transcript of the “Metaphysics of Quality: A New
Paradigm for Values & Healing” discussion
Pirsig with Leland ‘Chip’ Baggett from
HEART OF THE MATTER:
FOR A WORLD COMMUNITY”
29th - August 1st, 1993
by Michael Brant
the 1993 Conference of the Association for Humanistic
Psychology, a pre-Conference Institute with Robert Pirsig
and Chip Baggett on the Metaphysics of Quality: A New
Paradigm for Values and Healing.'
This is the first tape of the
“Metaphysics of Quality: A New Paradigm for Values & Healing” with Robert
Pirsig and Chip Baggett.
Morning. My name is Chip Baggett and this is Bob Pirsig. I'm going to start by giving you a little bit of an
overview of what we are going to do and then I'm going to
introduce Bob and we are going to go, kind of, back and
forth… What I was saying is I'd like to start by giving
you an overview of what we are going to do… we've got a few
hours so… and then I'll introduce Bob.
First, I want to tell you a little about why I'm the one
that sort of drug him here kicking and screaming and a
little bit more… because of what… having read his latest
book LILA, it struck me as how relevant, how profound the
implications for psychotherapy and for healing his ideas in
that book were. That's why I got him here. What I'd like to
do, what we are going to do here is first... [have a
discussion] after he gives a talk. The Metaphysics of
Quality is rather involved and kind of heady and we want to
do this a balance of where we really have a common ground
[when] we have [that] discussion. Most of the discussion
will be the latter part of the day, like after lunch.
First, he's going to take some time and really go into,
sort of, the creation of the idea of the Metaphysics of
Quality and its theoretical foundation so that we have that.
After he does that this morning, I'm going to talk a little
bit about applications for that, not so much in
psychotherapy but just in general and give you an
experiential process to give you an opportunity to taste the
difference between Dynamic and static qualities of
consciousness and he will have already gone into great
explanation about that… after we have that process we all
have a chance to talk about it, and then break for lunch.
When we come back from lunch then we're
going to talk about… and this can be an open discussion…
about the implications of a Metaphysics of Quality in healing
and psychotherapy, and give you lots of opportunity to ask
questions and we'll together kind of create that path and
walk as far as there's the interest in it and time to do
it. Any basic questions about that? You are certainly welcome,
at any time… for me, Bob will speak for himself, to stop,
ask questions and we'll go on at that point.
Robert Pirsig: Yeah, I would agree with that, I'll buy in that.
If you want to stop me do that. There is a line in "Zen
and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (ZMM) where my
son Chris used to stop me all the time. I'd get half a
sentence out and he'd stop and we'd talk for half an hour.
But that half hour talk and that one sentence was the thing
we should have been doing at that time... not going on. So
I have a long presentation here but your questions are more
important than my presentation at this time.
Question from audience: I guess it's an inquiry into values, is it
not? I am making an assumption there. Is it… reasonable
for you to establish with us what values you look for to
establish a quality of leadership with us this morning?
Pirsig: I'm going to be a kind of a salesman for some
ideas. I thought about this very much, in fact… okay we'll
break the bone right now… Why not?… First of all I went
down to Ashville and talked to Chip back last Spring and we
had a wonderful time down there. My wife and I both went
down and we were planning what we would do today and say
today and one question that came up was: "What in the
world does a Metaphysics of Quality have to do with
psychotherapy?" and I said "Well, it provides an
overview... it provides you [with] a kind of a road map, a
kind of a structure, a theory of everything into which the
practice of psychiatry and psychology might fit." And
he said: "Well get specific… don't give me
that!" Well, he didn't say it that way but that was on
his mind, and I thought for a long time and I kind of stared
at the clouds, which were out in his yard, and I thought
some more and I couldn't think of anything… I realised
that… I am kind of in the position of a theoretical
mathematician who comes… you know, who has worked out a
set of equations which to him look wonderful. He goes to a
group of engineers and they say, "Well, what good is
it? What's this going to do for us?"
And… I think his [answer to this] question will be
"I don't know. That's not my department, that's your
department" so I'm of the point of view… that I am
going to present to you the Metaphysics of Quality and you
are going to decide whether it's any good to you. I can't do
more than that. I am not a psychologist… One thing I don't
want to do is present myself to you as an expert on
psychology, that's not my field. But, at the same time how
are you going to use this material if I am not here to
answer your questions, you see? So I am hoping that as a
joint co-operative effort between this metaphysics and
yourselves we can today arrive at a beginning of some,
perhaps practical use of this metaphysics in the field of
psychology. So, I would say the answer to your question will
come later today, hopefully, okay? They'll come in the
I am here to, first of all, tell you what the
Metaphysics of Quality is and that aspect I lead because you
don't know, presumably. This afternoon when the questions
start up, you and Chip are going to be taking over and I am
here to give this thing to you… I am not trying to lead
your organisation for heaven's sake, but I do want to expose
you to these ideas in a living context where your questions
can be asked and I'll answer them as best as I possibly can,
Chip: That leads me to my introduction
because that's… that very… it's not a question of leadership
so much as a question of… why would I say, we got to get
popular… I read "Three Forces" years and years
ago and I kept picking it up and putting it down and picking
it up and then I more recently I read LILA and I was reading
it, going "Yes", "Yes", "Yes"
all the way through and it was just very exciting to me.
