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This book is all about what we ``know'' and how we know it. There are two distinct qualities of ``knowledge'' - that which is known from direct experience, which in its purest form can be reduced to that which we are experiencing, in the present tense, only, by means of our senses. Then there is everything else: that which is inferred on the basis of what is remembered, that which we are ``thinking''. Note well that this knowledge is also a form of experiencing, but is nevertheless distinguished, in our sensory experience, from direct sensory experience. Provided, that is, that we haven't ingested large quantities of hallucinogens or aren't mentally ill, either of which does tend to blur the line a bit.

The first kind of knowledge is extremely limited but very ``intense''. It is confined to a narrow band of real-time sensory data including your visual input (currently the lines on this page), perhaps some sounds in the background (your children fighting over who gets the TV controller while you ``relax'' with a book on axiomatic existential metaphysics), the sensations from nerves in your skin (the touch of your clothing, the floor, a chair, the breezes on your cheek) and elsewhere (the pangs of hunger, the tingle that reminds you that you will soon need to pee), tastes in your mouth (perhaps stale coffee mixed with mint toothpaste if it is the morning, perhaps a swig of beer if this is the evening), and various smells (the not-unpleasant scent of your own sweat, a hint of mildew, some flowers).

Actually, there is quite a lot of information coming in through your senses in a steady stream, and it is hard-wired into your brain in such a way that information arriving from there can co-opt your entire ``self'' in an instant, for example when you get whacked on the head by a flying TV controller and experience pain. Just sitting in a state of awareness of sensory input only is a Zen exercise for quieting the ``mind'', whatever that might be. The fact that it is a Zen exercise8 suggests that almost always you exist in a state where that direct sensory stream is at least partially tuned out in favor of a different aspect of your experience of awareness.

This aspect is related to ``thought'' in its most general and embracing definition. It includes memory, imagination, processing of symbolic information, the process that leads to deliberate action (as opposed to the kind of reflex action that jerks your hand back from a searingly hot stove, something that may not even make it up to your brain before it occurs). Among other things, it is the kind of ``experience'' that you are undergoing as you read these words.

Note well how readily something as ephemeral as the direct visual sensory impression of a string of tiny black marks on a white page that bear no resemblance to anything you actually experience in your sensory stream create echos of sensory experiences as you read them. If you are a good reader, reading about the sensual delight of smooth, creamy chocolate ice cream being sucked off of a spoon to slide slowly down your throat in a midnight foray to the kitchen creates within you an indirect sensory experience, not exactly memories but neither pure fantasies, that are more real to you for the moment (in the sense that they were the focus of your ``experiencing'' self) than your direct sensory experience. The latter was doubtless fairly mundane and uninteresting - at least compared to the experience of eating ice cream9 - unless of course you got hit on the head by a flying TV controller thrown by an unruly child while you were reading.

This second kind of experience is far more mathematically complex than the first. It is intrinsically self-referential, for example: while reading this sentence about what you are thinking while reading this sentence, you are inevitably thinking about what you are thinking about as you read the words that describe the process10. Experience of this sort includes many distinct kinds of things that are not a part of your immediate sensory stream. Some of these appear to be echoes of that sensory stream from the past - memories - as you bring to mind that the last time your kids were fighting in this particular way a trip to the emergency room ensued where the youngest one got stitches. Some appear to be things that have never been a part of your sensory stream but strongly resemble it nonetheless as possible ``future memories'' - perhaps you imagine going again to the emergency room in a few minutes when one of your children's heads encounters the sharp corner of the coffee table as happened in the past, or you imagine even more creatively that it might occur in the next few minutes even though it never has before, unless... (the possibilities continue, endless and ever-changing as ``imagination'' probes a rich space of possibilities indeed).

A large part of this ``self-awareness'' that ultimately directs most of your voluntary actions is a very complex process that occurs where memories of the past and imaginings of the future meet in the now in parallel with your actual sensory stream, mixing with it in subtle ways. It constantly compares alternatives - between the now of our actual experience and the memory of our experience a short time before, between the now of our experience and our imagination of many possible future conditional experiences and makes a steady stream of choices that direct your actions11.

