Re: MD Socratic Mysticism and Pirsig

From: Phaedrus Wolff (
Date: Fri Dec 17 2004 - 02:00:41 GMT

  • Next message: Phaedrus Wolff: "Re: MD Socratic Mysticism and Pirsig"

    Hi Sam,

    It seems we may be a bit further apart than you thought.

    Sam)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
    > 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 ;-)

    Chin says - masturbation can be a mystical experience if it is done right.
    Spiritual masturbation, intellectual masturbation, what's the difference?

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

    Sam) 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.

    Chin says - Sorry, I didn't realize James was that much an icon in the
    philosophy world. I like his down to earth way of looking at things, but
    never considered idolizing him.

    > 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
    > philosopher, then you are denying that other philosophers are mystic.
    > If
    > think about it, your definition of mystic covers quite a few
    > philosophers.

    Sam) 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 mistake.

    Chin says - I agree, unless this "same thing" is the universe, known as
    Quality to Pirsig.

    > 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
    > one, and everyone around her is touched by her Quality.

    Sam) 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

    Chin says - If by "wider culture" you mean a universal world culture where
    no one is denied their religious or cultural beliefs but all are accepted,
    and even considered, or as Pirsig said dusted off to see if they benefit
    society - I love the idea of a Utopia, all people of the world tuned into
    the same Quality truths that would hold no need for DQ, but would we not go
    mad with all this happiness?

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

    he he he - ask DMB ;-)

    Chin says - I think you carried it out too far, as opposed to leaving it
    defined in its general sense, and this is where you and he had differences.
    I fear this is where we are having ours. Maybe it just needs to be left
    defined in simple terms.

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

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

    > Then would the mystical experience need to change the tradition, or
    > would
    > allow us to live in the same tradition until the tradition caught up
    > to
    > 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.

    Chin says - it seems you are describing DQ as opposed to a mystical
    experience. It would be my belief that a mystical experience is not limited
    to any knowledge, or preparation, except unloading the baggage that keeps
    you from being touched by it. I fear this baggage might resemble something
    like what we are doing here -- philosophology -- or being weighted down by
    something like a preconceived religious or cultural opinion which keeps us
    from seeing the truth or the good when it slaps us in the face. So if we
    master our religious, cultural, scientific, or cultish nature, maybe this
    would hinder us, as opposed to prepare us.

    It is my simple belief that if we give ourselves up to the secrets of the
    universe, whether it comes through God or from an opening in the Black Hole
    and the Universal Sun bringing us up to higher enlightenment, we become
    capable of mystical experience.

    To me, it really does not matter what you 'Think' will happen, only that you
    are not tied down to the prejudices that have built themselves into your
    psyche over the years.

    I would think that there is something -- value, Quality, Nothingness,
    Oneness, Source, God, or Allah, and it doesn't matter what you call it -- it
    is just there. 'Universe' suits me fine. When you lose focus of the fact
    that you are no more than a spec of on a spec of The Whole - The Universe,
    you lose the ability to be touched by the force of the universe. Once you
    become out of touch, then you lose your natural ability to see what it is to
    live with nature, or the nature of things.

    Then you have to go searching for universal (or immortal) truths to fill the
    void. Quality seems as good a word as any I have come across to help keep
    this universal connection in perspective. The metaphysics is secondary, and
    only as a way of explanation so that this Quality can be accepted, and can
    rid of this need of religious and intellectual masturbation.

    This is what I meant by Socrates was a mystic. He defined Quality before
    Pirsig, he just didn't call it anything. No divisions were needed, and none
    would be needed now if we hadn't been so intent on dividing, or defining, or
    naming it to begin with. Since Aristotle first went his separate way,
    questioning Plato, it seems we have not advanced much in philosophy. At
    least that is how I see it.

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

    Chin says - What rant? :o)

    Cheers back atcha,


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