So the reason it seems so relevant to bring Bob here , part
of it because it worked out fine since the theme of the
conference is "Values for a World Community" and
since the Metaphysics of Quality is based on values it seemed
very appropriate, that I know that in my own experience,
personally and as a therapist I am dealing with Dynamic
and static quality every minute, every minute of my day
and of the work and so here comes somebody to articulate
the very thing that I'm in the middle of all the time, and
I think we all are… so… I connected with him and he was
real open to it. It's kind of like the image of a child
who's kind of sent out to the world and I spotted that child
and said "Hey this is very appropriate here."
So that's basically why we're here doing this together.
I think that at this point, unless you have any other,
sort of, initial questions I'd like to turn it over to Bob
and let him just present… the idea basically. And we'll
probably, at the end of that, because this might be… maybe…
kind of lengthy, we may take a break at the very end before
we continue with anything else; to take a bathroom break and
then come back… but we'll check out your energy along the
way and see if that's what you want to do.
Pirsig: Okay, well… before I even went down to
Ashville, Chip had suggested before I came down here I read
Abraham Maslow's (1) books or some of them and Rollo May
(2), and some of the others to get some idea of what this
profession was about and I did that with Abraham Maslow. I
read "Toward a Psychology of Being" and I never got to the other two,
I just got carried away with what he was saying.
I had, what might be called a Robinson Crusoe feeling
that, what I was on, Abraham Maslow was on. And this is a
surprise to me because, that time… even at the time when
LILA was written I had no idea that AHP existed or that
Abraham Maslow existed, or any of these people. It's not my
field, so it's a real surprise to me to see that he was
saying a lot of things which seemed to indicate that he was
going in the same direction that I had been going with this
particular Metaphysics of Quality.
I have some quotes that I took out of his books here,
not in any particular order which he had them but the order
in which they appealed to me.
He says: "Humanistic psychology,
that's what it's being called most frequently, is now quite
solidly established as a viable third alternative to objectivistic,
behaviouristic, mechanomorphic psychology and to orthodox
"I've come to think of this humanist
trend in psychology as a revolution in its truest, oldest
sense of the word, in the sense of which Galileo, Darwin,
Einstein, Freud and Marx made revolutions."
"I should say also that I consider
humanistic (third force) psychology to be transitional,
a preparation for a, still higher fourth psychology: trans-personal,
trans-human, centred in the cosmos rather than in human
needs and interests, going beyond humanness, identity, self-actualisation
and the like."
"We need something bigger than
we are, to be awed by it, to commit ourselves to a new naturalistic,
empirical and non-churchly sense, perhaps as thorough as
Whitman, William James and John Dewey did. I believe that
another task which needs doing before we can have a good
world is the development of a humanistic and transpersonal
psychology of evil, one written out of compassion and love
for human nature, rather than out of disgust with it or
out of hopelessness. It seems that it is quite clear to
me that scientific methods wildly conceived are our only
ultimate way of being sure that we do have truth. But here
it is also too easy to misunderstand in the following of
a pro-science or anti-science dichotomy."
"I intend to continue with this
enterprise of enlarging the methods and the jurisdiction
of science so as to make it more capable of taking up the
tasks of new personal experiential psychologies."
"Science as discussed are merely
conceived by the orthodox as quite inadequate to these tasks
and I am certain that it need not limit itself to these
orthodox ways and need not abdicate from the problems of
love, creativeness, value, beauty, imagination, ethics and
joy leaving these all together to the non-scientists; to
poets, to prophets, to priests, dramatists, artists, or
diplomats. So science is the only way we have of shoving
truth down the reluctant throat. Only science can overcome
characterological differences in seeing and believing. Only
science can progress. The fact remains however that it's
coming to a kind of a dead end and in some of its forms
can be seen as a threat and a danger to mankind or at least
to the highest and noblest qualities and aspirations of
mankind. Many sensitive people, especially artists are afraid
that science besmirches and depresses, that it tears things
apart rather than integrating them, thereby killing rather
than creating. None of this I feel is necessary. All that
is needed is for science to be a help, a positive human
fulfilment is an enlarging and deepening conception of its
nature, its goals and its methods."
"Every age but ours has had its
model, its ideal, all of these have been given up by our
culture; the saint, the hero, the gentlemen, the knight,
the mystic, but all we have left is our well-adjusted man
without problems, a very pale and doubtful substitute. Perhaps
we shall soon be able to use as our guiding model a fully
growing and self fulfilling human being; the one in whom
all this potentialities will come in to the full development.
The one whose inner nature expresses itself freely rather
than being warped, suppressed or denied."
"A new experience validates itself
rather than by any outside criterion. It is self justifying,
Pirsig: And here I see Quality coming into Maslow's
"We don't do it because it is good
for us or because psychologists approve or because somebody
has told us to or because it makes us live longer or because
it is good for the species or because it will bring external
rewards or because it is logical. We do it for the same
reason that we choose one dessert over another. I have already
described this as a basic mechanism for falling in love
or choosing a friend."
"Or, for example kissing one person
gives more delight than kissing the other. Being friends
with A is more satisfying, subjectively than being friends
with B. This way we learn what we are good at, what we really
like or dislike, what our tastes, and judgements and capacities
are. In a word: this is the way through which we discover
the self and answer the ultimate questions of who am I and
what am I."
