Huitzilopochtli and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance (First Note about Robert M. Pirsig)

Longseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance was written by Robert M. Pirsig. Equipped with a 170 IQ young Robert enrolled at the university at age 14 only to get expelled a while afterwards as he found the scientist´s mindset inadequate, feeble and incomplete, which also led to mutual personal alienation (respectively animosity) between Pirsig and academia. People of very high IQ think in much larger patterns and especially if they are divergent thinkers they may get very confused since they have little idea what they actually see and envision and then they have to synthesize a lot to come up with a conclusive intellectual framework that works to their satisfaction (usually erected upon vast intellectual experience and life experience which they also intellectualise). As his assumed skyrocketing career as a scientist did not work out Pirsig became a kind of a drifter through life. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance was a kind of semi-fictionalised intellectual autobiography, half a novel, half a philosophical work. It got rejected by more than 100 publishers but became a huge, and lasting, success after it came out in 1974. The mixing up of „Eastern“ and „Western“ thought was unorthodox in academic philosophy then but hit a nerve in the later hippie era, respectively Pirsig´s investigation into the possibilities of expansion of the human mind and its possible failures could have been taken as a kind of intellectual resume of the initial spirit of 1968. In ZMM Pirsig voted for a metaphysics that has quality as its central value. In 1992 Pirsig published his second book (of similar fashion concerning genre mix), Lila; An Inquiry into Morals, in which Pirsig tried to solidify his original arguments, and he said that Lila is the more profound book than ZMM. Lila did not become a huge commercial success like ZMM. It is said you should read ZMM before you read Lila. I read Lila before I read ZMM (last year) because I was interested in WJ Sidis and in Lila Pirsig writes a bit about Sidis (I knew about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance before but thought it to be a kind of introduction into Zen Buddhism for Westerners). In 1995 Pirsig gave a lecture Subjects, Objects, Datas and Values in which Pirisg tried to show that his Metaphysics of Quality was a coherent philosophical framework to interpret quantum mechanics. I read this lecture yesterday. Pirsig has long retired, in his (obviously) most recent interview in 2006 he said he does not read much anymore but still likes to sail. Despite the success of his books Pirsig´s Metaphysics of Quality has not entered mainstream philosophy so far.

More recently I also read Laura Ibarra Garcia´s Das Weltbild der Azteken, a book about the worldview and metaphysics of the ancient Aztecs. Marx says „Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein“ (being determines consciousness) and that when we look at ancient cultures we look into our own past (and infancy, as we might add). Yet sensitivity to psychology is certainly not a strength of Marxism, respectively to the question how and why man creates and manipulates his world exactly the way he does. Jean Piaget on the other hand investigated the cognitive and psychological development and ontogenesis of the infant and how it relates to cultural development (with, on the other hand, being a bit lenient on how cultural norms massively predate the individual´s development). The infant tries to master objects and subjects which he initially views as unstable (with the possibility of neuroses and personality disorders as a cognitive and psychological result when the infant gets permanently frustrated by the outside world). As the infant gains some mastery over the objects and is happy to establish a friendly and constructive relationship to fellow humans he learns that he is able to manipulate and influence them, and vice versa. At this level the cognitive understanding of the infant is subjectivistic (i.e. reflects how he can manipulate the environment and how the environment will react to him is based on individual behaviour). In addition the infant is in a dyadic relationship with the mother, respectively in a relationship with the competent Other and he tends to view objects and his surroundings as enlivened, translating into an animistic worldview in very ancient societies where man cannot dominate nature very effectively (and therefore considers nature and animals and himself as a sort of equals). – The Aztecs were an ancient class society based on agriculture. Their origins were obscure and their original position obviously was very disadvantaged in regard to the culture and civilisation of the Toltecs over which they finally took over however. The Aztecs worshipped Gods, had a foundation myth involving a cultural hero, viewed the world as unstable and finally destined to fall apart again (alongside a kind of cyclical understanding of time), believed in life after death (with the individual´s fate in the afterlife however being largely determined by the circumstances of his death and not by his personal achievements or ethical behaviour) and they tried to master chaos through rites that implicated sophisticated method as well as devotion (so as to adress the Gods/the irrational forces of nature both intellectually as well as emotionally). Surrounded by uncertainty and lack of insight into the world the Aztects had a mythological worldview, which, instead of a logos, was grounded in a (more or less sophisticated) narrative. Although the higher points of Aztecian culture (e.g. architecture) required formal-operational knowledge the worldview of the Aztecs remained at the level of concrete-operational knowledge, i.e. they could manipulate objects but did/could not generate formal abstractions about that knowledge. Inside the horizon of an agrarian society human mindsets use to remain pre-logical and pre-scientific and subjetivistic. The ancient Greeks were the first to operate at the level of formal-operational knowledge and to have a scientific mindset which epistemologically however could not reflect itself at a meta-level. That came about with the Copernican revolutions in science, knowledge and philosophy in the early modern era (note that regardless of level of cultural evolution only the more (or most) intelligent individuals of the respective society carry the most advanced mindset with, for instance, many people still being superstitious or believing in esoterics in the most advanced societies today). As we live in a new axial age today it is likely that we will progress into new stages of cognitive development and metaphysics which may supersede the rationalist subject-object-dichotomy worldview of modernity, i.e. where a very competent subject exercises mastery over a rather dull and helpless object (which, as it turns out in the atomic age and the age of climate change, isn´t so helpless after all).

