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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 - Part 2



Continued from Part 1...

This is the second tape of the “Metaphysics of Quality: A New Paradigm for Values & Healing” with Robert Pirsig and Chip Baggett.

Chip: It's come to my attention before even starting back as I was mentioning to some people about AHP and they didn't even know they were at an AHP function so, and I gather I made a fallacious assumption that everybody knew what this was so I just wanted to welcome you. This is the Association for Humanistic Psychology Annual Conference. We do this every year and there's a Midwest Conference also in Indianapolis. And AHP, the initials, is what is sponsoring this workshop and has brought Bob Pirsig in.

So welcome to AHP and if you haven't signed up for the rest of the Conference, just get a hold of an on-site program and look because you may find some really interesting things here and you are more than welcome to…and you don't have to be a psychologist. One thing that AHP is not is that it's not an exclusive professional organisation.

You heard him talk about Abraham Maslow… he was far more expansive in his thinking than just about psychologists. And AHP is for the most part I think an intentionally dynamic association and rooted in a lot of static things. But you're very welcome to hang around and get dynamic with us.

Something else… I've had several people approach me saying they're still real hungry to hear more of the theory that Bob has been writing about and so what we'd like to do now is get off our other course. We were going to do something experiential and save that until after lunch because that will be a very easy move-in into what about the clinical applications and take the rest of this time, or at least most of the rest of this time, rather than to take questions just to have Bob talk about LILA and the further development of the MOQ.

Pirsig: This actually came at a pretty good time, a pretty good break here. What we've been talking about and the questions we've been hearing and getting into your questions that were raised in… ZMM. That is the inductive portion. We started with the experience in the classroom and worked up and then we started asking questions about the central idea of Quality which was arrived at in ZMM: the idea that Quality is the source of all things; it is not subordinate to anything.

Now, in LILA we shift into another kind of book entirely. We're getting into a deductive book. Instead of working from experience into principles we're working from principles back down to experience.

I have here in my notes the statement that: "One of the greatest difficulties every artist or composer or writer faces is to keep from becoming an imitation of himself. In LILA there is a conscious effort to do that. ZMM was a rather inspirational book ; it made everybody feel better in the end. LILA is a confrontational book. Everybody in it dislikes everybody else, nobody understands anybody else, everybody's fur is constantly getting rubbed the wrong way including the fur of many readers. Phædrus has changed from a romantic mystery figure into a rather disagreeable intellectual. The setting is grotesque and depressing and so is the plot."

So why, you may wonder did I write it? (laughs)

Well, originally the intent was just to forget about Quality and write about Indians. But books have a mind of their own. They tell you what they want. For some reason this book just wanted to be cross and depressing. I never knew why when I was I was writing it. But now maybe, I subconsciously felt that the MOQ was way too important to be sugar-coated. Its primary concern is not what is popular. Popularity is a social goal. Its primary concern is truth. And when you say: 2 x 2 = 4 you shouldn't have to say it in a way that is pleasing to its audience. It's 4! No matter how crossly you say it.

And the feeling as I wrote LILA was: "Look, this is what I believe, take it or leave it" you know. And it was just that kind of declaration all the way through. A lot of people have left it but I just heard during the interim that it has been picked up in Berkeley in a huge way by their students. And this is a wonderful surprise to me. I hadn't heard that and the question was asked earlier: "How would I feel if nobody read the book?", I tell you, I feel damn good that a lot of people [have read the book], students particularly in Berkeley; students have always been my strongest crowd at the freshman/sophomore junior level. Their minds are open, they are very dynamic. When they get to my age they tend to rigidify in their thinking but when they are young, they have new ideas and I know if I can make it with them I can make it through history because they are going to be old later on and the ideas they've picked up in ZMM and LILA are going to get damn static when they grow up and they are not going to listen to anybody who has any other opinions.

Well, anyway, we're shifting into LILA now and the structure of LILA is that of a philosophic discourse contained within a narrative. Although people might think of it as something that I have originated, it is not new at all. Aesop's fables are a mixture of narrative and moralising. "The Mahabharata", India's most sacred book, is a mixture of narrative and moralising in which an entire action of a battle is stopped while Krishna and Arjuna argue about how moral the whole battle is.

There is also a kind of Japanese play called the Noh-play (3) which influenced me very strongly in my undergraduate days in which moral issues are embedded in a narrative or in a play and those who've seen the movie "Rashomon" (4) and who were impressed by it, realised that a huge part of its strength was the moral issue of what is truth, who tells it, how do we know [when] you see [it]? And when I think of all the films that I've seen that one has struck me as one of the strongest of all. It was because it contained this moral sense within it and moral question.



Well, in ZMM the narrative comes to dominate the intellectual portion of the book, the metaphysics. In LILA the metaphysics clearly dominates the narrative. The three main characters are metaphysical chess-pieces. Lila embodies biological values, Richard Rigel embodies social values and Phædrus embodies intellectual values. The reason none of them get along is because their values are mis-matched and this is quite deliberate and it is not a thing a good novelist does. A good novelist does not plot his books where his characters become chess pieces but this is primarily a metaphysical book and I have taken that liberty of doing that.

Within LILA there are two huge divisions which are not very apparent to the reader. The first part of the book, up to about chapter 13 is what we call high level exposition in which we start with the basic ideas, the basic philosophy of the MOQ. And then in the second part of the book we get to low level exposition in which concrete examples appear of how the world is when these high level principles are applied.

