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Robert Maynard Pirsig (born 6 September 1928) is an American philosopher and novelist, most famous for his novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in which he proposed what has become known as his Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ).
Born: September 6th, 1928
Quotes: 122 sourced quotes total (includes 2 disputed, 8 about)
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When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.
The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.
Traditional scientific method has always been at the very best 20-20 hindsight. It's good for seeing where you've been. It's good for testing the truth of what you think you know, but it can't tell you where you ought to go.
We're in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it's all gone.
Sanity is not truth. Sanity is conformity to what is socially expected. Truth is sometimes in conformity, sometimes not.
The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive. Feelings rather than facts predominate. "Art" when it is opposed to "Science" is often romantic. It does not proceed by reason or by laws. It proceeds by feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience. In the northern European cultures the romantic mode is usually associated with femininity, but this is certainly not a necessary association. The classic mode, by contrast, proceeds by reason and by laws... which are themselves underlying forms of thought and behavior. In the European cultures it is primarily a masculine mode and the fields of science, law and medicine are unattractive to women largely for this reason. Although motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic.
You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.
You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.
This book is brilliant beyond belief, it is probably a work of genius, and will, I'll wager, attain classic stature.
What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It's not very factual on motorcycles, either.
The mythos-over-logos argument points to the fact that each child is born as ignorant as any caveman. What keeps the world from reverting to the Neandertal with each generation is the continuing, ongoing mythos, transformed into logos but still mythos, the huge body of common knowledge that unites our minds as cells are united in the body of man. To feel that one is not so united, that one can accept or discard this mythos as one pleases, is not to understand what the mythos is.
Who really can forget the past? What else is there to know?
The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite.
The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.
It is filled with beauty. . . a finely made whole that seems to emanate from a very special grace.
Many of the older Sophists were selected as "ambassadors" of their cities, certainly no office of disrespect. The name Sophist was even applied without disparagement to Socrates and Plato themselves.
You look at where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge. And if you project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something.
A rush of wind comes furiously now, down from the mountaintop. "The ancient Greeks," I say, "who were the inventors of classical reason, knew better than to use it exclusively to foretell the future. They listened to the wind and predicted the future from that. That sounds insane now. But why should the inventors of reason sound insane?"
Good is a noun rather than an adjective.
The most moral activity of all is the creation of space for life to move around.
I am Phædrus, that is who I am, and they are going to destroy me for speaking the Truth.
Profoundly important... full of insights into our most perplexing contemporary dilemmas... It is intellectual entertainment of the highest order.
The solutions all are simple... after you have arrived at them. But they're simple only when you know already what they are.
The world comes to us in an endless stream of puzzle pieces that we would like to think all fit together somehow, but that in fact never do.
Plato is the essential Buddha-seeker who appears again and again in each generation, moving onward and upward toward the "one." Aristotle is the eternal motorcycle mechanic who prefers the "many."
That's the way it must have been a hundred or two hundred years ago. Hardly any people and hardly any loneliness. I'm undoubtedly over-generalizing, but if the proper qualifications were introduced it would be true.
Phædrus is fascinated too by the description of the motive of "duty toward self " which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the "one" of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the "virtue" of the ancient Greeks be identical?
Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn't think anyone was going to see is seen, and the person who sees it feels a little better because of it, and is likely to pass that feeling on to others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep on going.
Trials never end, of course. Unhappiness and misfortune are bound to occur as long as people live, but there is a feeling now, that was not here before, and is not just on the surface of things, but penetrates all the way through: We've won it. It's going to get better now. You can sort of tell these things.
When you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he's insane, which is not to see him at all. To see him you must see what he saw and when you are trying to see the vision of an insane man, an oblique route is the only way to come at it.
The halo around the heads of Plato and Socrates is now gone. He sees that they consistently are doing exactly that which they accuse the Sophists of doing... using emotionally persuasive language for the ulterior purpose of making the weaker argument, the case for dialectic, appear the stronger. We always condemn most in others, he thought, that which we most fear in ourselves.
