The Answer is Mu

As an artist, I’m constantly questioning myself. Should this scene contain more action? Is this drawing good? Am I wasting my time?

We expect questions like these to have yes or no answers. Concrete solutions to help us move forward. No, this scene does not need more action. Yes, this drawing is good. No, I am not wasting my time. 

But, we struggle to remain steadfast to our answers. Often we flip back and forth. Or ask the same questions over and over as doubt creeps in. Why is this?

The issue here is not with the answers, but the question. We expect only two answers when a third is possible. In Zen philosophy, there is the concept of Mu. Prisig talks about this in his novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The Mu answer is neither yes or no. Instead, it tells you to reask the question. Only when you separate yourself from the question can you truly move forward. 

Yes, you say, but some questions only have yes or no answers, right. The more we explore this universe of ours, the less black and white things become. When exactly does day end and night begin. My weather gives a precise minute. However, as I watch the sun sink and the light fade away, I’d be hard pressed to nail down a specific time.

Even the duality of male and female has been put on a spectrum with gender identity and the idea of being non-binary. You don’t have to be 100% male or female. You can be a mix of both. Or neither.

All right, you say, what about computers. The binary code that makes the Internet funcion is completely composed of ones and zeros. On or ofd. Surely this proves that there has to be something purely binary — a world of yes or no. 

Turn your phone off. Are they switched to the zero or the one? You can’t tell, because the is no power flowing through the circuits. You have to unask the question.

The Mu answer forces us to think about the constraints the question imposes. Once we question, we start to impose our will on the world. In quantum mechanics, the study of how atoms function, strange answers come up all the time. Electrons are finicky. When you seek to know its position around the atom, you know less about its energy. And visa versa. It won’t give you exactly what you’re asking for.

The adherence to binary thinking brought along a silly association. The episode of Teen Titans where Robin extols the virtues of the Oregon Trail game where every decision is either yes or no (y or n). 

So, the next time you are stuck at a fork in the proverbial art road, perhaps there might be a third option. Instead of thinking binary, think along a spectrum. Or even unask the question and see where that leads you.

Yes, No, Mu.

Go forth.

Tim Kane

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