Now this created an enormous, perhaps the major creative problem for me in the book. Because, and it's really what has blocked a lot of expected sales of the book, because it's just too hard at the beginning. I couldn't get around this problem. If you're going to be deductive you start with the hard part and you go to the easy part and when somebody is reading your book and they hit that hard part they never do get to the easy part. They just get stopped and this has happened to a lot of readers.

I used to call some of these chapters the 'snow-drift' chapters in the early part. If you live in the part of the country I come from, Minnesota, you know that in certain parts of the winter, the snow starts to blow across the road and if you're driving across those things you can either stop for them and you'll never get through or you just go right on through and which you have to do to read LILA in some cases just gun through those snow-drift chapters until you (some people are smiling who've had that experience)... get to the good stuff on the other side.

Now, I will break down the high level exposition. The first part is the difficulty of the perception of the MOQ:

"The idea that the world is composed of nothing but moral value sounds impossible at first ( I am now taking condensed material from LILA). Only objects are supposed to be real. 'Quality' is supposed to be just a vague fringe word that tells what we think about objects. The whole idea that Quality can create objects seems very wrong. But we see subjects and objects as reality for the same reason we see the world right-side up although the lenses of our eyes actually present it to our brains upside down. We get so used to certain patterns of interpretation we forget the patterns are there."

"Phædrus remembered reading about an experiment with special glasses that made users see everything upside down and backward. Soon their minds adjusted and they began to see the world 'normally' again. After a few weeks, when the glasses were removed, the subjects again saw everything upside down and had to relearn the vision they had taken for granted before."

"The same is true of subjects and objects. The culture in which we live hands us a set of intellectual glasses to interpret experience with, and the concept of the primacy of subjects and objects is built right into these glasses. If someone sees things through a somewhat different set of glasses or, God help him, takes his glasses off, the natural tendency of those who still have their glasses on is to regard his statements as somewhat weird, if not actually crazy."

"But he isn't. The idea that values create objects gets less and less weird as you get in to it. Modern physics on the other hand gets more and more weird as you get into it and indications are that this weirdness will increase. In either case, however, weirdness isn't the test of truth. As Einstein said, common sense, non-weirdness, is just that bundle of prejudices acquired before the age of eighteen." (LILA, Chapter 8)

And here I've dropped into the example that I gave to you earlier of Einstein's work on the Theory of Relativity where… he found a fact that he could not change. So instead of holding up his hand saying, this is just an impossible enigma, he changed his whole system of understanding so that the fact could be incorporated. And this is again, this is what the MOQ tries to do. It tries to change our whole system of understanding so that we can incorporate into it values; that values can be as real to us as objects.

Now, the MOQ has to defend itself against two kinds of opponents. Once you get into metaphysics you automatically get in on this. There's no question about it, it's what metaphysics is about. You set up a position and somebody tries to knock it down and you try to defend it and maybe knock his position down and that's how we learn through metaphysics and that's what this is. The first group of opponents are mystics. The two kinds of hostility to metaphysics he considered the mystic's hostility actually to be the more formidable. Mystics share a common belief that the fundamental nature of reality is outside language. That language splits things up in parts while the true nature of reality is undivided. Historically mystics have claimed that for a true understanding of reality, metaphysics is way too scientific. And if you spout metaphysics at a mystic or a Zen group, for example, they'll say "Well, you're off the track, you don't know what you're talking about, it's got nothing to do with metaphysics." In a sense that is true.

Metaphysics is names about reality. Mystics will tell you that once you have opened the door to metaphysics you can say goodbye to any genuine understanding of reality. Thought is not a path to reality. It sets obstacles into that path because when you try to use thought, to approach something that is prior to thought, your thinking does not carry you toward that something it carries you away from it. To define something is to subordinate it to a tangle of intellectual relationships. And when you do that you destroy real understanding. (See LILA, Chapter 5)

Now, the central reality of mysticism, the reality Phædrus had called "Quality" in his first book is not a metaphysical chess piece. It really isn't. Quality doesn't have to be defined. You understand it without definition, ahead of definition. Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.

Quality is indivisible, un-definable and unknowable in the sense that there is a knower and a known. But a metaphysics can be none of these things. A metaphysics must be divisible, definable and knowable or there isn't any metaphysics. So a metaphysics is essentially a kind of a dialectical definition and since Quality is essentially outside definition this means that a "Metaphysics of Quality" is essentially a contradiction in terms, a logical absurdity. That is a kind of a recursive thing where I have defined my own metaphysics as being absurd. And it's a kind of a Zen stunt, actually to say, I am telling you all this stuff and as soon as you understand it you better forget it because the real Quality is not anything I can tell you about…

Now, I say, the second group [of opponents] are the philosophers of science. Most particularly the group known as logical positivists who'll say that only the natural sciences can legitimately investigate the nature of reality. A metaphysics is simply a collection of un-provable assertions that are unnecessary to the scientific observation of reality (I think behaviourist psychology takes that point of view).

For a true understanding of reality metaphysics is too mystical. Positivism is a philosophy that emphasises that science is the only source of knowledge. It sharply distinguishes between fact and value and is hostile to religion and traditional metaphysics. It is an outgrowth of empiricism: the idea that all knowledge must come from experience and is suspicious of any thought, even a scientific statement that is incapable of being reduced to direct observation. Philosophy, as far as positivism is concerned, is limited to the analysis of scientific language.

Now, although positivists claim that science operates without metaphysics, the MOQ reveals that there is a very tyrannical metaphysical system in place [in positivism]… the metaphysics of subjects and objects.