What's happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating widespread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we're getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought... occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like... because they feel the inadequacy of classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences.
Any philosophic explanation of Quality is going to be both false and true precisely because it is a philosophic explanation. The process of philosophic explanation is an analytic process, a process of breaking something down into subjects and predicates. What I mean (and everybody else means) by the word ‘quality’ cannot be broken down into subjects and predicates. This is not because Quality is so mysterious but because Quality is so simple, immediate and direct.
The results of Socrates' martyrdom and Plato's unexcelled prose that followed are nothing less than the whole world of Western man as we know it. If the idea of truth had been allowed to perish unrediscovered by the Renaissance it's unlikely that we would be much beyond the level of prehistoric man today. The ideas of science and technology and other systematically organized efforts of man are dead-centered on it. It is the nucleus of it all.
We are at the classic-romantic barrier now, where on one side we see a cycle as it appears immediately... and this is an important way of seeing it... and where on the other side we can begin to see it as a mechanic does in terms of underlying form... and this is an important way of seeing things too. These tools for example... this wrench... has a certain romantic beauty to it, but its purpose is always purely classical. It's designed to change the underlying form of the machine.
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.
The followers of Heraclitus insisted the Immortal Principle was change and motion. But Parmenides' disciple, Zeno, proved through a series of paradoxes that any perception of motion and change is illusory. Reality had to be motionless. The resolution of the arguments of the Cosmologists came from a new direction entirely, from a group Phædrus seemed to feel were early humanists. They were teachers, but what they sought to teach was not principles, but beliefs of men. Their object was not any single absolute truth, but the improvement of men. All principles, all truths, are relative, they said. "Man is the measure of all things." These were the famous teachers of "wisdom," the Sophists of ancient Greece.
Told by the blurb that we have here "one of the most unique and exciting books in the history of American letters," one bridles both at the grammar of the claim and at its routine excess. The grammar stays irreparable. But I have a hunch that the assertion itself is valid... Zen and the Art is awkward both to live with and to write about. It lodges in the mind as few recent novels have, deepening its grip, compelling the landscape into unexpected planes of order and menace... the narrative tact, the perfect economy of effect, defy criticism... the analogies with Moby Dick are patent. Robert Pirsig invites the prodigious comparison... What more can one say?
"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism," Kitto comments, "is not a sense of duty as we understand it... duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek areté, 'excellence' — we shall have much to say about areté. It runs through Greek life." There, Phædrus thinks, is a definition of Quality that had existed a thousand years before the dialecticians ever thought to put it to word-traps. Anyone who cannot understand this meaning without logical definiens and definendum and differentia is either lying or so out of touch with the common lot of humanity as to be unworthy of receiving any reply whatsoever.
All this is just an analogy.
A hypnotist's crystal... sparkled with diamonds.
Art is anything you can do well. Anything you can do with Quality.
I think metaphysics is good if it improves everyday life; otherwise forget it.
Making... an art out of your technological life is the way to solve the problem of technology.
Talk about rationality can get very confusing unless the things with which rationality deals are also included.
Metaphysics is names about reality. Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty-thousand-page menu and no food.
Once it's stated that "the dialectic comes before anything else," this statement itself becomes a dialectical entity, subject to dialectical question.
The Good was not a form of reality. It was reality itself, ever changing, ultimately unknowable in any kind of fixed, rigid way.
Poor rhetoric, once "learning" itself, now becomes reduced to the teaching of mannerisms and forms, Aristotelian forms, for writing, as if these mattered.
Aristotle has always been eminently attackable and eminently attacked throughout history, and shooting down Aristotle's patent absurdities, like shooting fish in a barrel, didn't afford much satisfaction.
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
It's a miracle... sparkles like an electric dream. Freshness, originality... that seduces you into loving motorcycles, as tender in their pistons as the petals in the Buddah's dawn lotus.
