Suggests that Pirsig had the SOM-MOQ relationship correct in ZMM and that this would have realized the MOQ’s full potentials and avoided the present dead-lock over the intellectual level.
In 1998 Dan Glover made a compilation of messages concerning my so-called SOLAQI idea that emerged not long after the start of “The Lila Squad” discussion of Robert Pirsig’s “Metaphysics of Quality” (MOQ). The said compilation contains some of the early posts and shows how I came to conceive of the idea. It can be found at this address:
It must be added that even if Dan did this job it does not mean that he vouches for it.
1998 is now history. Afterwards the mailing list became an internet organization that hosted two discussion groups, it also changed ownership, but in spite of these alterations the discussion raged on and a major “bone of contention” was the intellectual level along with my theory that claims to cure its problems.
Some participants were positive, some negative, seeing it as a heresy, particularly as Pirsig himself had replied to inquiries in a way that seemed to reject it. Things came to a head when Paul Turner reported for duty in 2003 – a duty that seemed to be that of doing the SOLAQI in for good. Due to his penetrating criticism the said compilation needs an update.
Dan Glover responded positively when I asked if it was possible to add some of the most salient messages after 1998, mainly from my dispute with Paul Turner. Dan is hopefully working on it, but in the meantime I decided to write this essay to give a general account of what it is all about. Most important is a letter from Pirsig to Paul, but new angles and points will appear as they popped up while writing this.
Simply said the SOL says that the subject/object metaphysics is MOQ’s intellectual level. This in contrast to the standard interpretation of SOM as one among countless intellectual patterns.
I also claim that this is what Phaedrus of ZMM said, and that LILA also contains strong SOL elements, but that Pirsig maybe found it too much and contrived the “standard procedure” of how the MOQ absorbs SOM. There has been several formulations and acronyms of which the SOLAQI (Subject/object Logic as Quality’s Intellect) is the last. Right now I would have liked it to say “Intellectual value is the S/O distinction” but no more tongue-twisters, it’s now simply SOL which doesn’t mean anything except being the first letters of all the former.
Above I said that the SOL came as a result of the discussion, that’s right, but it was an insight and my elation was as great as when I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (ZMM) for the first time. As I see things it fuses the MOQ of LILA with its crude form in ZMM as well as making the two books a coherent whole, and it is still my conviction that only by the SOL the true MOQ is realized.
Here I must hasten to say that even if it sounds as a revision of the whole MOQ it just pertains to the intellectual level. I profoundly agree with all fundamentals and look upon the MOQ as the greatest achievement of Western philosophy ...ever. Even if Pirsig is shunned by academia he leaves all the household names in the dust.
I must also add that even if I disagree with some of the annotations in “Lila’s Child” (A review of the first years’ discussion with Pirsig’s comments) the author Dan Glover has every reason to be proud of it.
I read ZMM not long after its publication in 1974 and was struck by the Herculean task it seemed to undertake: Doing away of the Subject/Object enigma which has been the bane of Western philosophy since modern times began. This is not the place to give examples of this enigma (also known as “mind/matter”) or tell about attempts at solutions, but as we know young Pirsig had conceived of the Quality idea and was asked if it was objective or subjective and ended up with the conclusion that it was neither: It was a deeper reality, one that had created the SOM (as he now called it) ZMM page 231.
“And finally: Phaedrus following a path that to his knowledge had never been taken in the history of Western thought, went straight between the horns of the subjectivity-objectivity dilemma and said that Quality is neither a part of mind, nor is it part of matter. It is a THIRD entity which is independent of the two.
And on page 234:
The very existence of subjects and objects themselves is deduced from the Quality (event). The quality (event) is the cause of the subjects and objects, which are then mistakenly presumed to be the cause of Quality.
He’d been speculating about the relationship of Quality to mind and matter and had identified Quality as the parent of mind and matter. This Copernican inversion of the relationship ...etc.
I dwell so long on this initial insight because of its significance for the MOQ . P. toyed with a Quality-based metaphysics to replace the S/O-based one, something that resulted in a romantic/classic split and as we see from this diagram “Classic Quality”, subtitled “intellectual”, is the S/O aggregate. (ZMM page 243).
