RE: MD Pirsig's conception of ritual

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun Feb 23 2003 - 22:58:51 GMT

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    Wim, Sam and all:

    Sam asked David B. 15 Feb:
    'what ... constitutes the "necessity of the social level"? ... what social
    institutions, customs - rituals?? - etc are needed in order to preserve or
    develop a functioning intellectual level?'

    David B. answered 15 and 16 Feb:
    'It's what makes us human, more than animals. It's what allows us to think
    and talk, gives us our desires and conceptual categories, ideas of rights
    and wrong. It's most of what we are. It's as necessary as the body. ...
    All languages, civilizations, societies, myths, morals, religions and
    rituals are products of the social level. It's huge and ancient. It is
    everything about us that is neither animal nor intellectual. It's everything
    that makes us human.'

    Wim said:
    I don't think the social level as David describes it can be properly
    separated from the intellectual level (not to be confused with
    'intellect' or 'intelligence' understood as biological capacities of our
    species). Pirsig's descriptions aren't much better.

    Pirsig writes in chapter 30 of 'Lila':
    'These rituals may be the connecting link between the social and
    intellectual levels of evolution. One can imagine primitive song-rituals and
    dance-rituals associated with certain cosmology stories, myths, which
    generated the first primitive religions. From these the first intellectual
    truths could have been derived.'

    Wim continued:
    you can interpret this in different extreme ways:
    1) Religious (song- & dance-)rituals (associated with ...), being the
    connecting link between the social and intellectual levels, are the first
    intellectual patterns of values, the basis of the intellectual level (not
    just a decadent corruption of it).

    DMB says:
    When all the qualifiers and parenthetical information is removed, what
    you've said here is, "religious ritual are the first intellectual patterns
    of values". But Pirsig says "from these the first intellectual truths could
    have been derived". I think there is a great distance between your
    interpretation and Pirsig's explicit statement. The difference between "are"
    and "derived from" is enormous.

    Wim has an alternative interpretation:
    2) These rituals, along with the cosmology stories, myths and resulting
    primitive religions belong to the social level and only the intellectual
    truths derived from them belong to the intellectual level.

    DMB says:
    Only intellectual truths belong to the intellectual level? Clearly. Or are
    you saying that intellectual patterns NOT derived from the social level are
    not truely intellectual? Don't worry about that. As I understand it, such a
    thing isn't really even possible. That's why thinking otherwise leads to so
    many problems. Anyway, I think the quote is just one more way to show the
    inescapability of the social level, that intellect depends upon it for

    Wim said:
    I think Pirsig's definition of the intellectual level (from 'Lila's Child')
    as 'the collection and manipulation of symbols, created in the brain, that
    stand for patterns of experience' would indicate the first interpretation is
    closest to what he -in retrospect- meant. The cosmology stories, myths and
    primitive religions and maybe even the rituals themselves can clearly be
    understood as 'symbols that stand for patterns of experience'.

    DMB says:
    I think you're leaning on the Lila's Child quote too much and forgeting all
    the other things that Pirsig has said about intellect, not to mention what
    we know from history and from our own lives. Obviously myths, rituals and
    religions are not what Pirsig was talking about and in fact this is a short
    list of the things intellectual values seek to transcend. Pirsig's quote
    about the manipulation of symbols tried to get at the difference in a
    specific cognitive function sort of way, but don't make too much of that.
    All symbols are not the same. Mythological symbols are of a whole different
    order and level from mathematical symbols, for example. We have very
    different ideas about the social level. You seem to think its filled with
    half-conscious, zombie-like creatures who are nothing like us. For example,
    in ansering how the level's are preserved and develop you say...

    Complex patterns of unthinking behavior that have no direct survival value
    from the social level are needed for the intellectual level, for 'meaning'
    to develop.

    DMB says:
    I don't wish to get into preservation or development, that's why I extracted
    this from its context. I just want to point out what you're saying about the
    social level; "complex patterns of unthinking behavior". Why unthinking? Why
    behavior? Social values are rich and wise and intelligent. There's a whole
    lot of thinking going on. But there is a difference between that and the
    intellect, which is a certain kind of thinking, a different level of
    thinking. Recall that both the third and fourth levels can be called
    subjective, they both involve thinking.

    Wim said:
    My way of separating the social and intellectual level in the context of
    this Pirsig quote is that such rituals -being a kind of 'machine language
    interface'- belong BOTH to the social level (when interpreted as unthinking
    behavior copied between generations in processes focussed on seeking
    'status/celebrity') AND to the intellectual level (when interpreted as
    symbolizing/referring to experience outside the rituals themselves, e.g.
    hunting experiences, the experience of seasonal rhythms, experience of birth
    and death etc.).

    DMB says:
    Oh, no. Again, if we remove the qualifiers you haven't said much. Your "way
    of separating the social and intellectual level is.. such rituals... belong
    BOTH to the social level...AND the intellectual level" Yikes! you separate
    by saying its both? Very confusing. I dare say it makes no sense.

    Wim said:
    It's a pity that Pirsig in chapter 12 only compared his
    hardware-software-novel analogy only with 'trying to explain social moral
    patterns in terms of inorganic chemistry patterns' and not with the
    relation -over two 'machine level interfaces'- between intellectual patterns
    of value and biological patterns of value. He didn't even mention what is
    the 'machine level interface' between biological and social patterns of
    value. So we have to choose for ourselves. My choice (for the interface
    between social and intellectual patterns of values) is both rituals and
    symbolic language (e.g. the letters that are forming this text).

    DMB says:
    Machine interface? Where'd you get the idea that such a thing exists or is
    needed? I think you've taken the computer analogy way too far. Pisig is only
    illustrating how the level are discreet, how they each have their own

    Thanks for your time,

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