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The transcript of the “Metaphysics of Quality: A New Paradigm for Values & Healing” discussion featuring Robert Pirsig with Leland ‘Chip’ Baggett from

 

“THE HEART OF THE MATTER:

VALUES FOR A WORLD COMMUNITY”

CONFERENCE

 

July 29th - August 1st, 1993

 

San Diego, California

 

Recorded by Michael Brant

 

 'From 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 process, okay?

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, okay?

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 Freudianism."

"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, self validating."

Pirsig: And here I see Quality coming into Maslow's terms:

"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 said:

"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 thing.

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 no possibility."

"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.

The 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 analytical process.

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 Quality?"

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 that says:

"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 present metaphysics.

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.

The 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 here.

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 awareness.

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 new.

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 process…?!

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 Quality.

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 the paper…

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 one.

Maybe we are getting into static values here, is that correct? The value of a family for example. Is that what you mean?

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 exists.'

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 oncoming experience.

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 attitude.

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 is Dynamic.

End of Tape one.

To continue 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.

 

(Transcribed by Andre Broersen with minor amendments by Dr Anthony McWatt, October 2011)

 

 

 For more details about Chip Baggett's humanistic work and the AHP, please visit the following websites at:

 

www.ahpweb.org & www.ahppress.org

 

 

The Metaphysics of Quality: A New Paradigm recording (AHP93-003) from which this transcript is derived can be purchased (on cassette) from:

 

www.conferencerecording.com