MD Bookworld

From: Donald T Palmgren (
Date: Sat Sep 19 1998 - 16:30:11 BST

        Hello, friends. Still w/ me? Wow.

        I got this from Ken: 'Just read your message. I can't believe
that you took my mouthings seriously.' And I just wanted to say: Ken, I
always try my darndest not to take you seriously. ;-)

        Now seems to be a good time for me to do some lateral drifting.
The PROGRAM is on the SOM platipi section in LILA and I thought that all
of that was the weekest section in LILA. Ultra-low quality there. The fact
that he took these questions as if they were something to be answered
seems to point toward a deep lack of understanding of philosophical
thinking -- which I'd like to characterize as follows:
        'Philosophy is the science of questions, that disciplin which
examines simply as questions the questions which other disciplins seek to
answer. Therefor the philosopher ought to investigate ill-defined,
troublesome questions, questions with a large significance, but an
obscure, perhapse even threatening logic. Such questions challange our
familer methods of setteling questions and our traditional division of
intellectual labor. We may hope to learn something new from them.'
                        (Dwight Van de Vate,
                        *Romantic Love; a
                        philosophical Inquary*)
        Pirsig didn't learn crap from the 'platipi' questions, and neither
will we if we follow his example.
        But I want to refrain from entering the 'platapus' PROGRAM. Where,
after all, could I begin. Ther's not one or two things wrong in this
section -- but the roots are all rotten. I felt reading this section like
young Pheadrus felt reading Kant: It's ugly.
        I wonder how different LILA would be if Pirsig read Wittgenstein's
Blue Book before writing it [LILA]. I know he wouldn't have 'setteled' the
philosophical familers the way he did -- so cavalerly. He might have been
tempted to make use of them. In ZMM, the Nairator says, 'I think
metaphysics is good so long as it's usefull; otherwise forget it.' (I'll
drift back to that point later to question just what it means.)
        (By the way, the *Blue Book* is a must-read in metaphysics. It's
only 70 pages long but it's very clear [if you're a classical thinker at
least] and it provides a lot of good questions and approches --
*directions* to explore, not settled answers.)

        Bodvar wrote to me:
We have too much of wilderness to survey (as Pirsig says in his
anniversary greeting to the LS) to become bogged down, so come on
Donny shoulder your formidable intellect and stop surveying every
nook and creek. We are about to find the sources of the Nile.
        The 'sources of the Nile,' eh?
        Bo, you're focussed too much on the target. You can't do
philosophy that way. The river's source, the mountain peak, the promised
land isn't something over yonder. (Is that too Southern? 'Yonder?') IT'S
HERE! It's wherever you're at. You are it. You're that target. (At least
I feel like shooting arrows at you. ;-) ) But everytime I hear Bo say (so
to speak), 'I've serched for 40+ years for the right worldview -- for THE
answers, and only in LILA have I found something which approches that,' I
cringe. I think, 'Man, he should re-read ZMM.'
        It's like we're stnding in this gallery and you're trying to find
the One, True painting. Or even, the ONE, TRUE spot on the One, True
painting. This is the analogy Pirsig picked, and it's nicely simmiler to
my own tool, worked out 4 years ago now, of 'correct pictures of the
world.' (CPOWs) Every culture and every era has it's own worldview -- the
view it holds to be the correct one. The view that defines it, that it is
prepared to fight and die for. In what sense (I asked myself) are these
pictures 'correct?' Obviously since logic and reason are contained w/in
them, they are not logically or reasonably correct (even the scientific
worlview). No. They are *morally* correct.
        But anyway, w/ Bodvar desperatly serching the gallery for *IT*
and most of the LS (and Phaedrus) serching for the 'correct answers' to
the standerd philosophical familers as if it were some school test...
can anyone blame me if I retire to the sculpture garden to feed the ducks?

        And where should my mind go while I'm out there?
        Everybody needs a good philosophical question. One that grabs you.
That you can make your own. One that you can get more and more milage out
of. This is the bow from which your intellectual arrows spring. i've
had one for about 4, maybe 5 years now.

        What's the difference between a book about reality and the reality
of a book?

It seems to that if you could just wrap your mind around that... that
would blow the world of metaphysics wide open.

        I'll begin, first w/ a simple observation: philosophy, particuarly
metaphysics, is a Western shtikt. I've had some contact w/ people from
the East and it became pretty clear that, over there, 'philosophy' wasn't
some abstract, achademic, scholerly -- bookish -- disciplin. It was a way
of life. A way of going about things. Your philosophy was expressed in how
you milk your cow, weed your garden and maintain your motercycle. It's
very rarely ever *written* about.
        Over here, on the other hand, writing and reading, reading and
writing is what philosophers *do*. If somebody came to you and said,
'Hey, you're into philosophy arn't you? I'm thinking about getting into
that philosophy stuff myself. Tell me, where do you go to find
philosophy?' You could send him to the bookstore, the lybrary, the
college sceminar room or, posibly, the internet. That's perfectly natural
for us. What other 'doing philosophy' is there?
        In the East, up until about 100 years ago, this sort of doing
philosophy would be strange and not at all understood. Even the man's
question would be basically incomprehensable.

        What is philosophy? It's an abstract intellectual play of words
and concepts. What is metaphysics, other than the archytype of a classroom
artifact? Metaphysics is supposed to be about what really exists -- what
does it mean 'to be.' But meanings emerge from the way we live, and live
TOGETHER. Abstract metaphysical theories about what really exists are, on
their face, nonsense in so far as they are abstract, for we determine what
really exists by how we all live together.

        I need to interject some thoughts here on just what is
'mwtaphysics.' It's come up before here and there, and I see it's come up
again recently in question of its relationship to physics. Consider each
of the folowing:
        A child comes to his parent and asks, 'Does Santa Clauss really
        You are at a funeral comferting a friend who'se just suffered the
loss of a loved one, and your friend says to you, 'I'm having doubts about
        Now, picture a high school physics teacher saying, 'Even though we
have yet to observe it, we are resonably certain that the 6th quark does,
in fact, exist.'
        Lastly, imagine a guy in a philosophy class going, 'Quallity
really exists! It's all that really exists.'

        What does 'exist' mean? How does it's meaning change in various
situations? When someone points the withering finger of scorn at you and
asks, 'What really exists?' what the hell does that mean? What do they
really want to know from you? Does he want an example of existance? Does
he want an explaination of of how to use that word properly? Does he
want to know, is there some trait -- some property, which 'real' things
have that 'purely imaginary' stuff does not? Or is he asking (as Kant did)
what makes existance possible?
        That is metaphysics. you don't have to know crap about physics!!
You only have to be a literat speaker of the language. If I asked you,
'What does the child mean by asking if Santa exists -- what does he want
to know from me?' and you throw back at me partical physics and quantum
mechanics... well, either you're a bit ecentric or you have no idea what
I'm refering to.
        'Reality' is a concept so simple that an 11-year-old can grasp it.
So there's no need to invoke Einstein and Heisenberg, is there?

        But if reality is so simple... why do we lock-up like an
overheated aluminum engion when when asked, 'What really exists!?' Now
that's a good question.
        What could make that into a *real* question? What does it take for
us to call into question our grasp on 'reality' and 'to be' and what we
mean by these words? Do we ever?

        And how does all of this stuff get into books? Books are
nessecarily abstract. Something (like the number 5, or the color red) is
'abstract' by being opposed to 'concrete' (like these 5 paperclips on my
desk here, or that red disk case). 'Concrete' means 'experienced.' To say
what really exists is experience (existince=experience) is tautologus. But
experience is extended in time. It's always concrete. The number 5 isn't
in time. It's an atemporal entity... just like the figures in a book!
        (And by the way, have you ever heard anybody distinguish redness
from red things outside of the context of philosophy? Abstract/concrete
and universal/particuler are *techincal terms* -- a 'technique' is a way
of doing something. What is philosphy doing w/ these words?)

        Philosphy is the sort of thing that takes place (primarily, if not
entierly) in books -- be it ZMM, LILA, *Being and Time*... or whatever.
I'm curious about how this choice of means affects the end.
        Reality=experience. Experince is divided into situations. ('The
present' = just whatever the current situation is -- what's going on here,
now.) All situations (at least all human situations) are social/moral
ones. There is something that is supposed to be happening (which defines
thae situation) and a limitless host of things that are not supposed to
happen. (Sociologist Erving Goffman noted the significance of
interuptions. That a situation -- ANY situation -- can be interupted,
means that something was supposed to happen but didn't. Situations, the,
can be said to be [morally] prescripted.) So we have the picture of
reality as being a flow of moral rhythms.
{--- .. // --- .. // --- .. //}
        next situation
{...-- ...-- ...--}

        A flow which, at any time, can be shattered by some dynamic act of
{--- .. // --- .BANG!!
What really exists, exists in time, and time can be looked at as that in
which we are all at risk.

        Now take a book. Immediatly... it's a doorstop. It's content is
atemporal. How do you get something like time -- like 'life' into a book?
(Hegel said the goal of philosophy is to 'Think Life!' But the paradox
there is apparent. Once something is thought... it's frozen, abstracted,
'drawn-off' [which is what 'abstracted' literally means]. But life is
alive and at risk in time.)
        {Writing-a-book} is a concrete activity. {Shiping-a-book} is an
activity. {Reading-a-book} is an activity. They can be interupted (by a
draft notice, a tire blow-out, or fire). But the book itself is not an
activity. It's there all-at-one. Complete from begining to end. The
auther can shift about in time. ('Betty would learn soon enough that the
man she was talking to was her husbands killer, but by then it would
already be too late.') Literary figures (like pheadrus and Aristotle)
have had all the time sucked out of them. They are now atemporal props.
        But is life like that?
        Do we ever experince life that way? All-at-once. Are 'real'
things like that?

        Any purposive activity trys to answer a question, or (to say the
same) calls something into question. What question does a philosophical
system respond to? Not any question that arises in the chaos and hurry
and suspence of (say) wartime! THAT you can't get into a book. That is
some REAL, SERIROUS s**t! And philosophy just doesn't ever put anything
important into question (not since the American and French revolutions
perhaps). This is comanly known to every Joe Sixpack on the streets of the
'real world' (never underestimate the force of that 'real').
        Einstein once said, 'It is not the bussiness of science to give
the taste of the soup.' I want to call into question: is it the bussiness
of philosophy -- this literary, abstract, essentually classroom artifact
-- to try and give the taste of experience? Reality?

        It's much easier to know what what you're reading (LILA) means
than to know what reading means.

        I'm trying to use this as a suggestion that question-thinking is
(philosophically) a superior alternative to (schoolish)answer-thinking.
Questions, after all, movements of thought, ARE living things -- concrete
rhythms. Answers are always-everywhere abstract projections. There's no
more *argument* here than that. Just some lateral drifting -- some
potential root expantion -- to suggest an
alternative approch to the 'platipi questions.' Don't answer the stupid
things; explore them, grasp there nature, and make use of them.

                So long from the far-away near-by,

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