Re: MD Socratic Mysticism and Pirsig

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Thu Dec 16 2004 - 12:19:18 GMT

  • Next message: Sam Norton: "Re: MD Understanding Quality And Power"

    Hi Chin,

    We're not as far apart as all that.

    > If you wake up in the morning to the same old, same ole, Lila lying beside
    > you, that has been lying there for 20 years or more, and all of a sudden she
    > is beautiful, would this not be a mystical experience? -- I know it can be
    > explained away in biological terms, but why just the one morning or many or
    > every morning after?

    I would absolutely not want to 'explain this away in biological terms', I would want to talk about,
    eg, the revelation of an underlying truth which had been obscured, and I'd be very happy for
    'mystical' to be used in the description of what had happened. Where I think the 'experience'
    language goes awry is the assumption that mysticisms are everywhere one and the same, and that there
    is the same truth being revealed in every 'experience' (and therefore, if those particular truths
    are not revealed, then it's not a mystical experience....) So when you say:

    > Why make this distinction? Mysticism is mysticism. In religion, if you
    > receive a vision, then this is mysticism. The same would hold true no matter
    > theist/anti-theist. Possibly the only thing keeping you from a mystic
    > experience would be your intellect.

    I would want to argue (along the lines of MSH's recent post) that bus-driving can be a mystical
    experience if it is done in the right way, as can seeing your hand after a stroke, or seeing your
    beloved afresh after 20 years. These are all wonderful examples of Quality breaking through our
    static patterns. What I object to is the metaphysical baggage that gets tacked on to it all, so that
    our lives get distorted through its framework. In other words I see the Jamesian approach as saying
    you've got to tune yourself in to get THIS experience (as described by William James etc) and if you
    don't have THIS experience then you're a benighted good-for-nothing stuck in conventional thinking,
    and you'll never understand the truth about life - that Quality is THIS particular set of static
    intellectual patterns. Whereas if you do tune in to THIS experience then suddenly all will be clear,
    you'll be enlightened (aka you'll get to share those static intellectual patterns) and peace and
    harmony will rein etc. I see this as a case of arrested spiritual development, or if I'm feeling
    rude: 'spiritual masturbation', as it seems to correlate quite well to the physical sort - in so far
    as I understand either ;-)

    > I believe where you are disagreeing with me is on 'experienced' as opposed
    > to mystic. As our cultures have developed, I would feel 'experienced' would
    > have come to mean 'anything' experienced, and not S/O only. That is how I
    > meant it.

    Whereas I think the reverse - the impact of empiricism has meant that 'experienced' has acquired a
    narrower sense, and it is the narrow sense which I see as entirely a product of S/O, and underlying
    the Jamesian understanding of mysticism. If everything is 'experienced' then talk about 'experience'
    doesn't add anything to the description (which is my view) whereas if 'experience' acquires
    philosophical status as a result of the empiricist approach, then it *does* add something to the
    description, and it is the addition which I object to.

    > Mysticism may very well need to be dropped, except in the sense you are
    > relating to someone's definition of mysticism from your readings of
    > philosophy -- that which maybe you feel covers the whole meaning of
    > mysticism, which I don't feel any does. If you relate mysticism to a certain
    > philosopher, then you are denying that other philosophers are mystic. If you
    > think about it, your definition of mystic covers quite a few philosophers.

    Of course it does. I'm wanting to say that mysticism is a baggier, looser sort of word that does not
    correspond to a specific, definitional, Platonic 'essence of mysticism' - which I see as deluded,
    even if it has been accepted by various venerable authorities. I'm *disagreeing* with the idea that
    mysticism can be captured by any one philosopher, or school of philosophy. I think there are
    interesting resemblances between the spiritual disciplines of the various religions, but I don't
    take that to mean that they are necessarily describing the same thing - I think that is a simple

    > Life is full of mystical experiences, and the person who can see these
    > experiences is a mystic, whether she changes the world or not from one
    > mystical experience -- maybe two -- maybe the fact that everyday holds a new
    > one, and everyone around her is touched by her Quality.

    I think to be a mystic is to be more engaged with the truth of the world than otherwise (ie to be
    more open to Quality) and I think this is a *relative* phenomenon, which can't be understood apart
    from the wider culture.

    > Your definition of mystic is fine. Do we need a better one?

    he he he - ask DMB ;-)

    > What if we include a tradition of one -- maybe two?

    I don't think 'tradition' can be restricted to a single person - it becomes a solitary vice in that

    > Then would the mystical experience need to change the tradition, or would it
    > allow us to live in the same tradition until the tradition caught up to us,
    > or them naturally by the experiences it caused to fan out around them?

    Mystics are those who know the tradition so well that they are free to develop or change it; or, to
    bring out and make explicit those Qualities within the tradition that had previously been hidden.
    It's what Pirsig talks about when he describes the welder, or when he describes the art of
    motorcycle maintenance - the motorcycle and the mechanic are one, and there is a complete fluidity,
    a complete absence of constraint - but it is *specifically* built on all that has gone before. I
    think this is also what Mark Maxwell is talking about when he describes the 'sweet spot' of coherent
    static patterns. Which is why I don't think you can get to that stage unless you have first attained
    some sort of mastery of the accumulated static patterns; it would be like a novice mechanic getting
    'with it' and shearing the threads off a screw because he hadn't yet acquired the basic 'feel' for
    how tightly to twist it. Such a novice mechanic, if they then turned round and claimed to be 'with
    it, going with the flow, in tune with the cosmos etc' would be considered a right prat - (we're back
    to my spiritual masturbation point again) - in other words there are always criteria for assessing
    the Quality of what is claimed to be mystical.

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant. I'm back on my hobby horse.

    (just thought: for nonUK readers, 'prat' means 'an incompetent or ineffectual person' in English

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