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"

"It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that."

"It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling."

"It is an immortal dialogue, strange and puzzling at first, but then hitting you harder and harder, like truth itself. What Ph‘drus has been talking about as Quality, Socrates appears to have described as the soul, self-moving, the source of all things. There is no contradiction. There never really can be between the core terms of monistic philosophies. The One in India has got to be the same as the One in Greece. If it's not, you've got two. The only disagreements among the monists concern the attributes of the One, not the One itself. Since the One is the source of all things and includes all things in it, it cannot be defined in terms of those things, since no matter what thing you use to define it, the thing will always describe something less than the One itself. The One can only be described allegorically, through the use of analogy, of figures of imagination and speech. Socrates chooses a heaven-and-earth analogy, showing how individuals are drawn toward the One by a chariot drawn by two horses."

"It is not good to talk about Zen, because Zen is nothingness... If you talk about it, you are always lying, and if you don't talk about it, no one knows it is there."

"It made the kids at camp much more enthusiastic and cooperative when they had ego goals to fulfill, I'm sure, but ultimately that kind of motivation is destructive. Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we're paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it's a hollow victory. In order to sustain victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That's never the way."

"It says there are two basic kinds of Quality, an undefined Quality called Dynamic Quality, and a defined quality called static quality. Static quality is further divided into four evolutionary divisions: inorganic, biological, social and intellectual. Our entire understanding of the world can be organised within this framework. When you do so things fall into place that were poorly defined before, and new things appear that were concealed under previous frameworks of understanding. The MOQ is not intended to deny previous modes of understanding as much as to expand them into a more inclusive picture of what it's all about."

"It took me more than a week to deduce from the evidence around me that everything before my waking up was a dream and everything afterward was reality. There was no basis for distinguishing the two other than the growing pile of new events that seemed to argue against the drunk experience. Little things appeared, like the locked door, the outside of which I could never remember seeing. And a slip of paper from the probate court telling me that some person was committed as insane. Did they mean me?"

"It was the ghost of rationality itself... This is the ghost of normal everyday assumptions which declares that the ultimate purpose of life, which is to keep alive, is impossible, but that this is the ultimate purpose of life anyway, so that great minds struggle to cure diseases so that people may live longer, but only madmen ask why. One lives longer in order that he may live longer. There is no other purpose. That is what the ghost says."

"It?s important now to just live with this and not fight it mentally? mind control."

"It?s paradoxical that where people are most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities of the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest?The explanation is that the physical distance between people has nothing to do with loneliness. It?s psychic distance."

"It?s the objectivity, the dualistic way of looking at things underlying technology that produces the evil."

"It's better not to see than to see wrongly."

"It's nice to start journeys pleasantly, even when you know they won't end that way."

"It's normal at this point for the fear-anger syndrome to take over and make you want to hammer on that side plate with a chisel, to pound it off with a sledge if necessary. You think about it, and the more you think about it the more you're inclined to take the whole machine to a high bridge and drop it off. It's just outrageous that a tiny little slot of a screw can defeat you so totally."

"It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest. Back where people were so spread out in western Oregon and Idaho and Montana and the Dakotas you'd think the loneliness would have been greater, but we didn't see it so much."

"It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top."

"I've noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this... that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon. They associate metal with given shapes... pipes, rods, girders, tools, parts... all of them fixed and inviolable, and think of it as primarily physical. But a person who does machining or foundry work or forge work or welding sees "steel" as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not."

"I've wondered why it took us so long to catch on. We saw it and yet we didn't see it. Or rather we were trained not to see it. Conned, perhaps, into thinking that the real action was metropolitan and all this was just boring hinterland. It was a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth,'' and so it goes away. Puzzling."

"Just as women's bodies are softer than men's, so their understanding is sharper."

"Lightning hits! Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching! Not ethical relativism. Not pristine "virtue." But aret‚. Excellence. Dharma! Before the Church of Reason. Before substance. Before form. Before mind and matter. Before dialectic itself. Quality had been absolute. Those first teachers of the Western world were teaching Quality, and the medium they had chosen was that of rhetoric."

"Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there's no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls."

"Like trying to keep a fatman out of the refrigerator. 'Lila"

"Logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom. This is Zen. This is my motorcycle maintenance."

"Making an art out of your technological life is the way to solve the problem of technology...Art is anything that you can do well. Anything that you can do with Quality."

"Making... an art out of your technological life is the way to solve the problem of technology."

"Man is not the source of all things, as the subjective idealists would say. Nor is he the passive observer of all things, as the objective idealists would say. The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things. The measure of all things."

"Many of the older Sophists were selected as "ambassadors" of their cities, certainly no office of disrespect. The name Sophist was even applied without disparagement to Socrates and Plato themselves."

"May, will you please, kindly DIG it, he remembered one of them saying, and hold up on all those wonderful seven-dollar questions? If you got to ask what IS it all the time, you'll never get time to KNOW."

