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Author Topic: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig  (Read 888 times)

Offline oldfatguy

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« on: January 22, 2016, 09:12:52 PM »
This has become a standard read in many philosophy courses but some how I managed never to have read this one. I broke down and picked up a copy.  It took me a while to figure out the format of the book, as Prisig bounces back and forth between telling the story of a motorcycle trip with his son, Chris, and a couple of friends, and his deeper thoughts of his "chautauqua".

This is not a book you can just power through and absorb. You read for a while, then need to put it down and process all that is being thrown at you.

One question that he struggles with is a definition of "Quality":
"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."

This really makes you step back and think. Here is something apparently simple that when you star to think about grows amazingly complex.

This is a classic for a reason. Well worth the time to read and ponder.
"If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere."  Vincent Van Gogh


Offline survivorgirl

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2016, 07:02:41 PM »
thanks
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.-henry David Thoreau

Online Docwatmo

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2016, 07:52:24 AM »
I've often thought of reading this one, but have never gotten around to it.   


The idea of quality as described is quite profound.  I consider quality a trait that defines how much we can enjoy/use an item.  Hard to put it on a scale.  An experience can be quality, you enjoy the hike, or your wet and cold on the same hike the next day.  Could be the same hike on 2 different days.  Thus the enjoyment of the hike on the first day was of a far higher quality than the second (Which could still be a far higher quality than no hike at all).   The same thing translates into material objects.  I could have a tool of high quality (Say a Leatherman vs a Coleman multi-tool).  One is considered higher quality because of workmanship and materials, but that alone doesn't guarantee quality, it's only in the use of the object over time that the fit, finish, feel and longevity of it shows it's quality. 


Some interesting thoughts for sure. 
Doc

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Offline oldfatguy

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2016, 08:55:37 AM »
I think you would find it an interesting read, Doc.  You seem to be brushing over some of the concepts touched on in the book, but it discusses them in much greater detail.  For me, it also brings a lot of these concepts in to a very understandable perspective.

"Quality" is a universal concept and applies to everything.
If "quality" could be defined as something that a person enjoys, it could be argued that to a drug addict, cocaine would be quality...   A subjective definition does not seem to fit.
"If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere."  Vincent Van Gogh


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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2016, 10:48:08 AM »
Good point, yet the quality of the "High" the addict gets from the drug would still fall under the definition of quality.  The moving definition of quality has to fall on the individual.  A collective definition may not work in all circumstances, yet individual definitions do.    Like food.  Just because I love oysters and smoked oysters of some types fall very high on my quality food definition doesn't mean everyone would find them high quality.  Those who do not like oysters may define them as a very low quality food.   Interesting, very interesting subject to think about.   And to think, this is only 1 of the concepts from the book, very cool.


I think I will have to read this.  it's been in my "Someday if I ever get the time" list for quite a while. 


Thanks OFG.
Doc

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Offline oldfatguy

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2016, 11:05:10 AM »
I think the point you are missing, Doc, is that he is looking for a universal definition of quality.  He is not looking for a "moving definition", he wants simply to define something that everyone can identify.  I think you might be confusing the property of having "quality" with something that someone enjoys.  Some people may enjoy driving an old, rusty, piece of crap van, which is obviously of very low quality. Just because someone can enjoy something does not make it something of quality.

Just because someone does not enjoy something, they can still recognize if it contains quality.  As well, people can recognize if something they enjoy is lacking in quality.  Looking at this, it becomes obvious that enjoyment does not equate to quality.
"If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere."  Vincent Van Gogh


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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2016, 01:53:34 PM »
I do agree somewhat, but the idea of quality as a definition for the superfluous ideas beyond the physical constructs really makes it difficult to marry the scope to all possibilities.  In that example, quality of the rusty car may be high to one person yet low to another.  (Realizing that overall quality can be measured by some physical definitions from the physical side).   


Even the very definitions based on the English language according to Websters dictionary states the first use of the word quality:   

1:  an essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute:"

With subsequent definitions as: character or nature, as belonging to or distinguishing a thing:
the quality of a sound.

2:  character with respect to fineness, or grade of excellence:
food of poor quality; silks of fine quality.

3:  high grade; superiority; excellence:
wood grain of quality.

4:  a personality or character trait:
kindness is one of her many good qualities.

5:  native excellence or superiority.

6:  an accomplishment or attainment.

Seeing that the physical realms definition as a "High Grade; superiority; excellence" falls further down the list.

I do believe quality as an opinion is quite viable as a metric.  But using it in the non-physical realm is too subjective to be defined the same as in the physical.


