The work in your hands is, I would like to emphasize, not a scholarly work. I'm sloppy about references, for example - sometimes they are there, sometimes they aren't. Often they will be in the form of a ``wikinote'' like this one1 . For example, when I misquote (say) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I assume that we share some cultural context there and that you'll recognize that ``42''2 is the answer to it all, the reason for Existence itself (and know where it comes from). And hopefully laugh. Putting a wikinote on things like this is a form of hedging my bets, so to speak.
It is intended to be:
Mind you, there are occasional pockets of math and logic to wade through in the text below, and it is more than a bit hard on proselytic religions of the highly organized and militant sort that seem to be a source of violent misery in much of the world today. In case you have any personal doubts about whether or not you can manage the math, let me summarize the entire book right here, right now. If you can understand the following, you can cope with the set theory and probability theory or even skip it and it won't matter. If you agree with the following, you can probably even skip buying the book!
But please don't! If you do, I don't make any money, and my goal in writing it is to save the world and bring about an age of world peace and understanding, and incidental to this, to make money.
Anyway, here it is, the fundamental truth about what any conscious mind knows of the Universe and everything in it:
From which we can draw the following two very important conclusions:
Ultimately, this is a book about freedom, the pure intellectual freedom to choose what you want to believe. This is the real deal: If you choose to believe as a matter of personal faith that the world is 6011 years old and was created in seven days as a primary axiom and thereby reject the standard for contingent inferential truth that this work will advance as a really good idea (and that leads one inevitably to very different conclusions) well, no one can tell you that you're wrong, only that your system of reasoning is massively inconsistent without a few million axiomatic band-aids. If you're good with that, well, it is your choice (at least, in a society that practices religious freedom).
However, you in turn must recognize that your belief is literally insane to someone that has as fundamental axioms the ones that support science and contingent inferential knowledge based on observation, someone that has any sort of ``minimalist'' axiom (such as Occam's Razor) for logical consistency that rejects what I will call ``fairy hypotheses'' below. You are free to believe whatever you want, but you are not free to force your beliefs down the throats of others (not even your own family) or to insist that your beliefs should be adopted by society as a whole when they manifestly don't ``work'' (are inconsistent without the aforementioned infinity of band-aids).
Personal intellectual freedom to this extent is scary; to get you to where you are more or less forced to acknowledge the truth of it I'm going to perform memetic surgery without any anesthetic but a bit of laughter and a sense of open minded wonder, and blast away without mercy at scripture-based religions, most political systems, and a substantial chunk of the philosophical traditions of both East and West. Using nuclear weapons and asteroids falling from space, by the way, to utterly obliterate them beyond any hope of resurrection, whereever they assert that they are true (as opposed to plausible, or implausible as the case may be).
Living without these socio-memetic crutches will be scary, at first, until you realize that you can still believe in things, as long as you understand that you are believing in them, that underlying every instant of your awareness is an act of faith and a miracle, that you have no right to expect others to believe as you believe. East can actually meet West as you recenter your self to a state of perfect knowledge of the moment, the state that Zen generally refers to as ``Enlightenment'',4 and then playfully and with compassion choose what to believe on top of that.
True Zen5 , of course, holds that Enlightenment is an experience that cannot be conveyed with words, and then of course uses all sorts of words in the form of ``Zen stories'' and detailed instructions on how to meditate just right to attempt to convey it with words, which is actually kind of funny all by itself. For example (to convey it in words) the general idea is that if you can ever completely stop your mind's unstoppable verbal activity while remaining completely aware, Enlightenment can happen as an experience, but one that hence by its nature cannot be conveyed in words.
If you find this confusing, don't worry. Many Zen stories read like a shootout in the Wild Wild West - this or that would-be Zen pretender goes head to head with a leather-slapping top-gun Zen Master and tries to prove how Enlightened he is by not proving it in the most elegant possible way. Of course that usually means that he is trying to prove it, as the real Zen master artfully refrains from pointing out even more eloquently while whacking the offender on the head with a handy blunt instrument (a ``Zen blow''). The loser generally becomes the devoted student of the winner in hopes of eventually achieving real enlightenment and maybe one day getting to whack students of his own. Heady stuff, and great fun, actually6.
Alas, I personally disagree with the basic premise and think that words are essential to the process of Enlightenment. There is empirical evidence that wolf-children raised without language cannot achieve Enlightenment7. As a work dedicated to the basic metaphysic of existential reality, this book attempts to guide you directly to a state of Western-style Enlightenment using the incredible power of language (and a certain amount of axiomatic set theory) to convey just the right degree of self-contradictory confusion while telling you with incredible clarity just what you do not know. Which is almost everything, in a sense that is made axiomatically precise, actually.
In deference to the East, it does include a minimal number of obligatory haiku-style koans and funny (Zen) stories, sometimes accompanied by that odd whack on the head. To ensure that these guaranteed-politically-correct whacks are really odd (and are equally guaranteed not to cause any lasting injury and hence provoke lawsuits), they are performed not with my knuckles or a hard and unforgiving blunt instrument as they might be in a Zen monastery but are self-administered with a banana.
You do have to provide your own banana.