The rain has lifted enough so that we can see the horizon now, a sharp line demarking the light grey of the sky and the darker grey of the water.
There is a Swedish word, kulturbärer, which can be translated as "culture-bearer" but still doesn't mean much. It's not a concept that has much American use, although it should have.
The mythos. The mythos is insane. That's what he believed. The mythos that says the forms of this world are real but the Quality of this world is unreal, that is insane!
Dialectic generally means "of the nature of the dialogue," which is a conversation between two persons. Nowadays it means logical argumentation. It involves a technique of cross-examination, by which truth is arrived at.
When it is known that Plato put his own words in Socrates' mouth (Aristotle says this) there should be no reason to doubt that he could have put his own words into other mouths too.
When a shepherd goes to kill a wolf, and takes his dog to see the sport, he should take care to avoid mistakes. The dog has certain relationships to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten.
The Quality, the areté he has fought so hard for, has sacrificed for, has never betrayed, but in all that time has never once understood, now makes itself clear to him and his soul is at rest.
'''A lifetime of blows tends to make a person unenthusiastic about any unnecessary interchange that might lead to more. Nothing friendly has been said or even hinted at and much hostility has been shown. Phædrus the wolf. It fits.
A single thought begins to grow in his mind, extracted from something he read in the dialogue Phædrus. . . . What is good, Phædrus, and what is not good... need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
Fantastic, Phædrus thinks, that he should have remembered that. It just demolishes the whole dialectical position. That may just be the whole show right there. Of course it's an analogy. Everything is an analogy. But the dialecticians don't know that.
In recent times we have seen a huge split develop between a classic culture and a romantic counterculture... two worlds growingly alienated and hateful toward each other with everyone wondering if it will always be this way, a house divided against itself.
To an experienced Zen Buddhist, asking if one believes in Zen or one believes in the Buddha, sounds a little ludicrous, like asking if one believes in air or water. Similarly '''Quality is not something you believe in, Quality is something you experience.
Now, to take that which has caused us to create the world, and include it within the world we have created, is clearly impossible. That is why Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself.
There is only one kind of person, Phædrus said, who accepts or rejects the mythos in which he lives. And the definition of that person, when he has rejected the mythos, Phædrus said, is "insane." To go outside the mythos is to become insane.
A moving tale of the modern soul, and a fine detective story of a man in search of himself. Beautifully, lucidly written, it offers a large challenge and an equal reward. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one Harley of a book.
This book has as much to say about computers as Zen or motorcycle maintenance... Pirsig says more sensible things about the relationship between man and machines in the first half of his book, than a lot of books have to say in two halves.
Socrates is not using dialectic to understand rhetoric, he is using it to destroy it, or at least to bring it into disrepute, and so his questions are not real questions at all... they are just word-traps which Gorgias and his fellow rhetoricians fall into.
How are you going to teach virtue if you teach the relativity of all ethical ideas? Virtue, if it implies anything at all, implies an ethical absolute. A person whose idea of what is proper varies from day to day can be admired for his broadmindedness, but not for his virtue.
Man is not the source of all things, as the subjective idealists would say. Nor is he the passive observer of all things, as the objective idealists and materialists would say. The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things. The measure of all things...
Lightning hits! Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching! Not ethical relativism. Not pristine "virtue." But areté. Excellence. Dharma! Before the Church of Reason. Before substance. Before form. Before mind and matter. Before dialectic itself. Quality had been absolute. Those first teachers of the Western world were teaching Quality, and the medium they had chosen was that of rhetoric.
The thing to understand is that if you are going to reform society you don't start with cops. And if you are going to reform intellect you don't start with psychiatrists. If you don't like our present social system or intellectual system the best thing you can do with either cops or psychiatrists is stay out of their way. You leave them till last.
They had made the mistake of thinking of a personality as some sort of possession, like a suit of clothes, which a person wears. But apart from a personality what is there? Some bones and flesh. A collection of legal statistics, perhaps, but surely no person. The bones and flesh and legal statistics are the garments worn by the personality, not the other way around.