"But it didn't matter. The Metaphysics of Quality not only passes the logical positivists' tests for meaningfulness, it passes them with the highest marks. The Metaphysics of Quality restates the empirical basis of logical positivism with more precision, more inclusiveness, more explanatory power than it has previously had. It says that values are not outside of the experience that logical positivism limits itself to. They are the essence of this experience. Values are more empirical, in fact, than subjects or objects. (See LILA, Chapter 5)

I've said that the MOQ is a hard-nosed scientific defence of the views of Abraham Maslow. This statement that values are more empirical than subjects or objects is the tip of that hard nose. I don't think they can refute it that values are more empirical than and so on... So at this point I use the hot stove example which I have already given you…

("Any person of any philosophic persuasion who sits on a hot stove will verify without any intellectual argument whatsoever that he is in an undeniably low-quality situation: that the value of his predicament is negative. This low quality is not just a vague, woolly-headed, crypto-religious, metaphysical abstraction. It is an experience. It is not a judgment about an experience. It is not a description of experience. The value itself is an experience. As such it is completely predictable. It is verifiable by anyone who cares to do so. It is reproducible. Of all experience it is the least ambiguous, least mistakable there is. Later the person may generate some oaths to describe this low value, but the value will always come first, the oaths second. Without the primary low valuation, the secondary oaths will not follow.")

I mentioned the baby example but I haven't gone into that. The baby example is pushed hard to illustrate this point:

"One can imagine how an infant in the womb acquires awareness of simple distinctions such as pressure and sound, and then at birth acquires more complex ones of light and warmth and hunger. We know these distinctions are pressure and sound and light and warmth and hunger and so on but the baby doesn't. We could call them stimuli but the baby doesn't identify them as that. From the baby's point of view, something, he knows not what, compels attention. This generalized 'something,' Whitehead's 'dim apprehension,' is Dynamic Quality. When he is a few months old the baby studies his hand or a rattle, not knowing it is a hand or a rattle, yet with the same sense of wonder and mystery and excitement created by" …some previous examples that I had given in the book.

I've said that if the baby ignores this force of Dynamic Quality it can be speculated that he will become mentally retarded, but if he is normally attentive to Dynamic Quality he will soon begin to notice differences and then correlations between the differences and then repetitive patterns of the correlations. But it is not until the baby is several months old that he will begin to really understand enough about that enormously complex correlation of sensations and boundaries and desires called an object to be able to reach for one. This object will not be a primary experience. It will be a complex pattern of static values derived from primary experience which is Quality itself.

In this way static patterns of value become the universe of distinguishable things. Elementary static distinctions between such entities as 'before' and 'after', 'like' and 'unlike' grow into enormously complex patterns of knowledge that are transmitted from generation to generation as the mythos, the culture in which we live. (See LILA, Chapter 9)

Next topic: The MOQ says that you can divide Quality into two parts: an un-definable part and the definable part. (And we've been on this bit now for quite a few questions but I'll go over it anyway.) The un-definable part is called Dynamic Quality and is the only part described in ZMM. It is the part of Quality about which everyone agrees. The experience of Dynamic Quality is the same for everyone and it is only the experiences and objects which are mentally associated with experience which are different. It says there is no difference in liking when the liking is independent of the things liked. Dynamic Quality is the pre-intellectual cutting edge of reality, the source of all things, completely simple and always new.



When Alfred North Whitehead wrote that 'mankind is driven forward by dim apprehensions of things too obscure for its existing language,' he was writing about Dynamic Quality. And that is the moral force that motivated the brujo in Zuñi. It contains no pattern of fixed rewards or punishments. Its only perceived good is freedom. Its only perceived evil is static quality itself- any pattern of one-sided fixed values that tries to contain and kill the ongoing free force of life.

The negative aesthetic quality of the hot stove in the earlier example is now given some added meaning by a static-Dynamic division of Quality. When the person who sits on the stove first discovers his low-Quality situation, the front edge of the experience is Dynamic. He does not think, "This stove is hot" and then makes a rational decision to get off. A 'dim perception of he knows not what' gets him off Dynamically. Later he generates static patterns of thought to explain the situation, which is what Chip and I were saying here.

An understanding of Dynamic Quality is the goal of mysticism (This is another point. A subject-object metaphysics presumes that this kind of Dynamic action without though is rare and ignores it where possible. But mystic learning goes in the opposite direction and tries to hold on to the Dynamic edge of all experience both positive and negative even the Dynamic ongoing edge of thought itself. "The purpose of mystic meditation is not to remove oneself from experience but to bring oneself closer to it by eliminating stale, confusing static intellectual attachments of the past." (See LILA, ibid.)

Now, the defining part of this split in Quality called static quality is the main concern of traditional knowledge. Static quality "…emerges in the wake of Dynamic Quality. It is old. It is complex. It always contains a component of memory. Good is conformity to an established pattern of fixed values and value objects. Justice and Law are identical. Static morality is full of heroes and villains, loves and hatreds, carrots and sticks. Its values don't change by themselves. Unless they are altered by Dynamic Quality they say the same thing year after year… Life can't exist on Dynamic Quality alone. It has no staying power. To cling to Dynamic Quality alone apart from any static patterns is to cling to chaos." (See LILA, ibid.)

That's not quite true. I take that… it's in the book but I am about to recant because a lot of chaos theorists are coming on and saying that Quality and chaos are the same thing and they're not. They are almost the antipodes of experience.

"He saw that much can be learned about Dynamic Quality by studying what it is not rather than futilely trying to define what it is. Static quality patterns are dead when they are exclusive, when they demand blind obedience and suppress Dynamic change. But static patterns, nevertheless, provide a necessary stabilizing force to protect Dynamic progress from degeneration. Although Dynamic Quality, the Quality of freedom, creates this world in which we live, these static patterns of quality, the quality of order, preserve our world. Neither static nor Dynamic Quality can survive without the other. (See LILA, ibid.)

