[MD] killing truth, again

david buchanan dmbuchanan at hotmail.com
Sat Dec 1 12:28:20 PST 2012

Ron said:

...The trick is and I think this is what was hindering me, is to not look at experience, that perceptual flux, as disassociated with meaning. What really interests me is how the term "precision" and it's operable functional meaning as it directly relates to the perceptual flux integrates, because it seems to me to be rather odd that precision is so directly related to that which is allways and eternally changing.

dmb says:
Well, just think about the title of the book for moment. Let me frame the issue that interests you in those terms just to see what it looks like.
How can motorcycle maintenance, which demands so much technical precision, be considered an art form? The mechanic operates on hard steel and the thing functions or it doesn't. Neither art not Zen have nothing to do with being an excellent mechanic. Things like beauty, aesthetic qualities, moods or peace of mind can't possibly have anything to do with the rightness or wrongness or mechanical (or conceptual) precision, right? Nope. It's not right. That's exactly the kind of view Pirsig is trying to overcome and we see this in the title: Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 
"A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself." (ZAMM 98)

“That’s all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone’s mind. …I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this – that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon. They associate metal with given shapes – pipes, rods, girders, tools, parts – all of them fixed and inviolable, and think of it as primarily physical. But a person who does machining or foundry work or forge work or welding sees ‘steel’ as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not [skilled enough].” (102-3)

You can tell by the page numbers that these quotes come fairly early in the book and he's still just talking about bikes in terms of classic rationality but we can also see that whenever he seems to be talking about motorcycle maintenance, he's really talking about the underlying structures of thought. Later, in chapters 24 and 25 and after he has instructed us in the art of rhetoric and climbed to the top of that spiritual mountain, he returns to the topic of motorcycle maintenance but now he can talk about his "new spiritual rationality" and about science that is no longer value-free. 

"I talked about caring the first day and then realized I couldn't say anything meaningful about caring until its inverse side, Quality, is understood. I think it's important now to tie care to Quality by pointing out that care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who's bound to have some characteristics of Quality." (ZAMM 275)

"If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting stuck, then classical, structured, dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn’t enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what’s good. That is what carries you forward. This sense isn’t just something you’re born with, although you are born with it. It’s also something you can develop. It’s not just ‘intuition,’ not just unexplainable ‘skill’ or ‘talent.’ It’s the direct result of contact with basic reality, Quality, which dualistic reason has in the past tended to conceal.” ZAMM 284

"To say that they [motorcycle mechanics or philosophers or whatever] are not artists is to misunderstand the nature of art. They have patience, care and attentiveness to what they're doing, but more than this - there's a kind of inner peace of mind that isn't contrived but results from a kind of harmony with the work in which there is no leader and no follower... The kind of mechanic I'm talking about doesn't make this separation. One says of him that he is 'interested' in what he's doing, that he's 'involved' in his work. What produces this involvement is, at the cutting edge of consciousness, an absence of any sense of separateness of subject and object. ...When one isn't dominated by feelings of separateness from what he's working on, the one can be said to 'care' about what he's doing. That is what caring really is, a feeling of identification with what one's doing. When one has this feeling then he also sees the inverse side of caring, Quality itself." (ZAMM 296-7)

Then, deep into Lila, we see this same basic idea; the way toward Dynamic Quality is through really getting down into the static patterns, to free yourself through mastery of the static forms...

"Zen monks' daily life is nothing but on ritual after another. Hour after hour, day after day, all his life. They don't tell him to shatter those static patterns to discover the unwritten Dharma, they want him to get those patterns perfect. The explanation for this contradiction is the belief that you don't free yourself from static patterns by fighting them with other contrary static patterns, that is called bad Karma chasing its tail. You free yourself from static patterns by putting them to sleep. That is you master them with such proficiency, that they become an unconscious part of your nature. You get so used to them you completely forget them and they are gone. There at the center of the most monotonous boredom of static ritualistic patterns, the dynamic freedom is found." (LILA 385)

Ron said:
 I fully realize that comparing and contrasting what has been said about the perceptual flux and conceptions of the true in Pragmatism with the ancient Greeks particularly Socrates and Aristotle has been very unpopular with you, but to me it's a terribly interesting topic of discussion and I respect your opinion even if you disagree with the bulk of my aim. It's just you and a few others are the only ones capable of having a reasonable philosophic discussion without alot of un-needed drama and I value your contributions greatly.

dmb says:
Yea, I guess my basic attitude is that Pirsig traces the root of the problem (with Western rationality) all the way back to ancient Greece and not simply condemning Plato and Socrates in general, as if they did everything wrong or that they are the only ones to blame for what has gone wrong. I think Pirsig's critique is more specific and so many other philosophers issue the same complaints that I just don't think it's really even debatable. These days, especially among pragmatists, the term "Platonism" is used as a general term for an obsolete way of thinking about truth and reality.
Wikipedia: "The central concept of Platonism is the distinction between that reality which is perceptible, but not intelligible, and that which is intelligible, but imperceptible; to this distinction the Theory of Forms is essential. The forms are typically described in dialogues such as the Phaedo, Symposium and Republic as transcendent, perfect archetypes, of which objects in the everyday world are imperfect copies. In the Republic the highest form is identified as the Form of the Good, the source of all other forms, which could be known by reason. In the Sophist, a later work, the forms being, sameness and difference are listed among the primordial "Great Kinds". In the 3rd century BC, Arcesilaus adopted skepticism, which became a central tenet of the school until 90 BC when Antiochus added Stoic elements, rejected skepticism, and began a period known as Middle Platonism. In the 3rd century AD, Plotinus added mystical elements, establishing Neoplatonism, in which the summit of existence was the One or the Good, the source of all things; in virtue and meditation the soul had the power to elevate itself to attain union with the One. Platonism had a profound effect on Western thought, and many Platonic notions were adopted by the Christian church which understood Platonic forms as God's thoughts, whilst Neoplatonism became a major influence on Christian mysticism, in the West through St Augustine, Doctor of the Catholic Church whose Christian writings were heavily influenced by Plotinus' Enneads,[2] and in turn were foundations for the whole of Western Christian thought.[3]"


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