Note that in order to compare alternatives one requires a means of ordinal sorting - a system of valuation where you compare the volitional cost of acting in any given way (including doing nothing) against the projected probability-weighted outcomes of those action choices. That is, you have to at some point decide that a state of TV-controllerless peace and quiet, unaccompanied by any reasonable chance of trips to the ER and blood on your carpet, is worth the effort required to ``redirect'' your children's energies as forcefully as necessary. Emotions (as a very fundamental part of that ordinal sorting mechanism) and value systems (at a higher level) thus play a crucial role in directing self-aware actions.

A large part of Zen practice is to train your mind to focus your attention (whatever that might be) strictly on the stream of sensory experiential knowledge and to quiet the internal voice and evaluation process associated with the second kind of sensory experience, which invariably involves memories both past and future/conditional and the emotional weightings that sort those experiences out according to some scale. Note that this does not reduce your level of awareness, it only seeks to eliminate the essentially self-generated (and hence self-referential) part of it that is not actually instantaneously present in your sensory stream. In order to make this possible, a great many of the ``rules'' of sitting zazen (meditating) focus on eliminating the need to act as self, since action inevitably requires the constant comparison of possible futures against the memories (true and false) of our past where it merges with the ongoing sensory experience of the now, muddying and fragmenting the latter.

A large part of human practice, however, is to be able to function while embedded in the middle of the constant whirl of life. A state of perfect experiential wordless, unstructured clarity is a wonderful thing to be able to achieve, but then you get hungry, you have to pee, one of your children comes in bleeding profusely from a coffee-table induced scalp wound, and the phone rings. It is meet and fitting12 that we do not sit passive through all of these things, to starve, to void our bladder on the living room sofa, to let our child bleed to death while his or her sibling, holding the all-precious TV controller, watches soft core pornography on the Playboy channel13. Yet it is very difficult to act volitionally without embracing a huge amount of structure that is anything but clear. This is the basic paradox of human existence (and, of course, of Zen).

Our human lives are ``bound to the wheel'' in a way that can only - perhaps - be severed by dying or being in a coma on an IV drip and a catheter. We cannot sit passive within the stream of information provided by our senses; we must participate (or die, or be cared for as a ``broken'' human being). Note that Zen practice also acknowledges this in many ways - ``Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water''14 . Enlightenment is ``nothing special''15 - it is really just the ongoing process of smoothly integrating those two distinct components of our experiential stream of awareness into a single state of ongoing clarity that is still capable of functioning at that point where past memory meets future imagination in the presence of and as a part of the experience of the now. To get there one must - one way or another - untangle that knotted skein of assumptions and beliefs that form the structure underlying your volitional acts, smooth it out, and rejoin it to the process of experiencing the now. Easily said, not so easily done.

I will assert that the state of clear focus, fully aware of one's sensory stream yet able to act without departing from it, is a good state to be in without making any attempt to ``prove'' the assertion (or even to define what a ``good state'' might be). Obviously, an external symbolic proof or demonstration of such an ill-defined statement is impossible - hence the notion that Enlightenment cannot be spoken. However, the experience of the truth of this statement is nearly universal, so if you are older than perhaps five or six years of age and not actually mentally handicapped, you almost certainly know that it is true even if you have never before articulated it and cannot explain exactly how you know that it is true. It is the state of being happy, being content, being in tune with the complete process of being, itself. Nearly everybody is in this state at least some of the time, nobody (not even the most ``perfect'' of perfect masters) is in it all of the time because even the Buddha sometimes gets hit on the head by a falling fruit16.

The degree of success an individual enjoys at being ``happy'', however, is strongly tied to the structure of the nubbin of awareness that one calls ``self'', that which sits passively at the heart of it all while acting. In order to function, to participate, to direct our actions as they appear to be fed back through our sensory stream, we need two distinct things:

There also is, as noted above, an emotional component to our awareness and decision making that can be thought of as being pre-verbal or non-verbal axioms - a brain system that strongly influences our hierarchical organization of events, memories, future projections, and action choices by assigning them values. These ``intrinsic'' axioms are very difficult to volitionally alter as they often arise out of pure biology or our very early social conditioning to the extent that we do not even realize that can be changed and are not necessarily absolute truth.

Together, beliefs (conscious or unconscious) and reason form the basis for our personal philosophy - the personal operating system we use to translate our sensory input into actions. This book is all about philosophy, and hence spends a lot of time closely examining beliefs and logic and how they work together (sometimes badly, sometimes well) as the center of our selves. We cannot act without them, and yet most people spend most of their lives as unaware of them as they are constantly unaware of the totality of their sensory streams.

