From: David Buchanan (DBuchanan@ClassicalRadio.org)
Date: Sun Sep 26 2004 - 23:06:35 BST
LANGUAGE IN PIRSIG'S MOQ: What is it?
I found these passages in one of the 'literary' chapters (14) that are so
often overlooked. Can you guess where I'm going with this? Its a scence
where the captain is explaining why he's interested in talking to Lila...
"What holds a person together is his patterns of likes and dislikes," he
said. "And what holds a society together is a pattern of likes and dislikes.
And what holds the whole world together is patterns of likes and dislikes.
History is just abstracted from biography. And so are all the social
sciences. In the past anthropology has been centered around collective
objects and I'm interested in probing around to see if it can be better said
in terms of individual values. I've just had feelings that maybe the
ultimate truth about the world isn't history or sociology but biography," he
..."You're sort of another culture, he said. A culture of one. A culture is
an evolved static pattern of quality capable of Dynamic change. That's what
you are. That's the best definition of you that's ever been invented. You
may think everything you say and everything you think is just you but
actually the language you use and the values you have are the result of
thousands of years of cultural evolution. Its all in a kind of debris of
pieces that seem unrelated but are actually part of a huge fabric. ...I'd
like to record the debris of your own memory and try to reconstruct things
"...Before Schliemann used what he called the stratographic technique,
archaeologists were just educated grave-robbers. He showed how you could dig
down carefully through one stratum after another, finding the ruins of
earlier cities under later ones. That's what I think can be done with a
single person. I can take parts of your language and your values and trace
them to old patterns that were laid down centuries ago and are what make you
what you are."
The thing I find most striking here is the interconnected nature of
language, culture and single persons. He's saying that language makes you
what you are and that there is a long history with multiple layers behind
that language. Thousands of years of cultural evolution makes us what we are
and, like language itself, determines the limits of our world. The static
filters leap to mind and I remember that enlightenment, like the color
yellow, is distributed in all parts of the world, but it is sometimes
filtered OUT by one's culture. Or the way the French and Germans might seem
crazy to each other. Or the way Descartes' brilliant insights would have
seemed like lunacy in ancient China. All these assertions, and more, are
aimed at destoying the myth of objectivity...
From chapter 12 of LILA:
"There is no direct scientific connection between mind and matter. As the
atomic physicist, Niels Bohr, said, "We are suspended in language". Our
intellectual descriptions of nature are always culturally derived.
The intellectual level of patterns, in the historic process of freeing
itself from its parent social level, namely the church, has tended to invent
a myth of independence from the social level for its own benefit. Science
and reason, this myth goes, come only from the objective world, never from
the social world. The world of objects imposes itself upon the mind with no
social mediation whatsoever. It is easy to see the historic reasons for this
myth of independence. Science might never have survived without it. But a
close examination shows it isn't so."
This is what Ken Wilber was talking about. The "reflection paradigm" or the
"representational paradigm" is what Pirsig is calls "the myth of
independence", where "the world of objects imposes itself upon the mind with
no social mediation whatsoever".
"And no matter how different the various POSTMODERN attacks were, THEY WERE
ALL UNITED IN AN ATTACK ON THE REPRESENTATIONAL PARADIGM. They all perfectly
assaulted the reflection paradigm, the 'mirror of nature' paradigm - the
idea that there is a single empirical world or empirical nature."
dmb just keeps on yappin':
Our intellectual descriptions are always culturally derived and there gobbs
and gobbs of "social mediation". This the the thing that concerns all of
postmodernism, including Pirsig. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago in
the other forum, there is a tendency amongst postmoderns to get very
extreme and insist that everything is socially constructed AND that the
contruction process is arbitrary and ultimately meaningless. But when we add
Pirsigisms to this postmodern insight, we see that the evolution is not
arbitrary or meaningless. We add the idea that constructs within cultures
are, in some sense, bound or constrained by Quality itself. This is a very
important antidote to the nihilism found in other postmodern thinkers. Add
the idea that the whole world is built up of patterns of likes and dislikes,
that these are the patterns that hold cultures and languages and societies
and everything else to this quote....