Certainly no one could have predicted what has happened. Back then, after 121 others had turned this book down, one lone editor offered a standard $3,000 advance. He said the book forced him to decide what he was in publishing for, and added that although this was almost certainly the last payment, I shouldn't be discouraged. Money wasn't the point with a book like this.
The hippies had in mind something that they wanted, and were calling it "freedom," but in the final analysis "freedom" is a purely negative goal. It just says something is bad. Hippies weren't really offering any alternatives other than colorful short-term ones, and some of these were looking more and more like pure degeneracy. Degeneracy can be fun but it's hard to keep up as a serious lifetime occupation.
I think present-day reason is an analogue of the flat earth of the medieval period. If you go too far beyond it you're presumed to fall off, into insanity. And people are very much afraid of that. I think this fear of insanity is comparable to the fear people once had of falling off the edge of the world. Or the fear of heretics. There's a very close analogue there.
Why destroy areté? And no sooner had he asked the question than the answer came to him. Plato hadn't tried to destroy areté. He had encapsulated it; made a permanent, fixed Idea out of it; had converted it to a rigid, immobile Immortal Truth. He made areté the Good, the highest form, the highest Idea of all. It was subordinate only to Truth itself, in a synthesis of all that had gone before.
The world of underlying form is an unusual object of discussion because it is actually a mode of discussion itself. You discuss things in terms of their immediate appearance or you discuss them in terms of their underlying form, and when you try to discuss these modes of discussion you get involved in what could be called a platform problem. You have no platform from which to discuss them other than the modes themselves.
Dialectic, which is the parent of logic, came itself from rhetoric. Rhetoric is in turn the child of the myths and poetry of ancient Greece. That is so historically, and that is so by any application of common sense. The poetry and the myths are the response of a prehistoric people to the universe around them made on the basis of Quality. It is Quality, not dialectic, which is the generator of everything we know.
No one sees it yet, but they will soon enough. The Chairman of the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods has just been shot down in his own classroom. Now he is speechless. He can't think of a word to say. The silence which so built his image at the beginning of the class is now destroying it. He doesn't understand from where the shot has come. He has never confronted a living Sophist. Only dead ones.
The Professor of Philosophy seems quite aware of what has happened. His previous little eye-flick of malice toward Phædrus has turned to a little eye-flick of fear. He seems to understand that within the present classroom situation, when the time comes, he can get exactly the same treatment he gave, and there will be no sympathy from any of the faces before him. He's thrown away his right to courtesy. There's no way to prevent retaliation now except to keep covered.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was no literary masterpiece but it was a culture-bearing book. It came at a time when the entire culture was about to reject slavery. People seized upon it as a portrayal of their own new values and it became an overwhelming success. The success of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance seems the result of this culture-bearing phenomenon. The involuntary shock treatment described here is against the law today. It is a violation of human liberty. The culture has changed.
Plato finds it necessary to separate, for example, "horseness" from "horse" and say that horseness is real and fixed and true and unmoving, while the horse is a mere, unimportant, transitory phenomenon. Horseness is pure Idea. The horse that one sees is a collection of changing Appearances, a horse that can flux and move around all it wants to and even die on the spot without disturbing horseness, which is the Immortal Principle and can go on forever in the path of the Gods of old.
Under Aristotle the "Reader," whose knowledge of Trojan areté seems conspicuously absent, forms and substances dominate all. The Good is a relatively minor branch of knowledge called ethics; reason, logic, knowledge are his primary concerns. Areté is dead and science, logic and the University as we know it today have been given their founding charter: to find and invent an endless proliferation of forms about the substantive elements of the world and call these forms knowledge, and transmit these forms to future generations. As "the system."
Now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth... but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.