The Romantic/Classic split was left for the Dynamic/Static one in LILA , but “intellectual quality” remains as a static level and ought to be the VALUE of the S/O divide, but Pirsig had found a new way of disposing of the S/O, namely the said “standard procedure” that says that the two lower levels are “objective” and the two upper are “subjective”
(Lila’s Child annotation # 4)
My earlier view when I was concentrating on the confusion of subject/object thinking, was to get rid of them entirely to help clarify things. Later I began to see it’s not necessary to get rid of them because the MOQ can encase them neatly within its structure. The upper two levels being subjective and the lower two objective.
I agree with the necessity of retaining “S/O thinking” and also that the MOQ can encase it, but not with his method of doing so. It has caused much confusion dubious statements, for instance (Lila’s Child”. Page 529)
In the MOQ, all organisms are objective. They exist in the material world. All societies are subjective. They exist in the mental world. Again, the distinction is very sharp. For example, the president of the United States is a social pattern. No objective scientific instrument can distinguish a President of the US from anyone else..
Inorganic instruments only detect inorganic value. But more serious; what has subjective/objective and mental/material to do with quality patterns? In LILA Pirsig (correctly) shows that inorganic value does not correspond to substance, thus intellectual value doesn’t correspond to mind. No level corresponds to any of SOM’s categories. This makes a SOM-like split open up between biology and society .... at best, more likely between Intellect and the rest and nothing is gained. It’s SOM in a quality garb.
In spite of this Pirsig repeatedly - inadvertently - returns to his initial correct insight and presents intellect as the S/O divide alone. He says that he saw no need to define intellect, everybody know what it means and my dictionary says: “The power of the mind to reason contrasted with feeling and instincts”. “Mind” can be omitted without losing any meaning and because reason is objectivity itself and feeling is subjectivity itself .. intellect is the S/O distinction. What screws it all up is the notion of a mind doing the intellectualization, while it’s intellect that does the mind/matter-ization.
And there is much more that points to the SOL. In LILA Pirsig calls intellectual value by many names, in this quote on page 306:
Knowledge has grown away from this historic purpose and has become an end in itself, just as society has grown away from its original purpose.
It is “knowledge” and there is no other kind than objective knowledge, and because objective requires subjective (like light requires darkness) ... intellect is the VALUE of the S/O distinction!
The most telling thing however is that the way the SOM is described in ZMM corresponds to the intellectual level as described in LILA , something that causes a perfect harmony between the two books that previously have been worlds apart. This passage in LILA page 261:
Perhaps in Homer’s time, when evolution had not yet transcended the social level into the intellectual ...etc.
...underlines my point. Homer’s time is a bit uncertain, but the development described in ZMM culminating with Socrates & Co started around that time. During this period intellect –as SOM - made it out of its social home. This fits perfectly. Look to this in ZMM page 367:
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.
This is clearly what LILA calls “transcending the social level into the intellectual”.
After I had harped on the SOL for a long time Anthony McWatt (now hopefully Doctor Philos. with the MOQ his field) produced this Pirsig comment that seemingly contradicts the SOL
To prevent confusion the MOQ treats “mind” as the exact equivalent of “static intellectual patterns” and avoids use of the term when possible (Jan. 1998)
Again I must repeat that after the mind/matter dichotomy has been declared a fall-out of Quality its “mind” can’t be MOQ’s intellect. It’s poison to introduce either single-handed inside the MOQ and the later development showed that this had started to bother Pirsig too, after some more debate Paul Turner wrote to Pirsig to have his opinion and received a letter in September 2003.
The question you raise about the intellectual level has troubled me too. When I answered Dan Glover in Lila’s Child, I remember being a little annoyed that anyone should ask what the intellectual level is -as though he were asking me what I mean by the word, “the.” Any definition you give is more likely to complicate understanding than simplify it. But since then I have seen the question grow because the answer I have given is inadequate.
I take this as a step in the right direction – although not quite SOL - because Pirsig goes on:
Intellectuality occurs when these customs as well as biological and inorganic patterns are designated with a sign that stands for them and these signs are manipulated independently of the patterns they stand for. “Intellect” can then be defined very loosely as the level of independently manipulable signs. Grammar, logic and mathematics can be described as the rules of this sign manipulation.
This however makes intellect into language and if so the MOQ is solidly back in the SOM. No, if using these terms: Intellect is the VALUE of the signs/what they signify distinction.
Just when the evolution of the intellectual level from the social level took place in history can only be speculated on. I certainly wasn’t there when it happened. Julian Jaynes’, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,” has impressed me, but other speculation seems valid. Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, could be the pivotal point. Maybe Solomon. Maybe the early Greek philosophers.
