One of the scarier artifacts of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy universe is something called the Total Perspective Vortex, which, as Ford Prefect noted, is "the worst thing that can happen to anybody." From Fit the Eighth of the BBC radio series (1980):
The Vortex derives its picture of the whole Universe on the principle of extrapolated matter analyses. To explain since every piece of matter in the Universe is in some way affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of Creation, every Galaxy, every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition, and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake.
The Vortex, we are told, was inspired by the wife of one Trin Tragula:
"Have some sense of proportion" she would say thirty-eight times a day. And so he built the Total Perspective Vortex, just to show her. And in one end he plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a fairy cake, and in the other end he plugged his wife, so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.
There are those who would argue that I lack a sense of proportion, and perhaps there was a time in my life when I might have been alarmed at this characterization. Today, not so much: if anything, I seem to glory in my insignificance. This is not to say, however, that I shun the occasional bit of puffery. There are maybe half a dozen people in the entire nation who do the sort of job I do, and I am fond of saying that it would take at least half of them just to fill in for me. (Once a year, when I disappear into the backwoods for the World Tour, I demonstrate the truth of this assertion.) I do not, however, define myself by my job: that way lies desolation and despair.
Most people, it seems, would prefer to do something "meaningful," something that benefits some substantial segment of mankind while simultaneously putting bread and not that crummy two-thirds-air stuff they sell on the bottom shelf of the grocery store, but something with flavor and grain on the table. Maybe I would. Or maybe not; the position I occupy these days isn't even slightly meaningful and benefits mankind hardly at all, but it requires a fairly specific