Plato often names Socrates' foils for characteristics of their personality. A young, overtalkative, innocent and good-natured foil in the Gorgias is named Polus, which is Greek for "colt." Phædrus' personality is different from this. He is unallied to any particular group. He prefers the solitude of the country to the city. He is aggressive to the point of being dangerous. At one point he threatens Socrates with violence. Phædrus, in Greek, means "wolf." In this dialogue he is carried away by Socrates' discourse on love and is tamed.
It took me more than a week to deduce from the evidence around me that everything before my waking up was a dream and everything afterward was reality. There was no basis for distinguishing the two other than the growing pile of new events that seemed to argue against the drunk experience. Little things appeared, like the locked door, the outside of which I could never remember seeing. And a slip of paper from the probate court telling me that some person was committed as insane. Did they mean me?
Any person of any philosophic persuasion who sits on a hot stove will verify without any intellectual argument whatsoever that he is in an undeniably low-quality situation: that the value of his predicament is negative. This low quality is not just a vague, woolly-headed, crypto-religious, metaphysical abstraction. It is an experience. It is not a judgment about an experience. It is not a description of experience. The value itself is an experience. As such it is completely predictable. It is verifiable by anyone who cares to do so. It is reproducible.
Between the subject and the object lies the value. This Value is more immediate, more directly sensed than any 'self' or any 'object' to which it may be later assigned. It is more real than the stove. Whether the stove is the cause of the low quality or whether possibly something else is the cause is not yet absolutely certain. But that the quality is low is absolutely certain. It is the primary empirical reality from which such things as stoves and heat and oaths and self are later intellectually constructed.
You have all these fragments, like pieces of a puzzle, and you can place them together into large groups, but the groups don't go together no matter how you try, and then suddenly you get one fragment and it fits two different groups and then suddenly the two great groups are one. The relation of the mythos to insanity. That's a key fragment. I doubt whether anyone ever said that before. Insanity is the terra incognita surrounding the mythos. And he knew! He knew the Quality he talked about lay outside the mythos.
In his attempt to unite the Good and the True by making the Good the highest Idea of all, Plato is nevertheless usurping areté's place with dialectically determined truth. Once the Good has been contained as a dialectical idea it is no trouble for another philosopher to come along and show by dialectical methods that areté, the Good, can be more advantageously demoted to a lower position within a "true" order of things, more compatible with the inner workings of dialectic. Such a philosopher was not long in coming. His name was Aristotle.
The bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them and the dust was buried under the rubble of declining Athens through its fall and Macedonia through its decline and fall. Through the decline and death of ancient Rome and Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire and the modern states... buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction and such evil that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done.
A culture-bearing book, like a mule, bears the culture on its back. No one should sit down to write one deliberately. Culture-bearing books occur almost accidentally, like a sudden change in the stock market. There are books of high quality that are an part of the culture, but that is not the same. They are a part of it. They aren't carrying it anywhere. They may talk about insanity sympathetically, for example, because that's the standard cultural attitude. But they don't carry any suggestion that insanity might be something other than sickness or degeneracy.
A fragment comes and lingers from an old Christian hymn, "You've got to cross that lonesome valley." It carries him forward. "You've got to cross it by yourself." It seems a Western hymn that belongs out in Montana. "No one else can cross it for you," it says. It seems to suggest something beyond. "You've got to cross it by yourself." He crosses a lonesome valley, out of the mythos, and emerges as if from a dream, seeing that his whole consciousness, the mythos, has been a dream and no one's dream but his own, a dream he must now sustain of his own efforts. Then even "he" disappears and only the dream of himself remains with himself in it.
What is essential to understand at this point is that until now there was no such thing as mind and matter, subject and object, form and substance. Those divisions are just dialectical inventions that came later. The modern mind sometimes tends to balk at the thought of these dichotomies being inventions and says, "Well, the divisions were there for the Greeks to discover," and you have to say, "Where were they? Point to them!" And the modern mind gets a little confused and wonders what this is all about anyway, and still believes the divisions were there. But they weren't, as Phædrus said. They are just ghosts, immortal gods of the modern mythos which appear to us to be real because we are in that mythos. But in reality they are just as much an artistic creation as the anthropomorphic Gods they replaced.
