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In another example, Pirsig explains to the reader how one should pay attention and learn: when the Narrator and his friends came into Miles City, Montana, he had noticed (second page of chapter 8) that the engine "idle was loping a little", a sign that the fuel/air mixture was too rich. The next day he is thinking of this as he is going through his ritual to adjust the valves on his cycle's engine, because it "has picked up a noise". In the process, he notes that both spark plugs are black, another sign of rich mixture. He solves the puzzle as he is thinking about the feel-good-higher-altitude-mountain-air; the altitude is causing the engine to run rich. New jets are purchased, and installed, and with the valves adjusted, the engine runs well. His cycle begins coughing and almost quits when they get into the mountains of Montana. This is a more severe altitude problem, but he knows it will go away when they get back to lower altitude. He does adjust the carburetor to prevent over heating on the way down.

With this, the book details two types of personalities: those who are interested mostly in gestalts (romantic viewpoints, such as Zen, focused on being "in the moment", and not on rational analysis), and those who need to know details, the inner workings, mechanics (classic viewpoints with application of rational analysis, vis-a-vis motorcycle maintenance) and so on.

The Sutherlands represent an exclusively romantic attitude toward the world. The Narrator initially appears to prefer the classic approach. It later becomes apparent that he understands both viewpoints and is aiming, not for the middle ground, but for the necessary ground that includes both. He understands that technology, and the "dehumanized world" it carries with it, appears ugly and repulsive to a romantic person. He knows that such persons are determined to shoehorn all of life's experience into the romantic view. Pirsig is capable of seeing the beauty of technology and feels good about mechanical work, where the goal is "to achieve an inner peace of mind". Zen and the Art demonstrates that motorcycle maintenance may be dull and tedious drudgery or an enjoyable and pleasurable pastime; it all depends on the inner attitude, or lack thereof.

Pirsig shows that rationality's pursuit of "Pure Truths" derives from the first Greek philosophers who were establishing the concept of truth, against the opposing force of "The Good". He argues that although rational thought may find truth (or The Truth) it may not be valid for all experiences. Therefore, what is needed is an approach to viewing life that is more varied and inclusive and has a wider range of application. He makes a thorough case that originally the Greeks did not distinguish between "Quality" and "Truth" they were one and the same and that the divorce was, in fact, artificial (though needed at the time) and is now a source of much frustration and unhappiness in the world, particularly overall dissatisfaction with modern life.

Pirsig aims towards a perception of the world that embraces both sides, the rational and the romantic. This means encompassing "irrational" sources of wisdom and understanding as well as science, reason and technology. In particular, this must include bursts of creativity and intuition that seemingly come from nowhere and are not (in his view) rationally explicable. Pirsig seeks to demonstrate that rationality and Zen-like "being in the moment" can harmoniously coexist. He suggests such a combination of rationality and romanticism can potentially bring a higher quality of life.

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