Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Robert M. Pirsig

American Writer and Philosopher best known for his book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values" and "Lila: An Inquiry into Morals"

"For three days and three nights, Ph‘drus stares at the wall of the bedroom, his thoughts moving neither forward nor backward, staying only at the instant. His wife asks if he is sick, and he does not answer. His wife becomes angry, but Ph‘drus listens without responding. He is aware of what she says but is no longer able to feel any urgency about it. Not only are his thoughts slowing down, but his desires too. And they slow and slow, as if gaining an imponderable mass. So heavy, so tired, but no sleep comes. He feels like a giant, a million miles tall. He feels himself extending into the universe with no limit. He begins to discard things, encumbrances that he has carried with him all his life. He tells his wife to leave with the children, to consider themselves separated. Fear of loathsomeness and shame disappear when his urine flows not deliberately but naturally on the floor of the room. Fear of pain, the pain of the martyrs is overcome when cigarettes burn not deliberately but naturally down into his fingers until they are extinguished by blisters formed by their own heat. His wife sees his injured hands and the urine on the floor and calls for help. But before help comes, slowly, imperceptibly at first, the entire consciousness of Ph‘drus begins to come apart ? to dissolve and fade away. Then gradually he no longer wonders what will happen next. He knows what will happen next, and tears flow for his family and for himself and for this world."

"From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it."

"From that original perception of the Indians as the originators of the American style of speech had come an expansion: The Indians were the originators of the American style of life. The American personality is a mixture of European and Indian values. When you see this you begin to see a lot of things that have never been explained before."

"Funny thing about insane people... is that it is kind of the opposite of being a celebrity. Nobody envies you."

"God, I don't want to have any more enthusiasm for big programs full of social planning for big masses of people that leave individual Quality out."

"Good is a noun rather than an adjective."

"He comments on how amazing it is that everything in the universe can be described by the twenty-six written characters with which they have been working. His (Korean) friends nod and smile and eat the food they've taken from tins and say no pleasantly."

"He felt that institutions such as schools, churches, governments and political organizations of every sort all tended to direct thought for ends other than truth, for the perpetuation of their own functions, and for the control of individuals in the service of these functions. He came to see his early failure as a lucky break, an accidental escape from a trap that had been set for him, and he was very trap-wary about institutional truths for the remainder of his time."

"Historically mystics have claimed that for a true understanding of reality metaphysics is too scientific. Metaphysics is not reality. Metaphysics is names about reality. Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty-thousand-page menu and no food."

"How are you going to teach virtue if you teach the relativity of all ethical ideas? Virtue, if it implies anything at all, implies an ethical absolute. A person whose idea of what is proper varies from day to day can be admired for his broadmindedness, but not for his virtue."

"However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It?s not very factual on motorcycles either."

"Huge body of common knowledge that unites our minds as cells are united in the body of man."

"I am Ph‘drus, that is who I am, and they are going to destroy me for speaking the Truth."

"I argued that physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn't mean much."

"I don't get how it's okay to keep someone alive once they're sick - but not okay to stop them getting sick. I just don't get that."

"I go on living, more from force of habit than anything else."

"I have money, fame, a happy wife, our daughter Nell."

"I have seen these marshes a thousand times, yet each time they're new. It's wrong to call them benign. You could just as well call them cruel and senseless, they are all of those things, but the reality of them overwhelms halfway conceptions."

"I hope later she will see and feel a thing about these prairies I have given up talking to others about; a thing that exists here because everything else does not and can be noticed because other things are absent."

"I like the word ?gumption? because it?s so homely and so forlorn and so out of style it looks as if it needs a friend and isn?t likely to reject anyone who comes along. I like it also because it describes exactly what happens to someone who connects with Quality. He gets filled with gumption."

"I really don't mind dying because I figure I haven't wasted this life. Up until my first book was published I had all this potential, people would say, and I screwed up. After it, I could say: No, I didn't screw up."

"I spit on my glove tips, touch it and can see the sizzle. Not good."

"I think if we can prevent a fatal disease, we should."

"I think metaphysics is good if it improves everyday life; otherwise forget it."

"I think now the trace of egotism may have been the beginning of all his troubles."

