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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance update:

The next few chapters of the book basically invalidated everything I was saying in my earlier post. Pirsig's refusal to define Quality leads him to lose his grasp on what exactly it is. At the moment there are three "definitions" floating around. First is, as I mentioned before, "goodness." This keeps popping up even though he's made arguments that in some ways parallel much of what I said earlier.

The second idea as to what Quality is is presented as a third thing in the subject-object duality. But when you look more closely at how he constructs his "new" metaphysics, he is essentially just name-swapping. Quality is a new name for external reality, and objective reality is made to mean our internal models of how Quality works.

Then he switches back to the "goodness" idea to talk about how we discriminate among facts. His point of entry is the question of where hypotheses come from. His conclusion is that there's a moment between when we sense something and when we understand it, and in that moment we are directly experiencing Quality (as reality). So why do some aspects of Quality suggest themselves as likely hypotheses? He rejects, without explanation beyond that it seems to lead to people seeing only what they want to see, the idea that it has anything to do with our understanding of the world. Rather, he says we notice them because of Quality (as goodness). He then offers (on the basis of the appeal of elegant theories to mathematicians) harmony as a third idea of what Quality is. It seems at the moment that he's in some way implicitly equating harmony with goodness. And because Quality also refers to everything that actually exists, he seems to be saying that reality is good and harmonious.

Pirsig seems to be advancing the weird notion that we notice certain bits of Quality because they have Quality -- which is akin to saying we notice certain dogs instead of others because the ones we notice are dogs. A universal cannot be used to discriminate. An analogy with the idea of size can perhaps make some sense of this. We notice some things because (among other reasons) of their size. But this does not mean that we notice things because they have size, since everything has a size. We notice them because they're big -- that is, because they have a certain type of size.

Based on this theory (which is subject to change when Pirsig takes Quality on a new tangent), he is essentially saying that we select the raw material for thought from reality on the basis of its harmoniousness. Which seems an awfully restrictive and non-universal explanation. It remains a much more likely proposal that it's not something about reality itself that makes us notice it, but rather the relationship between the facts and our understanding. Different people notice different things.


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