I have more here but I think this has established some
similarities between the direction I have been going and
Maslow. We are trying to create "Good" as the
centre of everything. Rather than "Man" as the
centre of everything, rather than as a "God" as
the centre of everything rather than as "Matter"
as the centre of everything; a Good. A metaphysics, in other
words, of Quality.
Oh, he did make a diagram later on of which he
"I can put this altogether in a
scheme which is very simple and is also very powerful both
heuristically and theoretically. Its basic dilemma of conflict
between the defensive forces and the growth trends I conceive
to be existential, embedded in the deepest nature of human
being now and forever in to the future."
Pirsig: It's a diagram like this, he made a diagram in
which there is "person" in the centre and on one
side is growth and on the other side is safety and he points
out how everybody is in this thing. Well, if you substitute
Dynamic Quality for growth and you substitute static quality
for safety you'll find that we are basically saying the same
So, with that, I would say, as a comment, I felt that
Maslow was a real philosopher. He was inventing it and not
just quoting it from somebody else. I don't think, probably
in your own practice you can really do psychology without
being philosophers in the sense that Maslow was, or in the
sense that I have tried to be in my own life. Not somebody
who quotes somebody else's philosophy but somebody who sees
the situation in front of him. In the classroom this was my
case as an English teacher or in dealing with your people
who come to your door… and saying: "What world can I
invent that will improve the quality of this person's life,
what ideas can I bring together ?" so I would say
you're all philosophers and we're all in the same business
here of trying to come together with something that will
improve the world.
Now, there was some criticism of Maslow
that I found in an introduction by Henry Geiger to one of
his books. He said:
"One aspect of Maslow's later thought
deserves attention; the older he got the more philosophical
he became. It was impossible, he found to isolate the pursuit
of psychological truth from philosophical questions. How
man thinks cannot be separated from what he is and the question
of what he thinks is never independent of what he is. In
fact even though this intellectually may be an insoluble
problem. At the beginning of an enquiry, Maslow held science
has no right to shut out any of the data of experience.
As he said, the psychology of science: all the deliveries
of human awareness must be accepted by psychology, even
contradictions and illogicallities, the mysteries, the vague,
the ambiguous , the archaic, the unconscious and all other
aspects of existence that are difficult to communicate.
The inchoate and by nature imprecise is none the less part
of our knowledge about ourselves. Knowledge of low reliability
is also part of knowledge. Man's knowledge of himself is
mainly of this sort and for Maslow, the rules for its increase
be those of an explorer who looks in every direction, rejects
"The beginning stages of knowledge…
should not be judged by the criteria derived from final
knowledge'. This is the statement of a philosopher of science.
If indeed the task of the philosopher of science is to identify
the appropriate means of study in a given field of research
Maslow was more than anything else a philosopher of science.
One may, however encounter certain difficulties in Maslow's
books especially if the reader comes to him fresh from studies
that are purely analytical and descriptive. Things that
are quite clear to Maslow or have become quite clear, may
not seem so to the reader. He leaps along apparently sure
of his footing and where he is going, while the reader is
peering for familiar landmarks of meaning. 'Is all that
really there?' he may grumble to himself. At this point
it seems fair to urge that the internal connections of a
lot of things about human nature and possibility were clear
to Maslow because he had been thinking about them and working
with them for a long, long time. And at the level of his
work, the level which makes it valuable the connections
are internal. The unities he speaks of, one might stipulate,
are there, but to see or feel as he did requires that you
do the same kind of homework, pursue the same line of independent
and reflective research."
Pirsig: The reason I've quoted this last paragraph is
because I'm getting a lot of the same flack he got toward
the end where people just do not know what I'm talking about
and I'm afraid I've fallen into the same trap. I've been on
this Metaphysics of Quality [track], really for 33 years now
and things had seem enormously clear to me, just baffle
other people sometimes. I may have made a lot of omissions
in what I'd written in LILA and these omissions are deeply
angering to many people who are genuinely trying to figure
out what I am saying and so maybe this will be an occasion
in which I can make some amends by listening to your
questions and incorporating the answers in any future drafts
of the book.
One other point about Maslow was, which refers to this
same last paragraph of his "losing people" was
that, in a book, when you write a book you're expected to go
from point A to point B to point C to point D and progress
in a linear fashion and you're allowed, if you want to get
intellectual to proceed in a kind of hierarchic fashion or a
fishbone fashion where you can go to a point A and then
branch-out on sub-topics of A and come back and go down to
point B and branch out and come back and to C and branch out
and so on but generally you have to have that spine of your
fishbone that takes you right from the beginning of your
essay all the way to the end.
But when you get into the actual problems that Maslow
was getting into… the problems of the Metaphysics of
Quality as I have seen them you're getting into another kind
of structure completely which I would call a web. You go
from point A to point B and you find you have three choices:
go straight ahead, go to the right or to the left and you
take one [direction] and you go to your next node and you
have three choices and you go to right or left and so on and
after several nodes you say "Hey, this looks like the
node I've been at before!" and you find that, all of a
sudden you're making a circle even though you intended to
make a straight line path.
And so, a lot of trouble that I think Maslow had and a
lot of the trouble that I'd been having in the seventeen
years I had been worked on the meta-circles of Quality…
(laughs) [I mean] the Metaphysics of Quality is to keep from
spinning around endlessly in this web and try to come out
with something in the end. And I know that one line that
came to me all through this book was "Boy, you have
really bitten of more than you can chew this time" for
it just hit me at the time and on occasions [that] I had to
spit some of this book out and a whole chapter that had to
go because I just could not get them in. But in the last few
years I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel and
I said: "Alright, lets wrap this thing up, it may not
be a perfect book but its as good as ever I am going to do
and maybe somebody else can improve on it later."