Of course, one of the primary truths explained in great detail within this book is that philosophy is bullshit - in the specific sense that all philosophies are systems of beliefs and hence subject to doubt, a doubt that can even (with suitable axioms) be quantified in the case of science or parts of mathematics. The basis for all ``rational'' action is itself fundamentally irrational, and often is confused and self-contradictory as well.

Bullshit or not, though, philosophy is important, important for entirely practical reasons. Indeed, most of the failures of the human race can in some sense be traced to ``bad philosophy'' and most of the successes can be traced to ``good philosophy''. The history of the human race over the last three or four (or thirty or forty) thousand years is largely one of the co-evolution of successful philosophy and the human species itself. Even though a philosophy, like a computer's operating system, is at heart an artificial construct and at best is likely to have a few bugs (sometimes fatal ones), humans, like computers, simply won't function without one and even come ``pre-programmed'' with enough of one to ``boot up'' the rest17.

The book is organized into three distinct parts. The first addresses Logic (in philosophy and mathematics and computer science) as a formal system - where philosophy and logic come from historically, a bit of set theory, a bit of logic, some nifty stuff worked out over the last 100 years or so by mathematicians, logicians, and philosophers working together. If things go as planned, you'll finish reading this part metaphorically dangling by your feet over the Pit of Existential Despair. Everything you thought you ``knew'' should suddenly seem doubtful. In fact, you should come to the shuddersome realization that you know pretty much nothing, whatever you have chosen to believe in the past.

The second addresses Philosophy per se - in particular many of the philosophies of the past - the famous (or infamous) conclusions, often based on ``Pure Reason'', of many of the world's greatest thinkers and how (at the very least) the notion that you can prove anything about the external world by Pure Reason is just plain wrong. This is by no means an original conclusion, but it is a conclusion that nearly every philosopher (or religious figure, or politician, or spouse) chooses to forget the first time they have some really clever ``logical'' argument that leads to a conclusion that they (usually for reasons that are more correctly linked to the biochemistry of the brain than to logic) wish to advance. The proposition that Philosophy is Bullshit will be self-consistently developed as something that is unprovable but true anyway. It will also be shown quite explicitly that both ``science'' and ``religion'' are bullshit - that both of them require certain beliefs in the invisible and unprovable. Perhaps even, at heart, some of the same beliefs. Both are fundamentally matters of faith, for all that science is developed with a greater degree of self-consistent mathematical rigor from its axioms.

The third focuses on Axioms themselves - first on ``meta-axioms'' that are (if you like) axioms about axioms, axioms about axiomatic systems of reason themselves as abstract (e.g. mathematical or logical) entities, axioms about how we as individual humans might best choose the particular axiomatic system that we use to interpret and interact with the sensory stream that our ``selves'' call ``the Universe'' so that it makes sense and works for us. In the process we will discover that the true meaning of free will is the freedom to choose our axioms18 . This part of the book will end with a kind of ``axiom bazaar''19, where you can (possibly for the first time ever) actually look at the axioms associated with specific religions, political and ethical philosophies, and science side by side and (with a suitable meta-axiomatic basis) compare them.

Finally, in the conclusion we will talk a bit about ``the point of it all''. Why it is important for you, as an individual, to deliberately choose your axioms instead of merely accept the ones your biology, your parents, your religion, and your society force-fed you as you were being ``booted up''. Why it is important to maintain an open mind, one that doubts its own beliefs and adheres to them only as long as they work for us and are not too inconsistent. Why it is very important to tolerate the choices of others where they differ from your own at least where their choices do not directly affect you and yours. Why it is critically important for the human species on a global basis to work thoughtfully towards an axiom set with sufficient commonality that we can live together fruitfully in a global society with a minimum of conflict even as it tolerates diversity.

In order to choose a sane and fruitful future path for Humanity on this planet we must come to fully, deeply understand the true nature of knowledge (self and otherwise) and freedom. With knowledge we can see where we are, where we have been, and (to some extent) where we will go if we make various choices. With freedom we can make those choices deliberately both for ourselves and for our collective society instead of having an insane path forced down our throats at the end of a gun.

Together, knowledge and freedom (seasoned with a bit of ``common sense'') equal wisdom20. To become wise, as a society and as individuals within that society we must begin by being rebels, by challenging nearly all of the ``knowledge'' that has been passed down as absolute and unquestionable truth from our so-often-mistaken ancestors.

So let's get started...

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