Doc

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"Thought is action in rehearsal" Sigmund Freud
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Offline oldfatguy

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2016, 03:46:23 PM »
Again, Doc, you are missing the point.  Please go back and read the original question as stated.

"Quality as an opinion" is completely irrelevant.
He is looking at this as a universal concept, meaning it applies to everything (physical and non-physical).

What he is trying to understand is how does someone (anyone for that matter), look at something (again, this could be anything) and determine if this item is of high or low quality? Universally, everyone and anyone can do this (or at least make the distinction between something of high quality and something of low quality).  Because of this, if follows that there must be some universal determining factors of which we are all aware that determine the quality of something.

You are also trying to substitute the perceived value of an object with quality, which does not work.  This simply does not apply.  Again, referring to the rusty vehicle analogy, the perceived value of this may vary greatly from one person to the next, however, there is no question as to the quality of rusty vehicle - it is a piece of crap.  It is of low quality.

Even in the definition you quote there is an ambiguity:
1:  an essential or distinctive characteristic, property, or attribute

What he is trying to define is the "essential or distinctive characteristic, property or attribute" of quality.  It is obviously there, otherwise, how can everyone make the same determination?

You must think of this from a much broader perspective.
"If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere."  Vincent Van Gogh


Offline survivorgirl

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2016, 06:18:54 PM »
I think quality is all relitive
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.-henry David Thoreau

Offline oldfatguy

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2016, 07:51:39 PM »
I think quality is all relitive
It is, Kim. What he is trying to understand in the book is how people determine what has and what amount of quality something does or doesn't have.
"If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere."  Vincent Van Gogh


Offline SGH

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2016, 02:59:49 PM »
Wouldn't parental teaching play into how one determines quality even if its a lesser factor in the total equation

Offline oldfatguy

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2016, 04:45:59 PM »
Wouldn't parental teaching play into how one determines quality even if its a lesser factor in the total equation

"Nature vs Nurture"  It seems that the concept of quality is something that is instinctively known and understood ("nature") rather than something that must be learned (nurture), such as language, numbers, even right and wrong behavior.

It might be possible, but parents trying to teach their children a wrong definition of quality would be similar to them teaching their children wrong meanings to basic words.

Even if a parent managed to teach the child to settle for an item of lesser quality, by nature, the person (child or later a grown adult) would still have to understand the concept of quality and be able to determine the quality of that item to be able to "settle" for something of lesser quality.  Again, in this scenario, if the child (person) were presented with two similar items of varying quality, they are able to determine which item is of higher quality.  Unless the demented parents taught them that the concept of "higher" actually meant "lower" and vice versa. Even so, although amusing to watch, the child (person) would still understand the concept even though their understanding of the semantics was flawed.
"If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere."  Vincent Van Gogh


Offline SGH

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2016, 06:21:25 PM »
Well said


Offline oldfatguy

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Re: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2016, 06:44:25 PM »
Late in the book, Pirsig brings up the Greek concept of "arete" (pronounced ar-ruh-TAY, with the accent on the last syllable).  There is no direct translation of this word to English, but it is similar to the concepts of virtue and excellence. 

In the early Olympics, the champions were not specialist in a single sport or activity. Running faster than everyone else was simply not enough to be declared an Olympic champion. They had to excel in different sports, but also have to be masters of music, art, poetry, philosophy and pretty much every thing else.  This is an example of arete applied in early Greek culture.

In The Art of Manliness Manovations, Brett and Kate McKay put it this way:

"For the ancient Greeks, the ideal life was one filled with eudaimonia. What's eudaimonia? Translators and philosophers have given different definitions for it, but the best way to describe eudaimonia is the attainment of "flourishing", through, as Aristoltle put it, "doing and living well".  Greek philosophers believed that eudaimonia was achieved through the practice of arete.  Translated as "virtue", arete is better understood as excellence and was sometimes use interchangeably with andreia, or "manliness".  The man of arete maximized his full potential in body, mind and soul; despite setbacks and challenges, he effectively used his abilities to fulfill his life's purpose and achieve a real and lasting legacy.  Thus for the ancient Greeks, manliness meant being the best man you could be."
(Note that I read and think of this as being "gender neutral", meaning the concept applies equally whether it be man or woman.)

Pirsig's idea of quality goes toward something constantly being the best that it can be, yet constantly improving, striving to be better.
So, Kim, your idea that "quality is relative" really applies to this, as quality is constantly improving, constantly getting better than it was before. 
"If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere."  Vincent Van Gogh