Anxiety, the next gumption trap, is sort of the opposite of ego. You're so sure you'll do everything wrong you're afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than "laziness," is the real reason you find it hard to get started. This gumption trap of anxiety, which results from over-motivation, can lead to all kinds of errors of excessive fussiness. You fix things that don't need fixing, and chase after imaginary ailments. You jump to wild conclusions and build all kinds of errors into the machine because of your own nervousness. These errors, when made, tend to confirm your original underestimation of yourself. This leads to more errors, which lead to more underestimation, in a self-stoking cycle. The best way to break this cycle, I think, is to work out your anxieties on paper. Read every book and magazine you can on the subject. Your anxiety makes this easy and the more you read the more you calm down.
The Immortal Principle was first called water by Thales. Anaximenes called it air. The Pythagoreans called it number and were thus the first to see the Immortal Principle as something nonmaterial. Heraclitus called the Immortal Principle fire and introduced change as part of the Principle. He said the world exists as a conflict and tension of opposites. He said there is a One and there is a Many and the One is the universal law which is immanent in all things. Anaxagoras was the first to identify the One as nous, meaning "mind." Parmenides made it clear for the first time that the Immortal Principle, the One, Truth, God, is separate from appearance and from opinion, and the importance of this separation and its effect upon subsequent history cannot be overstated. It's here that the classic mind, for the first time, took leave of its romantic origins and said, "The Good and the True are not necessarily the same," and goes its separate way. Anaxagoras and Parmenides had a listener named Socrates who carried their ideas into full fruition.
I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. "What's new?" is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question "What is best?," a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and "best" was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for.
These shapes are all out of someone's mind. That's important to see. The steel? Hell, even the steel is out of someone's mind. There's no steel in nature. Anyone from the Bronze Age could have told you that. All nature has is a potential for steel. There's nothing else there. But what's "potential"? That's also in someone's mind!
It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest. Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you'd think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn't see it so much. The explanation, I suppose, is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with loneliness. It's psychic distance, and in Montana and Idaho the physical distances are big but the psychic distances between people are small, and here it's reversed.
The Church of Reason, like all institutions of the System, is based not on individual strength but upon individual weakness. What's really demanded in the Church of Reason is not ability, but inability. Then you are considered teachable. A truly able person is always a threat. Phædrus sees that he has thrown away a chance to integrate himself into the organization by submitting to whatever Aristotelian thing he is supposed to submit to. But that kind of opportunity seems hardly worth the bowing and scraping and intellectual prostration necessary to maintain it. It is a low-quality form of life.
Nell teaches aspects of parenthood never understood before. If she cries or makes a mess or decides to be contrary (and these are relatively rare), it doesn't bother. There is always Chris's silence to compare it to. What is seen now so much more clearly is that although the names keep changing and the bodies keep changing, the larger pattern that holds us all together goes on and on. In terms of this larger pattern the lines at the end of this book still stand. We have won it. Things are better now. You can sort of tell these things.
In this allegory the seeker, trying to reach the One, is drawn by two horses, one white and noble and temperate, and the other surly, stubborn, passionate and black. The one is forever aiding him in his upward journey to the portals of heaven, the other is forever confounding him. The Chairman has not stated it yet, but he is at the point at which he must now announce that the white horse is temperate reason, the black horse is dark passion, emotion. He is at the point at which these must be described, but the false note suddenly becomes a chorus.
Quality is better seen up at the timberline than here obscured by smoky windows and oceans of words, and he sees that what he is talking about can never really be accepted here because to see it one has to be free from social authority and this is an institution of social authority. Quality for sheep is what the shepherd says. And if you take a sheep and put it up at the timberline at night when the wind is roaring, that sheep will be panicked half to death and will call and call until the shepherd comes, or comes the wolf.