Pirsig, as a very advanced individual nowadays, somehow eclectically developed a metaphysics designed to supersede the modern rationalist metaphysics that is centered about how (abstract) subjects relate to (abstract) objects. Unhappy with the scientific approach but confused about how to grasp things instead he began to ruminate about how quality is something that would define entities (not as an accident but as substance). Some entities obviously have higher quality than others, and while the perception of quality is to some degree in the eye of the beholder, true quality refers to something that is inherent in the object and independent of subjective perception. Pirsig then says that quality is an event that happens when subject and object interfere and relate to each other, potentially both changing the object as well as the subject. He then says that quality is the more profound reality than both object and subject – without, however, defining what quality, taken at this level of abstraction, actually is (making a virtue out of necessity he stipulates quality as undefineable, which then of course makes his entire framework inherently wobbly). Instead he approaches quality from several perspectives and, for instance, says that interactions between animate as well as inanimate things perform in this and that fashion because they value certain interactions over others. He concludes that the entire physical world is based on morals and that natural law is also an expression of (some) morals (of constructiveness). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance refers to a quality relationship being inherently at work when we do „Western“ „analytic“ shit (perception of quality rather is something synthetic) and the Buddha being present in it all alike – that is to say Pirsig refutes purely „analytical, Western“ approach as it is cutting off many aspects from the relationship under investigation as well as the „Eastern“ quasi-meditative mindset as it remains unprogressive, static and self-sufficient when relying solely on itself. He differentiates between static and dynamic quality with the static giving form and the dynamic providing change and progress (and he often elaborates how both the agents of static quality and dynamic quality need each other but also often are very hostile towards each other (and, as he somehow forgets to mention, may transform into each other with the former dynamics becoming dogmatic and the like)). Likewise, according to Pirsig the world composes of inorganic, biological, social and intellectual quality patterns and they´re an expression of an evolution to ever higher patterns of quality (therefore also often at war with each other). Pirsig´s metaphysics is a kind of processural and evolutionary metaphysics of a universe striving to reach ever higher levels of quality.

As far as I am concerned, when I was 11 or so we used to have fun in a weekly group meeting of friends – yes, those were actually good times! At one occasion we were playing ping pong and I accidentally shot the ball in Helli´s balls. He humoristically dramatized the pain, and I said Scheiß Eierspeise („fucking scrambled eggs“) as a comment to the pseudo-malheur. Helli found this so funny that he nearly fell down. So I used Scheiß Eierspeis as a salutation and a code for our community and further investigated what Scheiß Eierspeis could all be about and what secrets it could contain. I then founded a movement and wrote a manifesto at age 15 or so in which I declared that everything is Scheiß Eierspeise, respectively that Scheiß Eierspeise is the mutual quality all things share and have in common. In doing so I tried to establish some kind of community and collegiality between things and a kind of universal nexus, a premium quality of everything. Although it was intented to be a joke the manifesto also contained serious intellectual/scientific ruminations and later in life it came to my mind that it was actually a kind of „theory of everything“. (Trying to come up with a „theory of everything“ is a common endeavour among hyperintelligent youngsters as I later found out, but I did not know that then, as I did not know much about philosophy and shit back then and was quite stupid in many respects). – Maybe I should look after my manifesto and tell you something about it; maybe I should revitalise the Scheiß Eierspeise movement and elaborate on the framework, it could actually be the thing, yet for the moment mankind does not seem to be ripe and mature enough for this level of analysis and integration, respectively to take the responsibilities involved. While Pirsig called himself Phaidros later I called myself Yorick.

(The abovementioned William James Sidis was the person with probably the highest IQ ever recorded, likely well over 200, but much of his biography and his achievements remains clouded and obscure, triggering speculation about whether the man with the highest IQ on Earth is just doomed to be the ultimate reject on Earth. I want to write a note with reference to Sidis, titled The Transbodhidharma, somewhere in the future.)