mind, it looks like a good match for how the character presents Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 15:57

In addition to other philosophies, the ruler of the universe may be using Zen discourse here. This dialog is similar to conversations between Zen masters and students. The ruler of the universe touches on impermanence, the focus on here and now, memory and abstract reasoning as nonconcrete, etc. -- all are common in Zen.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one struck by this, as the Daily Zen blog quoted this passage, too: https://www.thedailyzen.org/2015/05/27/the-ruler-of-the-universe/


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