I do have some answers to Chip's question of what the
MOQ has got to do with [psychotherapy], some detailed
answers but they're really not very well-informed answers.
As I said in the break earlier, there are answers which I
hope you will supply as well as I do and some answers we
could supply jointly as to how these things relate but for
now what I want to do is go back and in a rather prosaic,
boring way just say what the MOQ is.
To do this I took my computer files of both ZMM and LILA
and deleted every bit of the narrative first, that was my
first step because that is not important to the metaphysic
prime and it's a way of getting reader interest in it… and
a way of getting a kind of relief from this intense
abstraction that is going on there but basically, and a lot
of literary have complained of this effect but basically
LILA is not a novel, LILA is a metaphysics, in which LILA is
a kind of a shell to get people to read it and literary
people are justly angry that I have, kind of trapped them
this way but as far as I know this is the first metaphysics
in history that has ever gotten on the New York Times
bestseller list and if I have to trap people to get them to
read it then that's what I'm going to do because I think it
is an important metaphysics.
Okay, now… first of all we'll talk about ZMM as I'll
be calling it, to shorten the phrase, the ZMM proportion of
the MOQ. I've got two keys on my typewriter to type out ZMM
and MOQ as I'm using them all the time! ZMM has… in some
ways, what is the most important part of the Metaphysics of
Quality which is the build up. It is an inductive book. LILA
is a deductive book. Early in "Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance" I'd made an explanation of the
great differences in logic between induction and deduction
and applied them to the repair of a motorcycle.
In induction you build up from the details of your
experience. I think I used the example of when a motorcycle
hits a bump and the engine misfires and it hits another bump
and the engine misfires and in that way you learn to realise
that the bump is causing the misfire inductively. So what
ZMM mainly is, is a build up from the inductive experience
of the narrative into this final word of Quality and really
into what is the essence of the Metaphysics of Quality. It
starts out with a motorcycle trip with Chris, my son and two
friends of mine and a lot of this is taken as fact. It's a
pretty realistic story. John Sutherland is a real person and
Sylvia and Chris, of course, and I used the story simply
because it was easy and convenient. But the purpose of the
story is to gradually lay a groundwork in which the reader
begins to feel what the narrator is saying because he has to
have some dots later on and I wanted to establish some kind
of a narrative reality for him.
DeWeeses's House, Bozeman
And, we go through this story but we don't really get to
the word Quality until around page 120. We build all the way
through South Dakota and eastern Montana and we've gotten to
Bozeman and we're talking [with Bob] DeWeese and suddenly…
[The narrator] asks: "Did this person who was here ever
talk about Quality?" and DeWeese says "Yeah he
sure did, he knew a lot about it" and: "Anybody
here ever talk about anybody named Phaedrus?" "No,
I never heard that, you know" and now we're starting to
get into the mystery here and, of course, Phaedrus had been
built up as a kind of a mysterious character throughout all
this story and the reader is really kind of wondering what
he had on his mind, what was he doing, what was he up to,
what was his trick. And the idea again is to introduce them
to the beginnings of this philosophical thesis, that's been
on my mind for so long.' 'So Chris and the narrator in this
case go to a classroom in Bozeman and the Metaphysics of
Quality begins. Phaedrus is the shocked and apparently
deceased ghost of this story, was at Bozeman having a
terrible time teaching. Everything was wrong. Students were
forced to imitate and not create, and it offended his sense
of artistic honesty to tell them "This is right"
when he knew it wasn't necessarily right and they could do
it any old way and it could be right. That "right"
artistically is quite different from "right"
scientifically as we now use the terms because the
"right" is a wholeness, a feeling, it is not an
Phaedrus thinks that the grades may be the reason for it
and he tries to de-emphasise those grades by withholding
them and I think a lot of the students that read the book
like that chapter the best about withholding grades. That
really makes them think about what grades are… and all
that was true… all that was pretty…almost exactly as I
told it… that I was in the classroom, I had these terrible
problems, I was up until 3 o'clock one night trying to
figure out the problem of Quality.