"I think present-day reason is an analogue of the flat earth of the medieval period. If you go too far beyond it you're presumed to fall off, into insanity. And people are very much afraid of that. I think this fear of insanity is comparable to the fear people once had of falling off the edge of the world. Or the fear of heretics. There's a very close analogue there."

"I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle? I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important and products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right."

"I think this fear of insanity is comparable to the fear people once had of falling off the edge of the world. Or the fear of heretics?What?s happening is that each year our old flat earth of conventional reason becomes less and less adequate to handle the experiences we have and this is creating wide-spread feelings of topsy-turviness. As a result we?re getting more and more people in irrational areas of thought? occultism, mysticism, drug changes and the like?because they feel an inadequacy in classical reason to handle what they know are real experiences."

"I was an outsider who seemed more interested in attacking what was being taught than learning from it."

"I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. "What's new?" is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question "What is best?," a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and "best" was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for."

"If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government."

"If I hold my head to the left and look down at the handle grips and front wheel and map carrier and gas tank I get one pattern of sense data. If I move my head to the right I get another slightly different pattern of sense data. The two views are different. The angles of the planes and curves of the metal are different. The sunlight strikes them differently. If there's no logical basis for substance then there's no logical basis for concluding that what's produced these two views is the same motorcycle."

"If Quality were dropped, only rationality would remain unchanged."

"If someone's ungrateful and you tell him he's ungrateful, okay, you've called him a name. You haven't solved anything."

"If you eliminate suffering from this world you eliminate life. There's no evolution. Those species that don't suffer don't survive. Sometimes the insane and the contrarians and the ones who are the closest to suicide are the most valuable people society has. They may be the precursors of social change. They've taken the burdens of the culture onto themselves and in their struggle to solve their own problems they're solving problems for the culture as well"

"If you get careless or go romanticizing scientific information, giving it a flourish here and there, Nature will soon make a complete fool out of you. It does it often enough anyway even when you don't give it opportunities."

"If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened."

"If you stare at a wall from four in the morning till nine at night, and you do that for a week, you are getting pretty close to nothingness."

"If you?re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool. If you haven?t got that you might as well gather up all the other tools and put them away, because they won?t do you any good."

"If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then it might be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas."

"In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming."

"In his attempt to unite the Good and the True by making the Good the highest Idea of all, Plato is nevertheless usurping aret‚'s place with dialectically determined truth. Once the Good has been contained as a dialectical idea it is no trouble for another philosopher to come along and show by dialectical methods that aret‚, the Good, can be more advantageously demoted to a lower position within a "true" order of things, more compatible with the inner workings of dialectic. Such a philosopher was not long in coming. His name was Aristotle."

"In our highly complex organic state we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality. We throw anyone who does not accept these analogues into an insane asylum. But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it."

"In recent times we have seen a huge split develop between a classic culture and a romantic counterculture... two worlds growingly alienated and hateful toward each other with everyone wondering if it will always be this way, a house divided against itself."

"In the high country of the mind one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty."

"In the temple of science are many mansions... and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them there."

"In this allegory the seeker, trying to reach the One, is drawn by two horses, one white and noble and temperate, and the other surly, stubborn, passionate and black. The one is forever aiding him in his upward journey to the portals of heaven, the other is forever confounding him. The Chairman has not stated it yet, but he is at the point at which he must now announce that the white horse is temperate reason, the black horse is dark passion, emotion. He is at the point at which these must be described, but the false note suddenly becomes a chorus."

"In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. What?s new? is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question What is best?, a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. There are eras of human history in which the channels of thought have been too deeply cut and no change was possible, and nothing new ever happened, and best was a matter of dogma, but that is not the situation now. Now the stream of our common consciousness seems to be obliterating its own banks, losing its central direction and purpose, flooding the lowlands, disconnecting and isolating the highlands and to no particular purpose other than the wasteful fulfillment of its own internal momentum. Some channel deepening seems called for."

"Institutions such as schools, churches, governments and political organizations of every sort all tended to direct thought for ends other than truth, for the perpetuation of their own functions, and for the control of individuals in the service of these functions."

"Is it hard?' Not if you have the right attitudes. Its having the right attitudes that?s hard."