The division between static and Dynamic allows an answer to the question of why Quality is perceived differently by different people. This was a question that was left hanging in ZMM. It almost prompted this book. It was a deep problem. I had asserted that Quality is the same for everybody yet if you look around you find that almost nobody agrees completely as to what has Quality. And the question was, well, "Why is that so?".

Well, [the MOQ] allows the answer of 'Why?'

It says it can now answer that Dynamic Quality is universal. No-one says his liking for beans is any different from someone else's liking for carrots independently of the beans or carrots involved. Where the differences occur, they are the result of static patterns which vary from one person to another. The person who likes beans better may have had a mother who forced carrots on him when he was little and that is an historic static pattern that created that preference.

Now, the next division: The MOQ organizes static patterns into four groups: "inorganic, biological, social, intellectual. It says they are exhaustive. That's all there are. If you construct an encyclopedia of four topics, these four- Inorganic, Biological, Social and Intellectual- nothing is left out. No 'thing' that is. Only Dynamic Quality, which cannot be described in any encyclopedia, is absent. But they are not exclusive. They all operate at the same time and in ways that are almost independent of one another." (LILA, Chapter 12)

This classification of patterns is not very original, but the MOQ allows an assertion about them that is unusual. They are not continuous. They are discrete. They have very little to do with one another. Although each higher level is built on a lower one it is not an extension of that level. As the higher level gets more sophisticated… it starts out as an extension of that level, society starts out as an extension of biological needs. But as society continues it starts to go off in directions of its own which are very independent of any particular biological need. Tribe dancing for example. It really serves no biological need but it is a social pattern which has evolved and which has gone off in its own direction. The MOQ asserts that this is true of all of the levels. As it goes off in opposition to the lower level it tends to dominate it, controlling it where it is possible for its own purposes. (See LILA, ibid.)

I think (and now we are starting to get close to psychotherapy and psychological practice in which we are seeing) according to the MOQ, that society is not necessarily an extension of man's biological needs. Society often exists in OPPOSITION to man's biological needs and as we will say later, the basis of morality IS this opposition, at least of conventional morality, of social needs to biological needs. Rape is a biological need. Society prohibits it. It says you will destroy society if you allow it. So these two are enemies; biological quality and social quality… but we'll get to that, I'm jumping ahead a little bit.

I am saying: "This observation is impossible in a substance-dominated metaphysics where everything has to be an extension of matter. But now, atoms and molecules are just one of four levels of static patterns of quality and there is no intellectual requirement that any level dominates the other three. An excellent example to the independence of the levels, Phædrus thought, was the relationship of hardware to software in a computer. In trying to explain social moral patterns in terms of inorganic chemistry patterns is like trying to explain the plot of a word processor novel in terms of the computer's electronics."

I stated that you can search with an oscilloscope from now until the end of eternity inside a computer but you will never find the novel that's in it. And I thought about that for a long time. For some reason I said [to myself], "Gee, is that true?" You know, eternity is a long time and you can find out a lot of things in eternity but I reasoned it out and said human capacity is limited and so I would maintain that this level of software in a computer operates with relationship to the hardware in a computer very much the way mind operates in relationship to matter (and perhaps we can get into that later).

I say [in LILA that] the exact relationship of these levels to each other is evolutionary. This evolution is directed toward Dynamic Quality. And then I spend a good deal of time, a number of chapters, tracing this out through various forms of evolution as going up, saying that going back into the history of the theory of evolution which started with Jean Baptiste Lamarck who was a perfectionist. He claimed that evolution was heading toward perfection which is a synonym for Quality. And there's been a long feud in evolution [theory] between the perfectionists (who are largely supported by church groups) and the (I suppose you can call them) scientific evolutionists who claim there is no pattern toward which life is headed and who dominate the field at present.

The MOQ seems to resolve that dispute between these two people… It says that… the scientific evolutionists would say that there is no pattern toward which evolution is headed. And, of course, the MOQ says there doesn't need to be a pattern toward which evolution is headed when it's headed toward Dynamic Quality. There isn't any pattern but the Dynamic Quality is there so it does resolve this problem of these two.

Now… a number of these philosophic problems are solved by the MOQ and I am skipping over most of these. A lot of time is spent on major historic problems that the MOQ solves. One of these is the reality problem of Poincaré. The question of why is the reality which is most acceptable to science, to physics one which no small child can understand. It's a very…it seems like well, why should it be? At first you say why should children have to understand science? But if science as describing reality [this] is really puzzling. You'd think that reality is something everybody should understand. The MOQ solves this.

It goes into the causation problem which is an advanced historic metaphysical problem which is mainly of concern outside psychology. It goes into the free-will problem, it goes into the substance problem, it goes into the soft-science problem, the mind-matter problem, the morals problem. (See LILA, Chapters 8 &12)

So what I am saying is that when you take Quality and put it at the centre of your understanding of the world, all of a sudden stuff which has been very confusing and very difficult to understand becomes cleared up. And I spend a number of chapters going into this and these of course are the snow-drift chapters because I felt that… I had to do these. I had to get through them because if I didn't… talk about these problems and show that the MOQ had solved them I was going to cut out an end of my audience which I absolutely have to have; which are the top philosophers. This was a sacrifice I made when I said, "Alright, I'll go into these topics. I'll gain these philosophers who were rather condescending towards ZMM who said, 'well he's given us a skeleton but he hasn't really given us a philosophy'." This time you've got philosophy and I am answering their high level questions but I lost a lot of readers with those (and I'll try not to lose you by not going into them).