Then there was a lady named Sarah, her name was Sarah
Vinke, she was known as "The Divine Sarah" and I
think she actually went, as a kind of a curious twist, I
think she actually attended the University of Wisconsin at
the same time as Abraham Maslow. She was a real artist at
teaching. She had been such an imaginative, creative person
that she had run the whole Department into a panic. It was
Verne Dusenberry, who was one of the teachers there, who
said that, that was the day that, that was the time that
"She" became a personal pronoun… or something
like that. The whole department went into chaos and she was
demoted, but when I came in she was in her last year of
teaching and she had some trouble with attendance, she had a
little bit of a trot as she came into the classroom and
everybody was saying "Oh well, this is her last
year" and that she had taught too many students and
she's really out of it. But she kept asking this question:
"Well, I hope you are teaching Quality", and I
said: "Oh, yeah". Well, this was just my first
year and I was snowed under with problems, I didn't know
what I was doing and I said "Oh yeah, I am teaching
Quality" and she knew I was lying and so she didn't put
on or led on, she just came back the next week saying
"Well, I'm so glad you're teaching Quality" and I
said, "Oh, yeah, I really am" and it's wonderful
and I am enjoying it all the time and she knew I was lying
and she kept at it over and over and over again and finally
forced me to ask the question: 'What in the hell am I
talking about here when I say that I am teaching
At a party once, that we were at, she said "I'm a
mystic!" and I said: "No you can't be a
mystic", and she said "Why not?" and, I said,
"Mystics never identify themselves as anything"
and she thought of that for a while and said "You're
right, I am not a mystic" thus proving I guess that she
was a mystic!" (laughs)
Anyway, we got into the question in the
classroom and… I can remember the window. I looked out over the mountains
and there was a little spot there [where] I watched the
storms come in from Idaho and sweep across the valley, the
same area where the film "A River Runs Through It"
was filmed; a most beautiful part of the world, a great
country and very distracting but at that time I was just in
this terrible quandary thinking about all these things… I
have some quotes here from the book. I said:
"I think there is such a thing
as Quality but that as soon as you try to define it something
goes haywire, you can not do it."
"Quality; you know what it is yet
you don't know what it is but that's self -contradictory.
That some things are better than others, that is, they have
more quality, but when you try to say what that quality
is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof.
There's nothing to talk about. But if you cannot say what
Quality is, then how do you know what it is? How do you
know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is …but
what else are grades based on? Why else would people pay
fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile?
Obviously some things are better than others then what's
the betterness? So round and round you go, spinning mental
wheels and nowhere finding any place to get traction . What
is Quality? What is it?"
A side note here is that Maslow, at one
point, comes to the same conclusion and I have a quote here
"It's my belief that as a concept
'value' will soon be obsolete, it includes too much, it
means too many diverse things, has too long a history. Furthermore
these very usages are not usually conscious. They therefore
create confusion and I am tempted to give up the word altogether.
It is possible usually to use a more specific and therefore
less confusing synonym."
Yet, here we are at a Conference entitled
"Values, The Heart of the Matter" (laughs) and
his prophesy in this case was not fulfilled. We are stuck
with this word Quality. We cannot get rid of it, it is here.
And in a sense that the MOQ is an acceptance of this fact
that Quality is here and that if we can't explain it we're
not going to get rid of the Quality. We have to adjust our
system of explanation in such a way that we can incorporate
Quality into a rational system of thought.
There is a parallel that has occurred in science that
caused the great classical crisis of the 1890's in science
where they found that if you travel toward light and measure
its speed you will get one constant speed which is extremely
accurate…it got out to 6 places or something like that
with a magnificent Michelson-Morley experiment if I recall.
If you travel away from light and measure its speed you will
get exactly the same speed! Now this is madness; that light,
when you're travelling toward it and when you're travelling
away from it travels at exactly the same speed i.e your own
speed and the speed of the light are not additive and not
subtractive and this is like saying 2+2=2!
And this was the basis of the profound crisis in the
sciences of the 1890's and the answer to that was:
"Well, if you can't change the speed of light then
you're going to have to change the whole system of Newtonian
mechanics that has been used up to now to measure
light." And the speed of light is here to stay, we
can't get rid of it but we can re-examine what we think
about our systems of measuring light and of course the
result of this is the Theory of Relativity.
Now, the MOQ is nowhere as close in complexity or
importance, I think, at this point at least to the Theory of
Relativity and I wouldn't make any claims to be another
Einstein but I think that the process is similar where what
is being said in the MOQ is that Quality is not going to go
away. And if our system of thought cannot comprehend what
Quality is and lay it out in a rational, orderly form then
we must modify our whole system of thought to accommodate
this existence of Quality, of value in our lives.
The MOQ is that attempt to completely up-end and change
the entire theory of the universe from a subject-object
theory of the universe that has existed in the past to a
metaphysics of quality, to a value-centred universe in which
suddenly you have a system of thought in which Quality is a
real, useable, rational term and in which no destruction is
made to subjects and objects as they are conceived in our
So, going back then to this, I would say that Phaedrus
did try it on the students and they were furious… and he
told them even though Quality cannot be defined you know
what Quality is. Since I am done with LILA I found another
interesting note on this. The Choctaw Indians you remember I
brought up do not distinguish in their language between
green and yellow, I'm not sure about that…if its green or
yellow or some other colour but there is this characteristic
in their language ( some listener suggests 'blue'). 'Oh,
blue and green, okay, very good, and this fact made me
wonder, do we have similar circumstances where differences
occur but we are unaware of them because our language does
not cover them, very much in the way that the Choctaw's are
unaware of this difference between blue and green.
Two words came up to me that I'd learned
in German class long ago. They are the words "kenntnis"
and "wissenschaft". Both words mean "to know".
We use the word in English "to know" the same
way and the two meanings of "kenntnis" and "wissenschaft"
are meanings "to know" as one would know one's
own mother's face, that's "kenntnis" and "wissenschaft"
would be to know as one knows Mesopotamian history. To us
they're both just forms of knowing but in German, I am told,
that they're very different, that they're regarded as two
entirely different entities …as different as blue and green
or as different as ice and snow as the Hindi language confuses
as one word. "Barf" I believe.
So it then occurred to me that Quality
is not easily understood by "wissenschaft" i.e.
knowledge by which you understand ancient history but you
can understand it so quickly through "kenntnis"
i.e. by acquaintance, you don't even have to think about
it. So here, this very interesting split is one which divides
on that word Quality. Quality you can know by "kenntnis".