What Phædrus thought and said is significant. But no one was listening at that time and they only thought him eccentric at first, then undesirable, then slightly mad, and then genuinely insane. There seems little doubt that he was insane, but much of his writing at the time indicates that what was driving him insane was this hostile opinion of him. Unusual behavior tends to produce estrangement in others which tends to further the unusual behavior and thus the estrangement in self-stoking cycles until some sort of climax is reached. In Phædrus' case there was a court-ordered police arrest and permanent removal from society.
Now I want to begin to fulfill a certain obligation by stating that there was one person, no longer here, who had something to say, and who said it, but whom no one believed or really understood. Forgotten. For reasons that will become apparent I'd prefer that he remain forgotten, but there's no choice other than to reopen his case. I don't know his whole story. No one ever will, except Phædrus himself, and he can no longer speak. But from his writings and from what others have said and from fragments of my own recall it should be possible to piece together some kind of approximation of what he was talking about.
In our highly complex organic state we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality. We throw anyone who does not accept these analogues into an insane asylum. But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it.
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you are no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow.
The Professor of Philosophy has made a mistake. He's wasted his disciplinary authority on an innocent student while Phædrus, the guilty one, the hostile one, is still at large. And getting larger and larger. Since he has asked no questions there is now no way to cut him down. And now that he sees how the questions will be answered he's certainly not about to ask them. The innocent student stares down at the table, face red, hands shrouding his eyes. His shame becomes Phædrus' anger. In all his classes he never once talked to a student like that. So that's how they teach classics at the University of Chicago. Phædrus knows the Professor of Philosophy now. But the Professor of Philosophy doesn't know Phædrus.
Technology is blamed for a lot of this loneliness, since the loneliness is certainly associated with the newer technological devices... TV, jets, freeways and so on... but I hope it's been made plain that the real evil isn't the objects of technology but the tendency of technology to isolate people into lonely attitudes of objectivity. It's the objectivity, the dualistic way of looking at things underlying technology, that produces the evil. That's why I went to so much trouble to show how technology could be used to destroy the evil. A person who knows how to fix motorcycles... with Quality... is less likely to run short of friends than one who doesn't. And they aren't going to see him as some kind of object either. Quality destroys objectivity every time.
The hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Pheacian youth at boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté. Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency... or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself.
I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle.
The city closes in on him now, and in his strange perspective it becomes the antithesis of what he believes. The citadel not of Quality, the citadel of form and substance. Substance in the form of steel sheets and girders, substance in the form of concrete piers and roads, in the form of brick, of asphalt, of auto parts, old radios, and rails, dead carcasses of animals that once grazed the prairies. Form and substance without Quality. That is the soul of this place. Blind, huge, sinister and inhuman: seen by the light of fire flaring upward in the night from the blast furnaces in the south, through heavy coal smoke deeper and denser into the neon of BEER and PIZZA and LAUNDROMAT signs and unknown and meaningless signs along meaningless straight streets going off into other straight streets forever. If it was all bricks and concrete, pure forms of substance, clearly and openly, he might survive. It is the little, pathetic attempts at Quality that kill.
Socrates is not just expounding noble ideas in a vacuum. He is in the middle of a war between those who think truth is absolute and those who think truth is relative. He is fighting that war with everything he has. The Sophists are the enemy. Now Plato's hatred of the Sophists makes sense. He and Socrates are defending the Immortal Principle of the Cosmologists against what they consider to be the decadence of the Sophists. Truth. Knowledge. That which is independent of what anyone thinks about it. The ideal that Socrates died for. The ideal that Greece alone possesses for the first time in the history of the world. It is still a very fragile thing. It can disappear completely. Plato abhors and damns the Sophists without restraint, not because they are low and immoral people... there are obviously much lower and more immoral people in Greece he completely ignores. He damns them because they threaten mankind's first beginning grasp of the idea of truth. That's what it is all about.
