Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

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"

"Oh, the laws of physics and of logic? the number system? the principle of algebraic substitution. These are ghosts. We just believe in them so thoroughly they seem real."

"On an air-cooled engine like this, extreme overheating can cause a seizure. This machine has had fact, three of them. I took this machine into a shop because I thought it wasn?t important enough to justify getting into myself, having to learn all the complicated details. The shop was a different scene from the ones I remembered. The mechanics, who had once all seemed like ancient veterans, now looked like children. A radio was going full blast and they were clowning around and talking and seemed not to notice me. They sat down to do a job and they performed it like chimpanzees. Nothing personal in it. The radio was a clue. You can?t really think hard about what you?re doing and listen to the radio at the same time. But the biggest clue seemed to be their expressions. They were hard to explain. Good-natured, friendly, easygoing?and uninvolved. They were like spectators. I found the cause of the seizures a few weeks later, waiting to happen again. It was a little twenty-five-cent pin in the internal oil-delivery system that had been sheared and was preventing oil from reaching the head at high speeds. On this trip I think we should notice it, explore it a little, to see if in that strange separation of what man is from what man does we may have some clues as to what the hell has gone wrong in this twentieth century. I don?t want to hurry it. That itself is a poisonous twentieth-century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things. I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly, with the same attitude I remember was present just before I found that sheared pin. It was that attitude that found it, nothing else."

"Once it's stated that "the dialectic comes before anything else," this statement itself becomes a dialectical entity, subject to dialectical question."

"One geometry cannot be more true than another; it can only be more convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous."

"One of the most moral acts is to create a space in which life can move forward."

"Or winters when the sloughs were frozen over and dead and i could walk across the ice and snow between the dead cattails and see nothing but grey skies and dead things and cold"

"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 what I have to say has more lasting value."

"Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all."

"People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to ?ve without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There?s no villain, no ?mean guy? who wants them to live meaningless lives, it?s just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless. But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. 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. There?s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding"

"Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep."

"Persons tend to think and feel exclusively in one node or the other and in doing so tend to misunderstand and underestimate what the other mode is all about"

"Phaedrus departs the beaten path as a result of laboratory experience began to be interested in situations like nature itself. He was noticed again and again that what may seem the hardest part of scientific work - inventing hypotheses - invariably proved the easiest. As if the act of the exact shape and clearly record everything they suggest. As I checked the number one hypothesis experimentally, a whole barrage of other hypotheses come to mind, and while checked them come more and check them while still others come in his head until it is painfully obvious that both continue to examine hypotheses and rejecting some and confirm others their number decreases. It actually increases with the progress of his work. Initially it seemed fun. Think of a law with the intention of it is not less humor laws Parkinson; It read: The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any phenomenon is unlimited. liked never left without hypotheses. Even when his experimental work seemed at an impasse, and to look at her, he knew that if I just sit down and fumbled long enough absolutely certain is that it will reveal a hypothesis. And always appeared. Just a few months after he invented the law began to have some doubts about his humor and usefulness. If true, this law is not a small crack in the scientific way of thinking. The law is completely nihilistic. It is catastrophic, logical refutation of the general validity of all scientific method! if the purpose of the scientific method is to choose among multiple hypotheses and if the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can take, it is clear that all hypotheses never cannot be verified. If all hypotheses cannot be verified, then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method does not achieve its goal to establish evidence confirmed knowledge."

"Ph‘drus is fascinated too by the description of the motive of "duty toward self" which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes described as the "one" of the Hindus. Can the dharma of the Hindus and the "virtue" of the ancient Greeks be identical?"

"Physical distance between people has nothing to do with loneliness. It's psychic distance."

"Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere."

"Plato finds it necessary to separate, for example, "horseness" from "horse" and say that horseness is real and fixed and true and unmoving, while the horse is a mere, unimportant, transitory phenomenon. Horseness is pure Idea. The horse that one sees is a collection of changing Appearances, a horse that can flux and move around all it wants to and even die on the spot without disturbing horseness, which is the Immortal Principle and can go on forever in the path of the Gods of old."

"Plato is the essential Buddha-seeker who appears again and again in each generation, moving onward and upward toward the "one." Aristotle is the eternal motorcycle mechanic who prefers the "many.""

"Plato often names Socrates' foils for characteristics of their personality. A young, overtalkative, innocent and good-natured foil in the Gorgias is named Polus, which is Greek for "colt." Ph‘drus' personality is different from this. He is unallied to any particular group. He prefers the solitude of the country to the city. He is aggressive to the point of being dangerous. At one point he threatens Socrates with violence. Ph‘drus, in Greek, means "wolf." In this dialogue he is carried away by Socrates' discourse on love and is tamed."

"Poor rhetoric, once "learning" itself, now becomes reduced to the teaching of mannerisms and forms, Aristotelian forms, for writing, as if these mattered."

"Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions."

"Quality is better seen up at the timberline than here obscured by smoky windows and oceans of words, and he sees that what he is talking about can never really be accepted here because to see it one has to be free of social authority and this is an institution of social authority. Quality for sheep is what the shepherd says. And if you take a sheep and put it up at the timberline at night when the wind is roaring, that sheep will be panicked half to death and will call and call until the shepherd comes, or comes the wolf."

"Quality tends to fan out like waves. The Quality job he didn?t think anyone was going to see was seen, and the person who feels it is a little bit better because of it, and is likely to pass that feeling onto others, and in that way the Quality tends to keep going."