"Say, it's good? Yeah, it's great, I like it".
You don't have to think about it, you don't have to analyse
it, you don't have to sit down. But when you say; "Why
do you like it? Give me the specific reasons, lay out your
framework for understanding your findings" and this
is a very difficult task.
Well, Phaedrus selected two examples, he got around this
problem by selecting two examples of student compositions.
The first example was a story that was very good and the
other story that was very poor and the students right away
recognised it by 'kenntnis', which ones they liked. He said,
don't think about them, just recognise them, just see them
and he went ahead with that.
English Department building at Montana State College
Then he started to run into trouble with the Faculty
there [at MSC]. He was a new instructor and the Faculty was
there a long time and they were asking reasonable and
logical questions. Some of them were University of Chicago
graduates and they had heard this old business about values
for a long time and they asked the almost classic question:
"Alright, are these values you're talking about in the
subject or are they in the object?"
The fellow who asked had the name Howard
Dean. He was the de-facto Head of the Department and he
wanted an answer to that question. He said: "You go
into your classroom and you go talking about values, all
right, come up [and] deliver with us too. I mean you may
buffalo your freshman students but we got a little more
sophistication here." So he was really in a spot… I
was really on a spot! Well, they gave [Phaedrus] a dilemma
He said: "Because if Quality lies
in the object, you got to ask yourself: 'If this is a high
quality watch I have to be able to say where it is in scientific
terms, I am going to find the Quality in the watch and you'll
find that if you examine it too closely the Quality isn't
in the watch, the quality is in my relationship to the watch
and other people might have a different relationship.'"
So the question came up: "Is it subjective? If it's
subjective, is it whatever you like?" And that was
unsatisfactory. [Phaedrus] went between the horns of this
dilemma, he went through it and he said: "Quality is
not subjective, Quality is not objective, Quality is a third
entity, which is neither one. It is independent of both
subjects and objects." Now you wouldn't normally assume
that's so but in logic it's a completely permissible
equation to take that third alternative and he took it. And
that was the beginning of this long structure: the MOQ…
Later, as he was climbing a mountain with Chris he began
to think: "Well, we can't have a three termed universe,
at least from a metaphysical point of view it's kind of
ugly." You have a lot of monisms around, metaphysical
monisms, you have a lot of metaphysical dualisms but you
don't have many metaphysical triads that I know and he just
didn't like it, you know, to have three things walking
around: subjects, objects and Quality, that isn't making
things any simpler, it makes things more complicated.
So he became very interested… and thinking in respect
of… well what's the relationship between subject, object
and Quality and he said, well it doesn't occur separately in
the subject exactly only as a referent, it doesn't occur
exactly in the object because you can't isolate it from the
object in any scientific way but he noted that it always
occurs when a subject and an object come into contact with
one another and he made the single change, he says: we
presumed that the subject and object are causing the Quality…but
he said No! It's the other way around, the Quality is
producing the subject and the object and that is I would say
the nuclei, the focus of the entire MOQ and there you have
it right there.
Question: Can you repeat that part?
Pirsig: Yeah, okay, I've got it here somewhere. He said
that Quality is not in the subject, it's not in the object
it's in the collision of the subject and object and that
this collision of the subject… that where we normally
assume that it is the subject and the object which collide
and produce Quality he says: "No, it is the Quality
which produces the subject and the object." Now, I'm
getting ahead of myself but he used some examples later on
and I used some examples later on in LILA of this very
process… The one, the example that I used [in LILA is]
when a baby is one month old has enormous sense of value but
doesn't know what an object is and that would be evidence
that values come prior in our experience to objects.
The second example was the example of the hot stove
which obviously has low quality but when you discover this
low quality you don't analyse it, you don't say: "This
is a stove, I see it as low quality I'd better get
off". You immediately get this Dynamic Value "I
don't know what but something is wrong" and you leap!
You know there is no analysis involved and this also
indicates that value occurs ahead of any subject-object
Thirdly, and this isn't in LILA or ZMM, it's one that
has been occurring to me since that time, is the act of an
artist, say a non-representational artist. He has an easel
in front of him, he has paint in front of him has a brush,
he puts it in and he is staring at a blank canvas: where
does he put it? Where does he put that brush down on the
canvas? Who is going to tell him? How is he going to know?
Is there any rules? There are no rules! He's going to
operate on, if he's a real artist, he's going to operate on
pure value. He'd say: "There!" And it will be a
non- mediated, non-intellectual process, he'll just go
"There"! And the reason I am quite sure this is so
is because what's true for a painter is also true for a
writer. It's occurred along, all these years in my work on
these books. I don't have any way of writing these books
except to sit there in my chair and wait for something to
come that has value…a word comes up and I say; "Okay,
that's good" and I write it down and a sentence comes
around the word and I say: "Okay, that's good".
And I look back and I say: "Wait a second, that wasn't
so good". And my Dynamic sense of Quality is moving on
and this sentence which I have just created becomes static
and all of a sudden there is a clash between the two and I
have a choice: "Do I stick with the static or do I move
on to the Dynamic?" And, in my case it has taken me 17
years because all the time I threw out the old and tried the
It's a rough tiger to ride. It can take you in the
territory you never expected to go. You can write books that
you never dreamed would exist. You can paint paintings that
nobody has ever seen before. I said to Chip last night,
"We don't know what we're going to say tomorrow. And
for that reason we're conducting this in a dynamic way, if
we get a good question we go on. If we don't, we go back to
our static notes". Which I think I will do!