"DHARMA, like RTA, means 'what holds together'. It is the basis of all
order. It equals righteousness. It is the ethical code. It is the stable
condition which gives man perfect satisfaction. DHARMA is duty. Not external
duty which is arbitrarily imposed by others, It is not any artificial set of
conventions which can be amended or repealed by legislation, Neither is it
internal duty which is arbitrarily decided by one's own conscience. DHARMA
is beyond all questions of what is internal and what is external. DHARMA is
Quality itself, the principle of 'rightness' which gives structure and
purpose to the evolution of all life and to the evolving understanding of
the universe which life has created."
dmb goes on and on:
Here we see Pirsig describing a kind of hidden cosmic order, a principle of
rightness behind the evolution of life, the universe and our understanding
of that. Remarkable how arbitraty and meaningless it is NOT, don't you
think? Ken Wilber addresses the topic and says the same thing as Pirsig.
He's putting the breaks on this nihilistic kind of postmodernism too...
"Everything is 'socially constructed' - this is the mantra of the extremist
wing of postmodenism. They think that different cultural worldviews are
entirely arbitrary, anchored in nothing but power or prejudice or some 'ism'
or other - sexism, racism, speciesism... Worldviews just aren't that
arbitrary; they are actually CONSTRAINED by the currents of the Kosmos, and
those currents LIMIT how much a culture can arbitrarily 'construct". We
won't find a consensus worldview, for example, where men give birth or
apples fall upward. ...A diamond will cut glass no matter what words we use
for 'diamond', 'cut', and 'glass', and no matter what culture we find them
in. It is not necessary to go overboard and deny the pre-existence of the
sensorimotor world altogether! And that sensorimotor world - the cosmos and
the bios constrains the worldviews 'from below', so to speak. ...So in these
and many other ways, the real currents in the Kosmos constrain worldviews
and prevent them from being merely collective hallucinations."
dmb yammers on still more:
Wilber goes on to say that we're always looking for better descriptions of
reality, and we should, but that in the long run we can't go wrong. And he
reminds us that we can't deviate from the true Tao even if we want to. This
is the principle of rightness, the Quality that holds the world together.
This same Quality is what holds language together and prevents it from being
meaningless conventions. And this is a very good thing because if culture
and language make us who we are, and if they are meaningless and arbitrary,
then so are we.
So where am I going with this? Well, if "the ultimate truth of the world
isn't history or sociology but biography" and if "the best definition of you
that's ever been invented" is the "patterns of likes and dislikes" that hold
you and "the whole world" then it becomes pretty clear that you and the
world are not so seperated after all. One's identity in inextricably bound
up in the evolution of the world. In some sense Thou art that, even on the
static levels. And if a persons, cultures and cities can all be excavated
layer after layer, then traceing the etemology of "RHT" back in time becomes
far more than an academic exercise. And by denying the "myth of
independence" he shows that all our intellectual descriptions are derived
from of huge fabric of such etemologies. Exploring Socrates near-obsession
with Arete becomes far more important in the same. Both are aimed at showing
how the principle of rightness was once more apparent to humanity. He shows
how concepts like virtue and righteousness lost their meaning in more modern
times, how it lost its connection to the divine and became instead a set of
social codes, cultural snobbery, brittle, and hopelessly stupid. He tries to
show how the true meaning of this sense of Quality is buried in our culture
and in our language and so in our selves. He also shows how it gets filtered
out by the same. I think its part of the reason Pirsig goes back to the
sophists, back to the time before dialectic, to the time of rhetoric and
poetry a a cultural landscape that was littered with mystery cults and
Orphic literature. He's taking us back to a time when language was more
purely social, before intellectual patterns began to hide the priciple of
rightness in our culture.
Language is divine. It adheres to the same priciple of rightness, the same
Quality that holds the whole universe together. And when we are struck by
the power, the beauty or the magic of language we can see that. In the hands
of an artist, in the hands of poets and creative intellectuals, language can
change lives, cultures and whole worlds.
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