The “Bicameral” idea is interesting, but intellect’s emergence as a value that transformed the Greek - and by and by the Western culture - is convincingly described in ZMM. I’m afraid that the language definition only complicates things. Admittedly, language most likely was the social pattern that DQ used for lifting existence to the intellectual level, but in the same sense that carbon remains inorganic (while being the biological building block) language itself remains a social pattern. It is WHAT language conveys that counts, and the Greek philosophers used it to promote the value of the subject/object divide.
If one extends the term intellectual to include primitive cultures just because they are thinking about things, why stop there? How about chimpanzees? Don’t they think? How about earthworms? Don’t they make conscious decisions? How about bacteria responding to light and darkness? How about chemicals responding to light and darkness? Our intellectual level is broadening to a point where it is losing all its meaning.
Now, this is my Pirsig! Exactly what I have tried to say all the time.
You have to cut it off somewhere, and it seems to me the greatest meaning can be given to the intellectual level if it is confined to the skilled manipulation of abstract symbols that have no corresponding particular experience and which behave according to rules of their own.
But here he goes again. Abstract/concrete is another SOM off-spring and abstract symbols with no corresponding experience is SOM’s chimera of its two halves having an independent existence. Pirsig’s argument in ZMM was that the SOM developed via Plato’s “ideas/ shadows” and Aristotle’s “form/substance” and even if we today see no subject/object content in these early dichotomies, they were precursors to the later mind/matter. Thus a symbol may have no “concrete” opposite, but it always represents something – an “idea” even.
The argument that the MOQ is not an intellectual formulation but some kind of other level is not clear to me. There is nothing in the MOQ that I know of that leads to this conclusion.
This one is for me, but I can only say that an intellectual level “containing ideas” – SOM one idea and the MOQ another - is incompatible with the SOL. Earlier in this letter Pirsig says that intellect can’t see itself. That’s just right! A higher ground is needed to see the outline of something and that is what the MOQ provides! It sees intellect for what it really is – a mere static level of its own system.
Having criticized Pirsig for not having followed the light of his first insight in ZMM I again point to the “standard procedure” as the culprit. It’s a Trojan Horse that lets the SOM spread itself across the static levels. Pirsig himself is of course immune to any infiltration, but a newcomer to the MOQ will be led astray by it.
Finally one example of how the MOQ could be the “Copernican Revolution” that ZMM speaks about. The British magazine “Philosophy Now” had its October/ November issue dedicated to the “consciousness” problem, which we immediately recognize as the subject looking out on the world. In the magazine the physics behind consciousness and the psychics resulting from it is pondered, but at the end one has a feeling of futility; no-one can unravel this Gordian Knot.
If we assume the SOL interpretation that SOM is a sub-set of Quality – the intellectual sub-set - none of its halves has an independent existence. There’s no mind alone and no body alone (I can’t list all its off-shoots) this is SOM’s chimera and the much sought for interaction between mind and body will never be found because there is none. Yet, illusory, it’s a most valuable illusion that has given us modernity. The thing is that it has no metaphysical reality, no static level has. The only thing real is the DQ/SQ union.
Thus consciousness, mind, awareness as separate phenomena goes poof! This will not be readily accepted, an example of a similar paradigm shift – and its inertia - is ancient physics. It created a lot of enigmas – paradoxes called – and the brightest minds of the age pondered why nature would be so enigmatic. It was not until modern physics that the solution was found, but this did not solve things from the old premises rather dissolved them, but it took centuries to take hold. This is exactly what the MOQ does with SOM’s enigmas, but the science will go on about its “angels on pin-points” for a long time to come.
What the MOQ could have done .. more correctly, but because its creator lost heart on one crucial point the MOQ is impotent and explains nothing. The theory in LILA about how the mind/matter interaction works - where the intellectual level is “mind” and the inorganic level is “matter” – makes no sense. Nothing wrong with my opponents at the discussion, like the ancient physicists they are the brightest, but from the wrong premises it doesn’t help. Pirsig’s words in the Paul letter about his opinion being no “Papal Bull” is notoriously neglected, everything issuing from that end is received as just that. Geniuses do mistakes, Einstein regretted his “universal constant” that was supposed to explain the static universe that later proved to be expanding. I wish that Pirsig would reconsider his own blunder.
Well, anyway, I want to make the SOL my legacy.
Bodvar “Bo” Skutvik
Bodö, Norway, May. 2005