Question: So that's how you determine Quality… this
compared to that?
Pirsig: No, no! Not Dynamic Quality! There
is a Dynamic choice that takes place and this is what I
used in the classroom with the students remember? I said,
"Look, I've got four essays here. Don't think about
why these four essays are better or worse, just sit there
and listen to them and make a choice as to which one you
find better of worse."
Question/comment: Yes, but it's a process, a comparative
Pirsig: Well, that intellectualises… My process is
just sitting there and waiting for the words, there is no
conceptualisation as I go there. I just sit there in a kind
of a zazen state. There is no process going on that I'm
aware of and this word just comes up, and this sentence
comes up and this concept comes up. What I do is I go there
in my room which is very silent at eight in the morning and
I may not come up with any process until eleven in the
morning. What will occur is just a dying away of junk that
is getting in the way of this pure value of Dynamic Quality
that I'm looking for. Okay?
Chip: There is another way to approach this question, I
think in that the comparative mode is reductionistic that
tends to be part of the static quality?
Pirsig: That's a feeling I got. If I were to sit there
and make a comparison consciously, it would be a bummer…
Comment: Right, I agree with that. I'm suggesting that
that is valid because once you've made that comparison you
go on to another choice and so therefore you walk forward in
Quality. Our dichotomy here, for me explains why you aren't
consistently, or at all apparently, attaching an adjective
like "better" quality, "worse" quality.
You aren't attaching the "what" in there which
would be a very natural word to put in there. You aren't
doing that, you aren't in any way doing that…
Pirsig: I'm not subordinating Quality to the object…
Comment: That's right…
Pirsig: When I say better quality or worse quality, I am
subordinating Quality to the object. I'm saying, this is a
better watch, this is a better notebook… but…
Comment: Is there another way around that?
Pirsig: I'm not skirting around that. I
am coming through in such a way that my sense of value is
bringing that thing up. The process is not one of conscious
selection. I do not put the intellectual process on top
of the Dynamic Quality process. Not in my creative work…
Question? If value doesn't inhere in either
the subject or the object, and we react to it on a non-intellectual
basis as you indicated in your recent comments is this not
a sort of , that it is some sort of transcendental or even
Platonic in that philosophical sense which we tune into
when we address a student essay or a watch or whatever…
am I correct in my view?
Pirsig: I think that is correct, yes.
Question: My question is leading to the intuitive value
of it… you quiet your mind, you get a lot of back ground
noise out the room, are you tapping into your intuitive self
or is it the innate good that you are addressing?
Pirsig: The term "intuitive" is a competitive
word with Quality actually. Intuitive, I see as a mixture of
Dynamic Quality and emotional quality or some biological
quality. But I do see what you mean by intuitive in this
particular context, I think it's what I mean by Dynamic
Question: One thing I am a little confused about is the
word Quality as a description of the character and nature of
the thing versus its level and as well as its level, its
level of performance in one context. And secondly, what I
see in this context is that when one is sitting in that
state, in a sense he is or she is the vehicle of what writes
upon that imagination, and that person just transfers it to
Pirsig: That's the feeling, that's the feeling exactly…
the Quality just flowing through you, you know, you are just
keeping the junk out of the way and some of this junk is
intellectualisation. If you stop and say: "Jeez, I am
writing a good thing here…" as soon as you start
thinking about it you're out of business you know... I sit there and the Dynamic
edge of things simply says that what went yesterday is not
good enough. And I suppose my Dynamic Quality… oh no, that
doesn't sound right. But things do change and things do
improve and what I will do in writing… Usually it's a terribly
depressing feeling to go back and see that something you
thought was wonderful isn't and what I often do, in that
case, is write what I call 'crit-slips' which are just a
damnation of everything I wrote the day before because my
mood, my feeling is so pathetic, so outraged that I had
failed again… [Though] I don't say it, it is often a comparative
process but it is not exclusively a comparative process…
I use "this is better than that."
I say the whole basis of morals is… that comes later in
the thing, says that some evolutionary processes are better
than other evolutionary processes; society better than biology
when there's a conflict between them. So I'm not quite sure
where our conflict is at this point if there is in fact
Maybe we are getting into static values here, is that
correct? The value of a family for example. Is that what you
Question: Can you describe what the difference is
between Dynamic Quality and static quality?
Pirsig: The two are entirely huge, different
realms of [reality] as I have divided them. Now, you're
not supposed to really divide Quality. In fact, as I've
said in this book that you shouldn't. But if you're going
to have a metaphysics you go ahead and do it anyway. It's
just a kind of an exercise in life, you only can sin once,
now I'm going to sin against Quality by dividing it into
two parts. The Dynamic aspect of Quality is that Quality
which I associate most closely with Zen Buddhism. When I
was talking about ZMM I was referring primarily to Dynamic
Quality, and in LILA, at one point I said "I can beat
my gums on this forever."
In fact many people have and nobody is
going to know what I'm talking about so why don't I talk
about what it isn't. Sometimes you can define something
in terms of what it isn't rather than in terms of what it
is. So, I said, alright, and Dynamic Quality isn't anything
inside the encyclopedia… that [contains everything] static.