"Quality... you know what it is, yet you don't know what it is. But that's self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There's nothing to talk about. But if you can't say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn't exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based on? Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile? Obviously some things are better than others... but what's the betterness?... So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it?"

"Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality."

"Religion isn't invented by man. Men are invented by religion. Men invent responses to Quality, and among these responses is an understanding of what they themselves are. You know something and then the Quality stimulus hits and then you try to define the Quality stimulus, but to define it all you've got to work with is what you know. So your definition is made up of what you know. It's an analogue to what you already know. It has to be. It can't be anything else. And the mythos grows this way. By analogies to what is known before. The mythos is a building of analogues upon analogues upon analogues. These fill the collective consciousness of all communicating mankind. Every last bit of it. The Quality is the track that directs the train. What is outside the train, to either side... that is the terra incognita of the insane. He knew that to understand Quality he would have to leave the mythos. That's why he felt that slippage. He knew something was about to happen."

"Rules of Order state that... No minority has a right to block a majority from conducting the legal business of the organization... but No majority has a right to prevent a minority from peacefully attempting to become the majority."

"Sanity is not truth. Sanity is conformity to what is socially expected. Truth is sometimes in conformity, sometimes not."

"She seems so depressed sometimes by the monotony and boredom of her city life, I thought maybe in this endless grass and wind she would see a thing that sometimes comes when monotony and boredom are accepted. It's here, but I have no names for it."

"So green this summer and so fresh. There are white and gold daisies among the grass in front of an old wire fence, a meadow with some cows and far in the distance a low rising of the land with something golden on it. Hard to know what it is. No need to know."

"So we navigate mostly by dead reckoning, and deduction from what clues we find. I keep a compass in one pocket for overcast days when the sun doesn't show directions and have the map mounted in a special carrier on top of the gas tank where I can keep track of miles from the last junction and know what to look for. With those tools and a lack of pressure to 'get somewhere' it works out fine and we just about have America all to ourselves."

"Socrates is not just expounding noble ideas in a vacuum. He is in the middle of a war between those who think truth is absolute and those who think truth is relative. He is fighting that war with everything he has. The Sophists are the enemy."

"Socrates is not using dialectic to understand rhetoric, he is using it to destroy it, or at least to bring it into disrepute, and so his questions are not real questions at all... they are just word-traps which Gorgias and his fellow rhetoricians fall into."

"Some things you miss because they?re so tiny you overlook them. But some things you don?t see because they?re so huge."

"Sometimes it's a little better to travel than to arrive."

"Squareness is such a uniquely intellectual disease."

"Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding."

"Talk about rationality can get very confusing unless the things with which rationality deals are also included."

"Technology is blamed for a lot of this loneliness since the loneliness is certainly associated with the newer technological devices?the real evil isn?t the objects of technology but the tendency of technology to isolate people into lonely attitudes of objectivity. It?s the objectivity, the dualistic way of looking at things underlying technology, that produces the evil? Quality destroys objectivity every time."

"That which destroys the old mythos becomes the new mythos."

"That's all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There's no part in it, no shape in it that is not out of someone's mind."

"That's the way it is. The intelligence of the mind can't think of any reason to live, but it goes on anyway because the intelligence of the cells can't think of any reason to die."

"That's the way it must have been a hundred or two hundred years ago. Hardly any people and hardly any loneliness. I'm undoubtedly over-generalizing, but if the proper qualifications were introduced it would be true."

"The application of this knife, the division of the world into parts and the building of this structure, is something everybody does. All the time we are aware of millions of things around us - these changing shapes, these burning hills, the sound of the engine, the feel of the throttle, each rock and weed and fence post and piece of debris beside the road - aware of these things but not really conscious of them unless there is something unusual or unless they reflect something we are predisposed to see. We could not possibly be conscious of these things and remember all of them because our mind would be so full of useless details we would be unable to think. From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and calls consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world."

"The best roads do not connect anything with anything else, and there is always another road that takes you there faster"

"The birth of a new fact is always a wonderful thing to experience. It's dualistically called a "discovery" because of the presumption that it has an existence independent of anyone's awareness of it. When it comes along, it always has, at first, a low value. Then, depending on the value-looseness of the observer and the potential quality of the fact, its value increases, either slowly or rapidly, or the value wanes and the fact disappears."

"The bones and flesh and legal statistics are the garments worn by the personality, not the other way around."

"The bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them and the dust was buried under the rubble of declining Athens through its fall and Macedonia through its decline and fall. Through the decline and death of ancient Rome and Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire and the modern states... buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction and such evil that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done."

"The Buddha, the Divine, dwelling in the circuit of a computer or in the transmission gears of a motorcycle with the same ease that on top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower."

"The Buddha, the Godhead, resides as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a motorcycle transmission as he does at the top of the mountain or in the petals of the flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha- which is to demean oneself."

"The cause of our current social crises, he would have said, is a genetic defect within the nature of reason itself. And until this genetic defect is cleared, the crises will continue. Our current modes of rationality are not moving society forward into a better world. They are taking it further and further from that better world. Since the Renaissance these modes have worked. As long as the need for food, clothing and shelter is dominant they will continue to work. But now that for huge masses of people these needs no longer overwhelm everything else, the whole structure of reason, handed down to us from ancient times, is no longer adequate. It begins to be seen for what it really is?emotionally hollow, esthetically meaningless and spiritually empty."