The soft-science problem… the last three, the soft-science problem, the mind- matter problem, the morals problem are the most important to the study of psychology. The soft- science problem is the… if science is the study of substances and their relationships then the fields of cultural anthropology and psychology are scientific absurdities. This is what is stated:

"No scientific laboratory instrument has ever been devised that can distinguish a culture from a non-culture (or a mind from a brain). But if science is a study of stable patterns of value then cultural anthropology…" and psychology become supremely scientific fields. (LILA, Chapter 8)

This is an area I think that can be very closely watched.

Now, the mind-matter problem is one which has devilled psychology from its infancy. I have never seen a psychology book in my life that didn't get into the mind-matter problem and it just goes on and on and on.

It says that "If the world only consists of patterns of mind and patterns of matter, what is the relationship between the two? If you read hundreds of volumes of philosophy available on this matter you may conclude that nobody knows - or at least nobody knows well enough to convince everybody else. There is the materialist school which says reality is all matter which creates mind. And then there is the idealist school which says it is all mind which creates matter and there is the positivist school which says that this argument can go on forever; drop the subject."

"This would be nice if you could, but unfortunately it is one of the most tormenting problems of the physics to which positivism looks for guidance. The tormenting occurs not because of anything discovered in the laboratory. Data are data. It is the intellectual framework within which one deals with the data that is at fault. The fault is within subject-object metaphysics itself." (See LILA, Chapter 12)

So what the MOQ does is that it places between 'mind' and 'matter', biology and society and it shows the evolution between these two… When you get into problems of 'mind' and 'matter' one of the relations of …I would maintain is that, when you trace the mind back through the culture that produced the mind and back through the biology that produced the culture you would then get to 'matter'. But if you try to short-circuit those two and say what is the direct relationship of mind to matter I don't think you've got one.

And… there's another question we can raise.

Now, problem of evolutionary purpose… I went into that, moral problem… we're getting toward an end here and I want to get down to the problem which is the essence for me the most important of… not the essence but the most important part of the MOQ and that is that it establishes a morality. A scientific morality. Quality is morality. They are identical.

"The MOQ says that if moral judgments are essentially assertions of value and if value is the fundamental ground-stuff of the world then moral judgements are the fundamental ground-stuff of the world." (LILA, Chapter 12)

The world is primarily a moral order.

"It says that even at the most fundamental level of the universe, static patterns of value and moral judgment are identical. The 'Laws of Nature' are moral laws. Of course it sounds peculiar at first and awkward and unnecessary to say that hydrogen and oxygen form water because it is moral to do so. But it is no less peculiar and awkward and unnecessary than to say chemistry professors smoke pipes and go to movies because irresistible cause-and-effect forces of the cosmos force them to do it..."

"So what Phædrus was saying was that not just life, but everything, is an ethical activity. It is nothing else. When inorganic patterns of reality create life the Metaphysics of Quality postulates that they've done so because it's 'better' and that this definition of 'betterness' - this beginning response to Dynamic Quality - is an elementary unit of ethics upon which all right and wrong can be based." (LILA, Chapter 12)

Now, it says as a subset of this that there, what we see because of these different levels, that there is not just one moral system, there are many. And these are named as a morality called the Laws of Nature by which inorganic patterns triumph over chaos. There is a morality called the 'Law of Jungle" …where biology triumphs over the inorganic patterns of starvation and death. There is a morality called social patterns which are called 'The Law', and which social patterns triumph over biology. And then there is the final struggle, the final morality which is perhaps the most crucial one we have today and that's the struggle… well, we have two of them actually: One, there is the struggle between intellect and society, and this has been coming to me very much in the last few months since LILA was written, how profoundly deep this struggle is between popularity-dominated people and truth-dominated people.

(It's come up in response to my book to some extent that I lost a lot of readers because ZMM was a popularity-dominated book. The narrator in ZMM was talking into the ear of the reader and he was whispering sweet things. It says, you know what Quality is and everything is nice everything is fine. There is this evil guy Phædrus, he's somebody else and don't listen to him. And Phædrus appears to this narrator in dreams he comes back and he's angry because Phædrus is a truth-dominated person. He says, "You dirty cheat, he says, you know, you are lying to this audience!" The narrator, the real ghost, the real villain according to Phædrus of ZMM is the narrator who is telling the story. And very few readers understood that as I wrote it, that he is a sell-out! He is a person who has abandoned truth! They threw him in the hospital and said: "You are not going to get out until you see things our way" and he said: "Okay, I see things your way". And this occurred. But at the same time as he went back into life and learned to adjust to society and become a valuable part of the community he learned to become a damned successful liar. And in his dreams Phædrus comes back and he says: "You liar!" "You cheated!")

And so in the second story Phædrus comes out, who is not really me either. Phædrus comes out and he is telling the truth. He'd say, look here is what I think is true. I don't care if it is popular or not. This is what I thought when you threw me in the hospital, this is what I think now that I'm out. And take it or leave it. This is his attitude you see.

And so, this conflict which is in all of us, between popularity and truth is extremely important . I had some friends come to our house. They were very interested in what I was saying and in a sense we became… my wife and I became the therapists, de-facto therapists unofficially and they had a lot of problems getting interested in Zen so they wanted to hear what I said.

They had a lot of troubles with their lives. They'd been fired from many jobs. They'd been constantly getting into quarrels. It was just a wonder they were still married but they hung together. And I analysed the situation for them and I said, your trouble is you are truth-seeking people. You are truth dominated people. And they hate you for it and they'll kill you for it. You've got to learn to stop telling the truth! I said, "If somebody really wants to hear the truth, give it to them. You know, if they say, look what do you really think? But don't go around just telling any truth you feel when people aren't looking for it, because they are going to get mad and they hate you and they are going to fire you from your jobs. You're going to get all sorts of problems."

Realise these two different levels that exist. Truth and popularity. That is domination by a social level or domination by an intellectual level. And be sure you are in the right one when you are talking to the right people. Fortunately, I am with a group of psychologists here and I am throwing the truth at you as hard as I can. You're taking it pretty well. But a lot of the readers… who are literary people did not like it. They said, this guy is too domineering. He thinks he knows it all. He's not sugar-coated. He's not presenting it in a nice polite, diplomatic way, the way the narrator was of ZMM. And they felt a great disappointment in the book for this reason. (Well, here we are. I have a feeling I am exhausting you about this point. Not so?)

Comment: No!

Okay. You know, many critics say that my 'asides' are much better than my main thesis and this was just an aside. I got in here and suddenly everybody woke up but I'm almost through the high level exposition. Morality was the end of it. But I'll go back now to the main thesis.

Comment: In psychotherapy, of all the things I am thinking about is that truth is always what the client says. Not what you think.

Pirsig: Your truth is going to be a one-sided position and before you can exchange truths or hear truths, there has to be a social cohesion occurring. There has to be a group feeling. It says, these people want loyalty. They don't want truth. They want to feel that you are on their side you know. And then, maybe when you're close friends tell them some things that won't hurt their feeling too much, but, you know will help them a little bit.

I am sure when you get into your practice, every client who comes to you is, you know, has some wacky ideas. I am sure that some of them you just cannot accept these things as truth. And yet, this is what happened to me. I mean, this whole MOQ is some wacky ideas that I was propounding. Although that wasn't why I was put away. It was other things, I must say. In all honesty, I only want to tell you the truth there is a lot of other behaviour that was being censured by society. Yes?

Question: I wonder if you would reconsider something you said at the beginning after the break when you talked about how important the students were to you and where you said that the older they get more rigid. I would disagree with that because you are here as a model and I am sure that there are a lot of people in this audience that are old who are also… Pirsig interjects: "It's a fight, don't you think, to stay loose?" "Yes, you're right and this crowd particularly is one that is known for this". Yes?

Comment: And I think there is a concept, another concept at least for some people and that is that while you may be liberal and open when you're young you become more conservative when you're old. And the obverse when those people who have been more conservative in your youth you may become more liberal and open when they're older.



Pirsig: It can happen. There is a famous quote which I quote all the time to people. In this famous title of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi's book "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind" which says: "In the beginners mind there are many possibilities and in the expert's mind there are few". He was addressing a group of students and he says: "It is easy for you to have beginners mind because you are a beginner. But when you stay in this business for ten, twenty, thirty years then try to keep that beginners mind." He says one of the purposes of the discipline of Zen is to keep emptying your cup, throw away your old ideas, get back to your beginners mind, start all over again, see things new and live a full life.

And I think you will be hearing from Chip that this kind of thing is what's recommended in psychotherapy too.

Now what more do I have to say here? Let me see...


(Start of Tape two, Side two)


Pirsig: I am almost through the high level exposition. Morality was the end of it and this might be a good place to take some sort of a relaxation.

Chip: Maybe this would be a good time for people who have specific questions about the points you were making which you could clarify?

Pirsig: Okay. While they are all fresh in your minds right now.

Question: In the LILA book there is this sailboat thing isn't it. There is a different task. Could I rephrase my question as I don't think I was heard before? You said earlier, if I've caught your words that the central idea of MOQ is that Quality is the source of all things and not subordinate to anything…?

Pirsig: Dynamic Quality, yes.

Q: Okay, in that sense is Dynamic Quality static or Dynamic?

Pirsig: Dynamic Quality is Dynamic, yes. Actually we're getting right at the old Zen problem. To show you Dynamic Quality by not going talking about it. I say, we are having it here every second all the time.

Q; Is it 'changeless' that's what I am asking.

Pirsig: Yes!

Q: It is change-less?

Pirsig: There is nothing there to change!

Q: That's what I believe and I was hoping that you would say that. But I really wanted to know if you would… .

Pirsig: Actually this is getting to an area of abstraction where the words become kind of meaningless. Whether it is change-less… This…boy, this takes me back to Benares, India when they would debate whether it was all One or all Nothing. The Buddhists say it is all Nothing and the Hindus say it is all One and they both mean the same thing. And whether Dynamic Quality is changeless or changing is, at the level of Dynamic Quality irrelevant. That is about the best answer I can give you.

Q: I have a question about what you mentioned earlier, just quickly, about Chaos Theory.

Pirsig: Yes, this came in on me kind of in the backdoor and I don't know much about the Chaos Theorists. But they got a letter saying "Boy, you know a lot about Chaos Theory, this Quality is the same thing". And I said, wait a second, it isn't the same thing. But now, what have we got? I would say as I have thought of it and I haven't really thought it through that chaos is at the low end of inorganic quality. That inorganic quality starts out of chaos evolving toward Dynamic Quality. There is a problem there too in 'evolving toward Dynamic Quality' because you cannot evolve toward something that is already there. So we get into all kinds of hang-ups when we get into metaphysics.

Q: Well, we're getting into the chicken and the egg thing. You really have to go back to your first premise where you're talking about the static and Dynamic creating the Quality versus the question is the Quality in fact what creates the Dynamic and the static? As if we're talking about "Spirit" and what is the infusion of the impulse of being "It"? It is difficult.

Pirsig: My feeling when dealing with this level of metaphysics is that somehow I turn on and somehow I turn off. And that's all I can say. When I hear people talking about, I'll be reading various books on metaphysics. I read Plotinus for example, he's a very, not so well known metaphysician who actually enormously influenced St. Augustine. He was the last of the pagan philosophers of about 200 B.C. Plotinus is right on. Some people even claimed he got his information via Egypt from India and so on, but this is not possible. He got his information from Dynamic Quality which is, you don't need to go to India to get it. But other philosophers that I read, I see, they are getting rather warmer, they are getting rather close. Boy they sound right and they are right. But it just doesn't ring and that is not a very precise way of saying it but you know what I am talking about.

Chip: To me it sounds very much also like what Lao Tsu was talking about. The whole Taoist principle. It's hard to explain one in terms of the other and to say which comes first. There is the Tao. There's the One and the ten thousand. Ten thousand as an expression of the One but the One is, not even sure if I can say this but the One is prior to the ten thousand. It's not the same thing but they are in a kind of a movement, I think you use the word 'flow'. It even makes me wonder if it's not related to the whole idea of, I believe it was Heisenberg's "Uncertainty Principle"? I believe that's the one where light if you approach it, approach an understanding of light from one point of view it appears as 'particle' and if you approach it from the other it is 'wave'. But according to traditional physics it's got to be either one or the other. But that experiment shows that it is only on some level it is either/or. On another level it is obviously the same. It's sort of the same kind of dilemma.

Question: "….is there a 'The Truth' or any 'truth'?"

Pirsig: When I was referring to how truth alienates people I'm thinking of a particular set of ideas, of doctrines. I am thinking of an intellectual pattern when I refer to truth. That's one kind of truth which I have used as true. Now, there is an artistic truth which is very much of a Dynamic thing where a guy says, "Boy, this painting is… right." And it's an artistic truth. It is not an intellectual truth primarily. It's a just feeling of 'rightness'…




Comment: …that is the projected truth. It is a little bit as writing a book about truth. It is still subjective truth…

Pirsig: Well when someone uses the word 'subjective' that has almost become a red flag word for me as I have been working against it for so many years…

Interjection: …but it is though …how can you prove a truth?

Response to interjection: I disagree.

Pirsig: Okay, good.

Pirsig: He said that he did not think that a truth could be subjective.

Interjection: Well, give me a truth that is not subjective.

Pirsig: Two times two equals four.

Interj: What if people say that that is not true?

Chip: Now, a truth that would not be subjective would be, and I can quote from Christian Rorty who said: "What is, is". Once you begin to define it in a particular way the definition of it perhaps becomes subjective. It would have to be because how else would you define it other than through a subjective reality? Then the question is: "Is there something universal that is definable subjectively?" And then what is that something? You're suggesting that there is no 'something'. It's only subjective and I think that the Dynamic of Quality would take to differ.

Pirsig: I try another example. I'll make a statement: "This watch is on the table".

Interj: From the level of observation that we both have of the watch...

Pirsig: That may be so but nevertheless the watch is on the table. That is a true statement.

Q: Is this positivism or…

Pirsig: No, it is empiricism. It is just where we start is true. When I'm saying: "I see a watch on the table" I am sure that nobody is going to deny that this is true. You see, let's start from where we are rather than from theory. As I say; this watch is on the table: this statement is true. Now, if somebody came in and say: "No, there is no watch on the table" what would we do?

Interj: But if an ant…?

Pirsig: Yes, alright, for us it is true. Truth is an intellectual pattern and ants do not share intellectual patterns so they don't count here.

Chip: That very fact here that you just presented would you call that a truth? The very idea that you just presented, that truth is subjective is that truth? Or is that simply a subjective idea? You see the problem is that you get into solipsism which is you begin to define yourself by the self that's defining itself and then at that point… .

Q: Wouldn't it be just helpful to recognise if we have something tangible like the watch and the table. It's easy to see both or two. But the intangible is more difficult. Then it gets more difficult to say what isn't true. Like, "What's true love?" Well, try that one. Can that become subjective then?

Pirsig: Well, I wouldn't call it subjective. You see it's a pattern of values, true love but …

Interjecting: How do you feel about the watch?

Pirsig: I'm going to take it with me when I go. It won't be on the table. And that's true.

Q: Isn't it true that you find that watch a beautiful watch and I find that watch an ugly watch that…

Pirsig: Yes, that's true. Those are values we're getting into and it is true that I think the watch is good. And it may be true that you think the watch is not good. The whole question of truth is the basic work of science and I have no quarrel with science on the matter of truth. As I say, no quarrel with science on the matter of truth. What I'm saying here is… the MOQ is empirically based and has no contradiction that I know of to scientific truth. Yes?

Q: Going back to Quality and morality there seems to be so much similar between the static and the flow… I mean there are similarities there that his ideas that the culture that produces the lowest moral with a culture relative to that one …you have cultural differences… you have a culture that produces a flow that has the highest morality…

Pirsig: It sounds like the culture that is more Dynamic is superior to the culture which is more static.

Comment: [Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi] found that, in a study of students who wrote essays when they were anxious produced fragmented work… and who were bored produced boring writing but students with 'flow' produced more Quality. It seems almost to be synonymous.

Pirsig: I think I know what he means. There are states I've had which are very like that in my own writing where I'm either over-enthusiastic about the work and have to throw it away. Or I am under-enthusiastic about the work and I throw away perfectly good stuff. I've had both occur and I'm sure you all have too. The best state for writing is always a kind of neutral state. Where you are not charged for it and not charged against it. But you're nevertheless completely with it. It's not a state in which you're ignorant of it.

Question about populism and truth. "What is going on there?" (??)

Pirsig: Well some people will value loyalty more than they will value truth… loyalty to other people. If you're in an organisation and I've been in many, where you tell the boss what you think of him, you may be true but he wants loyalty more than he wants truth. Unless he is a very exceptional boss. There are some who are.

Question: What about the reviews of your book, about Phædrus and truth?

Pirsig: Well they just say this person is arrogant. This person is not the kind of person we love. He is not a kind of person we feel close to. He's a person who is dividing. Intellectuals frequently have this stigma attached to them of being unpopular. In high school, you know, the nerds are never the popular people.

Comment: Can I answer that one for you? I would say that the reason why some people don't like truth is because truth is often critical of the status quo, anti the institution or someone's work. And people generally don't like to be criticised. Institutions are kind of like self-fulfilling prophesies and they do whatever is necessary to maintain themselves. And anyone against it and make comments that are perceived as a threat to the Church or to an organisation…they're dangerous. You use the term which I was really shocked at. You talked about the metaphysical trauma (??) in your book and some people I know were into this trauma (??) and they'd go around saying things that they think are true. And they maybe true. But if the truth is not perceived as something complementary and reinforcing of the institution or the organisation then it is perceived as a treat and the person is a threat. Loyalty is better because it reinforces the institution… and society.

Chip: That gets back to the safety versus growth. That can be on a personal level too. If you say something to me that may well be true and it doesn't fit what I want to think about myself because it violates my personal need. Then there is something that is contradictory. Therefore I would be alienated by that.

Comment: It's not truth. It's an opinion.

Chip: Well, that's an opinion. I'm not trying to be glib with you. It does get into the whole issue of … and I think maybe one way to resolve the question of, is there Truth with a capital "T" versus truths with a little "t" meaning personal truths. It may be that what we could say is that everything follows the law of the order of the reality that it is in. And we may be talking about different orders of reality. So, my personal truth… then it has real clear delineation within that realm. But that's not the same realm as… if you want to say Truth with a capital "T". Rather than it being either/or maybe its more like a looking at different orders of reality and then truth is defined by that order.

Q: I have a little difficulty understanding what you talk about is morality. Because, like truth it tends to be a convention we use to sustain our concept of reality and in… aspects of the matter-world, matter of the Universe is in fact amoral and out of that the higher part is attempting to somehow to determine to what use is that defining the character of morality.

Pirsig: The MOQ says that there is no aspect of the universe that is amoral, but that there are different kinds of morality. Some of which look very amoral from other kinds of morality. You might say a spider is amoral in his digestion of a fly but we apply a social morality to that spider because we would get feelings that we should not do something of that sort. However, from a biological point of view the spider is preserving itself. It's keeping its life going and it is engaged in a survival of the fittest which is a moral act on the part of the spider.

I hope this morals is gonna go. Of all the aspects of this MOQ this is the one which is the dearest to my heart. That people stop saying: "We don't… this is what I am afraid of… huge scene among psychiatrists… "We don't make moral judgements, we just describe things". And I say: "Please start making moral judgements. Please say to your patients what is right and what is wrong."

They want to know, I wanted to know. And maybe you're going to tell them something that is right or wrong from only a social point of view… But to me the need to say that some things are better than others, the need to say what is right and what is wrong is an integrating need. It's something that will pull us all together whereas amoralism has fragmented us as a society.

Comment: But some patients are too developmentally arrested to appreciate a level of morality they are only interested in themselves… so that you might have to, for a long period of time, agree with them… and not point out what they're doing is unethical.

Chip: Because of time let me do a quick response. One thing about the morality is, that he talks about in LILA, is to make a distinction between Victorian social morality and a morality of Dynamic Quality. So that, in that sense morality is not something you impose but a natural way that one naturally moves towards. So coming back to that one, that's got to be, of course coming from a psychotherapeutic standpoint, it's got to be sensitive to the pace of the person with you so it wouldn't be like telling them what is right. It would be more like clearing away obstacles that allow a natural movement towards that integration. And it's not your personal preference so much as a fundamental principle.

(Erm, having said that I'm also aware that's it's five to twelve. Shall we take an hour and half for lunch?!)


The next session continues on the third tape (transcribed here).


(3) Noh drama (established in the 14th century) is the oldest surviving form of Japanese theatre. It combines music, dance, and acting to communicate Buddhist themes. Often the plot of a Noh play recreates the famous scenes from well-known works of Japanese literature such as "The Tale of Genji" or "The Tale of the Heike". The typical Noh play is not a dramatic re-enactment of an event but its re-telling. For a fuller introduction go to which is a comprehensive website on the Japanese Noh Play. (4) Rashomon (1951). Directed by Akiro Kurosawa. This landmark film is a brilliant exploration of truth and human weakness. In the film, four individuals witness an horrific crime. Each then recounts the story with absolute honesty but in mutually contradictory ways. The Rashomon effect is the "effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it." ( The film won the Golden Lion Award in Venice and received an Oscar in the category 'Best Foreign Film'.

(4) Rashomon (1951). Directed by Akiro Kurosawa.

This landmark film is a brilliant exploration of truth and human weakness. In the film, four individuals witness an horrific crime. Each then recounts the story with absolute honesty but in mutually contradictory ways. The Rashomon effect is the "effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it." (  

The film won the Golden Lion Award in Venice and received an Oscar in the category 'Best Foreign Film'.      


(Transcribed by Andre Broersen with minor amendments by Dr Anthony McWatt, January 2012)



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



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