Everything that we can name, everything that we can think
about, everything that we can conceptualise, all our rituals…
whatever we are as a living person is static.
Dynamic is this up welling… well it isn't anything I
can tell you. This is what you'll hear every minute from the
'Zennies'. But you can discover it if you work on it. But
you won't discover it by conceptualisation and this is a
huge problem that Zen teaching has. You see it over and over
again and this is why they sound so screwy, in their koans
and everything. What they're trying to do is get you to stop
conceptualising and start experiencing. But even that's
wrong because I'm getting into concepts…
Chip: Can I add to that. One way of looking
at the differences to my way of understanding is… sort of
on the level of the… principle of static quality and Dynamic
Quality. You could think in terms of the principle of static
quality as that which coheres, which holds together, which
maintains form, structure. It's pinned down in that sense.
So, it'll be that… I don't even know if you can call it
a "force" but that [aspect of] Quality which does
that. Dynamic Quality would be the Quality which expands,
which unfolds, which leaves behind form… it de-structures…
it's a state of flux…
Question: 'What is the role of attitude before you hit
Dynamic or even static? Does it exist? I'm not sure it
Pirsig: It's a word I hadn't fitted in at all in the MOQ.
On the surface I don't know, I'll try to think about it but
I'm not sure if I'll come up with the right attitude, to use
that word. I would say that "attitude" is a static
set that somebody has, facing a new situation. They use it a
lot in aerodynamics, you know, the plane has a certain
attitude and somehow that word comes to mind but, hey, I'm
just spitting this off, I haven't thought about this at all.
It's the condition of your karma perhaps, to use an oriental
word which puts you in a certain relationship to this
I would say it's a cultural pattern which is a mixture
of intellectual ideas and social relationships to things.
And also has an emotional content, a biological content. I
guess it might be a front with which one presents to new
experience as it's coming in. If I have a bad attitude
today, whatever comes in the door or down the chute I am not
going to like, you know, because my karmic predisposition
has put me in a negative mood.
Question: Bob, just a few questions. One is, what if the
book came out and no one bothered to read it… what would
you do then?
Pirsig: Yeah, well that's interesting. I would certainly
be disappointed… no it's just plain disappointment. I
don't know if this is relevant to your question but I often
wonder what I've been spending these last 17 years, whether
anyone is going to read it and if it's a total wild goose
chase this whole book. My attitude has been that, that's not
my responsibility. My responsibility is to do the best I
can. And when that has been done I am finished. And if
people don't like it that's their problem; that's not my
problem and I don't think that I can survive without that
Questioner: In other words do you see a monistic
"It" as static or Dynamic?
Pirsig: If I am intellectualising, that's one thing. If
I am experiencing… getting into a problem here… [that's
another thing]. There's the Quality of Zen and there's the
Quality of the MOQ and they are not the same thing any more
because the MOQ is an intellectual static pattern and
already it has been polluted plenty to get into that pattern
and all of a sudden there's… you're taking sides and
things, you're picking and choosing you know and in Zen
you're not supposed to do that: you don't pick and choose.
I'll give you that koan, that's a good one: "The
Way is not difficult except to avoid picking and
choosing" that's a famous koan and the Quality that's
Quality is arrived at not by picking and choosing.
Question: I was going to ask: It seems to me we think in
static terms but we act in Dynamic terms and so the
dichotomy between the static and Dynamic is not real for
most of us. Is it your position that one should act without
the benefit of the static and just rely on the Dynamic?
Pirsig: No, the two should be combined. They are
combined whether you want them to be or not. I've said, I'm
not sure if it is in the book, I have said (and this is very
theoretical and not very true… it's a metaphysical
statement and not a Zen statement, if I can make that
distinction) that the apprehension of pure Dynamic Quality
is the entry into Nirvana and it occurs very rarely. That in
all of our life right now, in almost all of our lives there
is a mixture of the two. And in some the Dynamic aspect
dominates, and it has a fresh and vibrant new feeling and in
some the static dominates. And as Maslow said at the
beginning: you have a choice between growth and safety and
if you are banning static quality, you're in a mess, you are
going to be lost and I think that maybe some people, who are
clients, are in that situation. I don't know.
On the other hand, if you go the other
way around and you abandon Dynamic Quality it gets you into
a frozen and rigid position and you cannot move and cannot
do anything so… You use your intuition or you use your Dynamic
process; you try to base it on as much static information
as you can get. An example, I sometimes use [is] the stock-market
[which] is a wonderful index of Quality, you know! It just
goes up and down and when you are buying a stock you are
going to get all your static information you can about that
company and at the same time, when it finally comes down
to calling up the broker and land on the bucks you want
to stop and think "Am I really doing the right thing?"
and, ultimately, it is sort of a moment of truth where either
you buy or you don't buy and I would say that that moment
End of Tape one.
to Tape Two, please click on the following link:
(1) Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) is one of
the founders of Humanistic and Trans-personal Psychology.
He is most widely known for his 'hierarchy of needs'.
(2) Rollo May (1909-1994) is one of the most important
figures in Existential Psychology.
Andre Broersen with minor amendments by Dr Anthony McWatt,
For more details about Chip Baggett's humanistic work and the
AHP, please visit the following websites at:
of Quality: A New Paradigm”
recording (AHP93-003) from which this transcript is derived
can be purchased (on cassette) from: