Re: MF Define the intellectual level

From: John Beasley (
Date: Fri Jun 16 2000 - 13:39:05 BST


"But this highest quality intellectual pattern itself comes before the
external world, not after, as is commonly presumed by the materialists..
(Correspondence from Pirsig to McWatt)"

Leaving aside all conspiracy theories, I do not see the problem with this
statement. It reflects almost the same conviction as Sartre's famous line
"Existence precedes essence". For Sartre that meant that my experience as
an individual human being is a tragic immersion in a reality where choice
is demanded of me, despite my unpreparedness. I can never know all the
ramifications of any choice I make, and often I know almost nothing of what
my choice will bring, yet I must choose, and in that choice bear those
consequences that flow from it. As I struggle with choosing, I learn
something about what it is to be human, but what I know of human nature
follows my existential immersion in a world demanding choice, and does
nothing to resolve my dilemma as one who cannot evade choice.

As I interpret Pirsig's line above, the intellectual pattern that sees an
external world as prior to the development of intellectual patterns
actually constructs that "external world". Ideas are of their nature
grounded in an intellectual matrix. Language is the bearer of this matrix,
but not identical with it. It is useful to assume that 'scientific' ideas
relate to a matrix which is identical with 'the world' or 'nature' or 'the
universe'. Pirsig challenges this assumption. As he points out, gravity as
we understand it today differs from Newton's understanding, and may change
again as our intellectual matrix is further refined by new theoretical
advances. In everyday common sense usage, we take for granted that 'we'
exist in a 'world'. The old subject/object division. What Pirsig is doing
is once again emphasizing that the 'world' we live in is an intellectual
construct, and is no more 'real' than the intellectual matrix from which it
is formed. That intellectual matrix is a static emergent from our primary
experience of quality. While Pirsig refuses to define quality, he is quite
clear that it is more fundamental than subjects or objects.

Materialists, then, make an assumption that the universe exists, that it
exists prior to my existence, and that my existence is shaped by the nature
of this encompassing universe. Pirsig takes this to be a generally useful
myth, but limiting if taken too far. Much of what he says is framed within
this myth, particularly where he uses evolutionary terminology. It seems
strange to me that you, having been such a strong advocate of the unreality
of the 'subjective' self, now seem unable to accept the unreality of the
'objective' world. Each surely implies the other, if, that is, they are
divisions of a more fundamental experience, that Pirsig calls quality.

I do not know if Pirsig has actually done much to advance things by
arriving at this point in his thinking. The general MF debate in recent
weeks about defining the intellectual level seems to have been pretty
superficial. I thought of returning to the fray and decided against it. But
I do suggest the idea of an intellectual matrix might go some way to
clarifying a complex area. That is the limitation of intellect. It can only
use what is in the matrix. Intelligence is the leap beyond the matrix in
the encounter with dynamic quality, which can lead to the creation of new
words and concepts, or the redefinition of existing ones (eg gravity).
Intellect then goes on with the newly augmented matrix, again limited
though at a 'higher' level than before. A group of INTP thinkers can
probably go on forever playing intellectual games, but there is little
quality in that, I feel. Bo seems to pick up on this limitation of the
intellectual sphere in his idea of a 'subject/object' intellect (SOLAQI),
though I think he misses the mark slightly. Intellect is our way of
objectifying experience, true enough, but it need not be confined to a
classic 'subject/object' model, such as Pirsig attacked. All intellectual
production is playing with a residue of that nameless, formless encounter
that occurs in quality mediated experience. Which is why writing a
metaphysics is a degenerate activity.

My own praxis is moving me into a rather different direction, which has
crystallised for me around the primacy of action, and acceptance of the
inevitable outcomes of action, whether enjoyable or not. This brings in the
existentialist courage to be, and while it can readily be demonised in a
sort of Nietzschean superman way, it seems to offer a way forward out of
the intellectual death trap of endlessly debating ideas. The
crystallization occurred while I was reading some rather quaint stuff on
Karma Yoga on the internet, and is too new to be encoded in my intellectual
matrix as yet. However it contrasts with the INTP lifestyle of constantly
seeking to understand before acting. It also offers an alternative to
Pirsig's intellectual view of the individual being reduced to patterns of
patterns, by substituting the individual as agent, one who acts. You may
remember I used this term a while back, and I think it offers a whole
different perspective. The ultimate might be some amalgam of the power of
the agent coupled with the power of quality.

This may well be my last posting to this forum. I had all but withdrawn but
your strange problem with the sentence with which I began prompted this
murky response.

Au revoir,

John B -

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