"Mental patterns do not originate out of inorganic nature. They originate out of society, which originates out of inorganic nature. And, as anthropologists know so well, what a mind thinks is as dominated by biological patterns as social patterns are dominated by biological patterns and as biological patterns are dominated by inorganic patterns. There is no direct scientific connection between mind and matter. As the atomic scientist, Niels Bohr, said, We are suspended in language. Our intellectual description of nature is always culturally derived."

"Mental reflection os so much more interesting than tv [that]it's a shame more people don't switch over to it. They probably think what they hear is unimportant, but it never is."

"Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty thousand page menu, and no food."

"Metaphysics is names about reality. Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty-thousand-page menu and no food."

"Miles later and the heat is just ferocious. Sunglasses and goggles are not enough for this glare. You need a welder?s mask."

"Morals can't function normally because morals have been declared intellectually illegal by the subject object metaphysics that dominates present social thought"

"Most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there's no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls."

"Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you are no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It?s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow."

"My favorite piece of technical writing: Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind."

"My personal feeling is that this is how any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that's all. 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. These can be left alone for a while. There's a place for them but they've got to be built on a foundation of Quality within the individuals involved. We've had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, and now it's just about depleted. Everyone's just about out of gumption. And I think it's about time to return to the rebuilding of this American resource...individual worth. There are political reactionaries who've been saying something close to this for years. I'm not one of them, but to the extent they're talking about real individual worth and not just an excuse for giving more money to the rich, they're right. We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption. We really do."

"Nell teaches aspects of parenthood never understood before. If she cries or makes a mess or decides to be contrary (and these are relatively rare), it doesn't bother. There is always Chris's silence to compare it to. What is seen now so much more clearly is that although the names keep changing and the bodies keep changing, the larger pattern that holds us all together goes on and on. In terms of this larger pattern the lines at the end of this book still stand. We have won it. Things are better now. You can sort of tell these things."

"No one sees it yet, but they will soon enough. The Chairman of the Committee on Analysis of Ideas and Study of Methods has just been shot down in his own classroom."

"Not everyone understands what a completely rational process this is, this maintenance of a motorcycle. They think it's some kind of a "knack" or some kind of "affinity for machines" in operation. They are right, but the knack is almost purely a process of reason, and most of the troubles are caused by what old time radio men called a "short between the earphones," failures to use the head properly. A motorcycle functions entirely in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself. I said yesterday that the ghost of rationality was what Ph‘drus pursued and what led to his insanity, but to get into that it's vital to stay with down-to-earth examples of rationality, so as not to get lost in generalities no one else can understand. Talk about rationality can get very confusing unless the things with which rationality deals are also included."

"Now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth?but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it."

"Now he is speechless. He can't think of a word to say. The silence which so built his image at the beginning of the class is now destroying it. He doesn't understand from where the shot has come. He has never confronted a living Sophist. Only dead ones."

"Now I want to begin to fulfill a certain obligation by stating that there was one person, no longer here, who had something to say, and who said it, but whom no one believed or really understood. Forgotten. For reasons that will become apparent I'd prefer that he remain forgotten, but there's no choice other than to reopen his case. I don't know his whole story. No one ever will, except Ph‘drus himself, and he can no longer speak. But from his writings and from what others have said and from fragments of my own recall it should be possible to piece together some kind of approximation of what he was talking about."

"Now it's become apparent that this [cultural change] isn't a fad that going to go away next year or the year after. It's here to stay because it's a very serious and important way of looking at things that looks incompatible with reason and order and responsibility but actually is not... It was an intrusion on his reality. It just blew a hole right through his whole groovy way of looking at things and he would not face up to it because it seemed to threaten his whole lifestyle."

"Now Plato's hatred of the Sophists makes sense. He and Socrates are defending the Immortal Principle of the Cosmologists against what they consider to be the decadence of the Sophists. Truth. Knowledge. That which is independent of what anyone thinks about it. The ideal that Socrates died for. The ideal that Greece alone possesses for the first time in the history of the world. It is still a very fragile thing. It can disappear completely. Plato abhors and damns the Sophists without restraint, not because they are low and immoral people... there are obviously much lower and more immoral people in Greece he completely ignores. He damns them because they threaten mankind's first beginning grasp of the idea of truth. That's what it is all about."

"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"

"Now, to take that which has caused us to create the world, and include it within the world we have created, is clearly impossible. This is why Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it, we are defining something less than Quality itself."

"Of course, the laws of science contain no matter and have no energy either and therefore do not exist except in people's minds. It's best to be completely scientific about the whole thing and refuse to believe in either ghosts or the laws of science. That way you're safe. That doesn't leave you very much to believe in, but that's scientific too."

"Of the value traps, the most widespread and pernicious is value rigidity. This is an inability to revalue what one sees because of commitment to previous values. In motorcycle maintenance, you MUST rediscover what you do as you go. Rigid values makes this impossible."