I really enjoyed Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
on multiple levels. I could really relate to the narrator and
I loved the way the Chautauqua handles being both a description
of a cross country motorcycle trip and also stream of consciousness
of the narrator. Here is a passage from Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance that introduces a third possibility
to binary situations.
"Yes and no ... this or that ... one or zero. On the basis
of this elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge
is built up. The demonstration of this is computer memory which
stores all its knowledge in the form of binary information. It
contains ones and zeros, that's all.
Because we're unaccustomed to it, we don't usually see that there's
a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable
of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We
don't even have a term for it, so I'll have to use the Japanese
Mu means "no thing." Like "Quality"
it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu
simply says, "No class; not one, not zero, not yes, not no."
It states that the context of the question is such that a yes
or no answer is in error and should not be given. "Unask
the question" is what it says.
Mu becomes appropriate when the context of the question
becomes too small for the truth of the answer. When the Zen monk
Joshu was asked whether a dog had a Buddha nature he said "Mu,"
meaning that if he answered wither way he was answering incorrectly.
The Buddha nature cannot be captured by a yes or no question.
That mu exists in the natural world investigated by science
is evident. It's just that, as usual, we're trained not to see
it by our heritage. For example, it's stated over and over again
that computer circuits exhibit only two states, a voltage for
"one" and a voltage for "zero." That's silly!
Any computer-electronics technician knows otherwise. Try to find
a voltage representing one or zero when the power is off! The
circuits are in a mu state. They aren't at one, they aren't
at zero, they're in an indeterminate state that has no meaning
in terms of ones or zeros. Reading the voltmeter will show, in
many cases, "floating ground" characteristics, in which
the technician isn't reading characteristics of the computer circuits
at all but characteristics of the voltmeter itself. What's happened
is that the power-off condition is part of the context larger
than the context in which the one-zero states are considered universal.
The question of one or zero has been "unasked." And
there are plenty of other computer conditions besides a power-off
condition in which mu answers are found because of larger
contexts than the one-zero universality.
The dualistic mind tends to think of mu occurrences in
nature as a kind of contextual cheating, or irrelevance, but mu
is found throughout all scientific investigation, and nature doesn't
cheat, and nature's answers are never irrelevant. It's a great
mistake, a kind of dishonesty, to sweep nature's mu answers under
the carpet. Recognition and valuation of these answers would do
a lot to bring logical theory closer to experimental practice.
Every laboratory scientist knows that very often his experimental
results provide mu answers to the yes-no questions the
experiments were designed for. In these cases he considers the
experiment poorly designed, chides himself for stupidity and at
best considers the "wasted" experiment which provided
the mu answer to be a kind of wheel-spinning which might
help prevent mistakes in the design of future yes-no experiments.
This low evaluation which provided the mu answer isn't
justified. The mu answer is an important one. It's told
the scientist that the context of his questions is too small for
nature's answer and that he must enlarge the context of the question.
That is a very important answer! His understanding of nature
is tremendously improved by it, which was the purpose of the experiment
in the first place. A very strong case can be made for the statement
that science grows by its mu answers more than by
its yes or no answers. Yes or no confirms or denies a hypothesis.
Mu says the answer is beyond the hypothesis. Mu
is the "phenomenon" that inspires scientific enquiry
in the first place! There's nothing mysterious or esoteric about
it. It's just that our culture has warped us to make a low value
judgment of it."