Religion isn't invented by man. Men are invented by religion. Men invent responses to Quality, and among these responses is an understanding of what they themselves are. You know something and then the Quality stimulus hits and then you try to define the Quality stimulus, but to define it all you've got to work with is what you know. So your definition is made up of what you know. It's an analogue to what you already know. It has to be. It can't be anything else. And the mythos grows this way. By analogies to what is known before. The mythos is a building of analogues upon analogues upon analogues. These fill the collective consciousness of all communicating mankind. Every last bit of it. The Quality is the track that directs the train. What is outside the train, to either side... that is the terra incognita of the insane. He knew that to understand Quality he would have to leave the mythos. That's why he felt that slippage. He knew something was about to happen.
It is an immortal dialogue, strange and puzzling at first, but then hitting you harder and harder, like truth itself. What Phædrus has been talking about as Quality, Socrates appears to have described as the soul, self-moving, the source of all things. There is no contradiction. There never really can be between the core terms of monistic philosophies. The One in India has got to be the same as the One in Greece. If it's not, you've got two. The only disagreements among the monists concern the attributes of the One, not the One itself. Since the One is the source of all things and includes all things in it, it cannot be defined in terms of those things, since no matter what thing you use to define it, the thing will always describe something less than the One itself. The One can only be described allegorically, through the use of analogy, of figures of imagination and speech. Socrates chooses a heaven-and-earth analogy, showing how individuals are drawn toward the One by a chariot drawn by two horses.
My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that's all. God, I don't want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out. These can be left alone for a while. There's a place for them but they've got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We've had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it's just about depleted. Everyone's just about out of gumption. And I think it's about time to return to the rebuilding of this American resource...individual worth. There are political reactionaries who've been saying something close to this for years. I'm not one of them, but to the extent they're talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for giving more money to the rich, they're right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really do.
People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to ﬁve without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There’s no villain, no ‘mean guy’ who wants them to live meaningless lives, it’s just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless. But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all energy systems run down like a clock and never rewind themselves. But life not only 'runs up,' converting low energy sea-water, sunlight and air into high-energy chemicals, it keeps multiplying itself into more and better clocks that keep 'running up' faster and faster. Why, for example, should a group of simple, stable compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen struggle for billions of years to organize themselves into a professor of chemistry? What's the motive? If we leave a chemistry professor out on a rock in the sun long enough the forces of nature will convert him into simple compounds of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, and small amounts of other minerals. It's a one-way reaction. No matter what kind of chemistry professor we use and no matter what process we use we can't turn these compounds back into a chemistry professor. Chemistry professors are unstable mixtures of predominantly unstable compounds which, in the exclusive presence of the sun's heat, decay irreversibly into simpler organic and inorganic compounds. That's a scientific fact. The question is: Then why does nature reverse this process? What on earth causes the inorganic compounds to go the other way? It isn't the sun's energy. We just saw what the sun's energy did. It has to be something else. What is it?
For three days and three nights, Phædrus stares at the wall of the bedroom, his thoughts moving neither forward nor backward, staying only at the instant. His wife asks if he is sick, and he does not answer. His wife becomes angry, but Phædrus listens without responding. He is aware of what she says but is no longer able to feel any urgency about it. Not only are his thoughts slowing down, but his desires too. And they slow and slow, as if gaining an imponderable mass. So heavy, so tired, but no sleep comes. He feels like a giant, a million miles tall. He feels himself extending into the universe with no limit. He begins to discard things, encumbrances that he has carried with him all his life. He tells his wife to leave with the children, to consider themselves separated. Fear of loathsomeness and shame disappear when his urine flows not deliberately but naturally on the floor of the room. Fear of pain, the pain of the martyrs is overcome when cigarettes burn not deliberately but naturally down into his fingers until they are extinguished by blisters formed by their own heat. His wife sees his injured hands and the urine on the floor and calls for help. But before help comes, slowly, imperceptibly at first, the entire consciousness of Phædrus begins to come apart — to dissolve and fade away. Then gradually he no longer wonders what will happen next. He knows what will happen next, and tears flow for his family and for himself and for this world.