A Reflection on David Morey’s “Arthur
Young and Pirsig: Can Young Help Us to Understand the Levels?”
By Steve Hannon
Part I: Individual Freedom/System
After reading David Morey’s
essay I was intrigued by the hierarchy displayed at the end. It used Light,
Particles, Atoms, and Molecules to represent Inorganic Quality; and Plants,
Animals and Man to represent Biological Quality. The concepts of complexity and freedom
were incorporated in the hierarchy.
Complexity, as it appears here, increases from Inorganic Quality to
Biological Quality. Freedom
decreases throughout Inorganic Quality but increases throughout Biological
Quality. This is a problem if we want
to use Morey’s hierarchy to try to explain Pirsig’s levels. The levels show a linear relationship;
Pirsig explains that each level is a kind of higher form of evolution or
moral superior to the level below it.
How can we add Social and Intellectual Quality to Morey’s hierarchy
if freedom doesn’t fit linearly within Inorganic and Biological
Quality? If we say freedom
increases throughout Social and Intellectual Quality, then we must explain
why it only decreases throughout Inorganic Quality. If we say freedom decreases throughout
Social and Intellectual Quality, then we must explain why it only increases
throughout Biological Quality. I
believe that a better approach would be to differentiate between two separate
concepts: system potential and individual freedom.
describes what tasks the system has the capability of performing as a whole
unit. Light has only the ability to
light up objects, so as a system it has the least system potential. Particles, such as electrons and
protons, can attract or repel from each other. Atoms can react and bond with other atoms, crystallize, heat
up and cool down, and radiate.
Molecules can store information (DNA), or take on acidic or basic
properties. Plants can breathe,
eat, and reproduce. Animals have
the ability to move. Man has the
ability to think and conceptualize.
Thus system potential increases from Inorganic Quality to Biological
illustrates what happens to each individual entity, as it becomes a part of
a higher level. For example, an
electron can move around space as long as it is not part of an atom. If it does become part of an atom, such
as oxygen, it could only move within a certain space around its
nucleus. The oxygen atom can move
around freely until it becomes part of a molecule, such as water, where its
movement would be limited to wherever the water molecule could move. Once a plant, animal, or person consumes
the water, it could only move around inside the particular organism. Individual freedom, then, decreases from
Inorganic Quality to Biological Quality.
Now the hierarchy includes
three concepts: complexity, system potential, and individual freedom. Since they are all moving along the same
line, we can add Pirsig's Social and Intellectual Quality. A society, a form of Social Quality, has
more potential than an individual man, a form of Biological Quality. Each individual man is constrained by
society, usually by laws. America’s
laws must conform to the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness, which are a form of Intellectual Quality. These ideals have more potential than
the laws themselves. For example,
the Bill of Rights, part of American law, is specific to this country but
life and liberty are ideals embraced by many societies. The distinction between system potential
and individual freedom can clearly be applied to Pirsig’s Social and
Adding this distinction to
Morey’s ideas produces a hierarchy like this:
Part II: More Characteristics of the New
Change is an important
concept that can be applied to this hierarchy. The actual change in nature of each of the levels I will call
objects can’t change much without becoming a completely different object. For example, water, a substance vital to
human life, is composed of two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom. Adding another oxygen atom produces
hydrogen peroxide, a substance that blisters the skin. Humans can change over a short period of
time by aging, and over a long period of time by evolving. Societies are easier to change, since
people move in and out of them very quickly. The United States is a collective group of people, even
though at different times it could be made up of different people. Ideals can also be changed or
interpreted differently. We are
often asked to provide our own interpretations of freedom, love, or some
other broad idea. Thus, elasticity
increases from left to right.
The other kind of change is
what I will call applicability. Applicability explains how easily an object on a certain
level can be used or implemented.
Inorganic Quality and Biological Quality are very applicable because
they are the most inelastic of the levels; they can be relied upon to
resist change. When using chemicals
in an experiment, a scientist can be fairly sure his samples won’t change
during the middle of the experiment.
An athlete can be relied upon to perform at the same level for about
fifteen years, after which his body breaks down and he becomes slower. At this point a younger, more agile
athlete can easily replace him.
Social Quality and Intellectual Quality are harder to implement
because they can change more easily.
A country undergoing a regime change in their government, such as
present-day Iraq, is a good illustration of the difficulty of enforcing a
new government. Any new ideas for
policy in this government would need to confront the precedent set by the
old policy. This is especially
difficult to change, as witnessed in America when it took almost a hundred
years to overturn the segregationist policies in the southern states and to
gain civil rights for black people.
Therefore, applicability decreases from left to right.
The final concept
demonstrates the difficulty of creating an object on a certain level. This will be called ability to
create. Inorganic Quality
is the hardest to create. One of
the most fundamental laws of chemistry is the law of conservation of
matter, which states that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. With modern technology, atoms and
particles can be created from energy using Einstein’s Theory of Relativity,
though this process is extremely difficult. Biological Quality can be created; the process takes about
nine months in humans. New Social
Quality is formed when people start associating themselves with new people,
such as in a new neighborhood, at a new job, or in a new club. Intellectual Quality is created with
each new thought generated in the mind, even if it is not immediately
understood or connected to another idea.
Thus, ability to create increases from left to right.
Adding these three
characteristics produces a hierarchy that looks like this:
I hope this can be used as a
tool to help explain the nature of the levels. Any questions, comments, suggestions or ideas pertaining to
this essay or the MOQ in general can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again to David Morey for an
outstanding essay and to all the people at www.moq.org.