MD MOQ and idealism

From: Paul Turner (
Date: Fri Oct 03 2003 - 11:08:44 BST

  • Next message: Sam Norton: "Re: MD Intellectual level - New letter from Pirsig"

    Hi all

    [Bo in a discussion with Dan said:]
    >Pirsig/MOQ is right in saying that Quality comes first (excepted from
    >the "idea" realm. No wonder ideas/not ideas is SOM!!) and in that
    >QUALITY context inorganic value is the first static fallout and
    >intellect (for the time being) the last. After this inside-out-turn,
    >re-introducing the ideas, saying that ideas is the first offshoot and
    >that intellect is the idea realm where the rest is created - mentally -

    >makes it a Moebus Ring of ideas. I can't for the life of me understand
    >Pirsig doing this.

    [Dan replied:]
    I'm not sure how the integrity of the MOQ as RMP envisions it can be
    maintained without coming to an understanding with annotation #67. It
    in with so much of his thinking that rejecting it amounts to rejecting
    MOQ. We are of course free to develop our own metaphysics but like Mr.
    Pirsig says, it should be named something else to prevent any confusion.

    I agree with Dan, this is a key point in Pirsig's thought - explained in
    detail in ZMM but not so much in Lila which concentrates on the
    application of the MOQ's evolutionary model to an interpretation of
    history. Personally, it was when I considered the relationship between
    idealism and the MOQ that Pirsig's ideas really hit home. I'm not sure
    how clearly I can explain my understanding but I'll give it a go.
    I think the relationship between the MOQ and idealism is summed up in
    the statement Dan quoted from Lila's Child

    "The MOQ says that Quality comes first, which produces ideas, which
    produce what we know as matter. The scientific community that has
    produced Complementarity almost invariably presumes that matter comes
    first and produces ideas. However, as if to further the confusion, the
    MOQ says that the idea that matter comes first is a high quality idea!"
    [Lila's Child p.202]

    The meaning of "Quality comes first" is described in simple terms in

    "The Metaphysics of Quality follows the empirical tradition here in
    saying that the senses are the starting point of reality, but -- all
    importantly -- it includes a sense of value. Values are phenomena. To
    ignore them is to misread the world. It says this sense of value, of
    liking or disliking, is a primary sense that is a kind of gatekeeper for
    everything else an infant learns. At birth this sense of value is
    extremely Dynamic but as the infant grows up this sense of value becomes
    more and more influenced by accumulated static patterns." [SODV]

    The starting point of reality is primarily an assertion of values.
    However, these values are patterns of experience which are not enough to
    constitute an enduring reality of objects ordered in space and time. In
    Lila, Pirsig explains how Quality produces objects

    "If [a] baby ignores this force of Dynamic Quality it can be speculated
    that he will become mentally retarded, but if he is normally attentive
    to Dynamic Quality he will soon begin to notice differences and then
    correlations between the differences and then repetitive patterns of the
    correlations. But it is not until the baby is several months old that he
    will begin to really understand enough about that enormously complex
    correlation of sensations and boundaries and desires called an object to
    be able to reach for one. This object will not be a primary experience.
    It will be a complex pattern of static values derived from primary

    Once the baby has made a complex pattern of values called an object and
    found this pattern to work well he quickly develops a skill and speed at
    jumping through the chain of deductions that produced it, as though it
    were a single jump." [Lila p.137]

    I think the phrase "once the baby has made a complex pattern of values
    called an object and found this pattern to work well" is important here.
    The baby "finds the pattern to work well"; this is a further assertion
    of value which selects a particular correlation of patterns over others.
    The pattern is not corresponding to anything fixed.

    These assertions of value constitute the "chains of deduction" which
    create "objects". They are intellectual assertions of value. Therefore,
    in the MOQ, like idealism, objects are mental constructs. However, this
    leaves the metaphysical problem of explaining why the mental constructs
    made by individuals are similar enough to constitute a shared
    "objective" reality. Instead of postulating a mind of god, an absolute
    mind, or similar non-empirical claim, the MOQ says that

    "What guarantees the objectivity of the world in which we live is that
    this world is common to us with other thinking beings. Through the
    communications that we have with other men we receive from them
    ready-made harmonious reasonings. We know that these reasonings do not
    come from us and at the same time we recognize in them, because of their
    harmony, the work of reasonable beings like ourselves. And as these
    reasonings appear to fit the world of our sensations, we think we may
    infer that these reasonable beings have seen the same thing as we; thus
    it is that we know we haven't been dreaming. It is this harmony, this
    quality if you will, that is the sole basis for the only reality we can
    ever know." [ZMM p.268]

    and that this quality is

    "... the sense of harmony of the cosmos, which makes us choose the facts
    most fitting to contribute to this harmony. It is not the facts but the
    relation of things that results in the universal harmony that is the
    sole objective reality." [ZMM p.268]

    In the MOQ, ideas are primarily assertions of value, assertions of a
    sense of intellectual harmony. They have to be, everything is primarily
    an assertion of value. The assertions are made "individually" but also
    learned and supported through participation in cultural relationships.
    These relationships maintain and pass on the socially approved
    constructions which are a society's "common sense".

    So the question remains - if ideas come first, how can the MOQ say that
    inorganic nature comes first? I think the answer is found in the
    statement that the MOQ itself is primarily an intellectual pattern of
    values, and within that intellectual pattern one of the major value
    assertions states that

    "The MOQ does not deny the traditional scientific view of reality as
    composed of material substance and independent of us. It says it is an
    extremely high quality idea. We should follow it whenever it is
    practical to do so. But the MOQ, like philosophic idealism, says this
    scientific view of reality is still an idea. If it were not an idea,
    then that "independent scientific material reality" would not be able to
    change as new scientific discoveries come in." [Lila's Child p.532]

    So in the MOQ, the ordering of the evolutionary framework of levels is
    postulated as the best description of reality selected with a sense of
    value from a variety of alternatives. As such, the idea of intellect
    being the latest static level to evolve is also part of the "best
    description" even though, to be consistent, the description itself then
    must be located within the intellectual level! It is important to
    remember that, in the MOQ, the fundamental reality is not associated
    with the levels or the description but with "best", which can be
    translated as the "most harmonious", the "highest quality", and that the
    value that produces descriptions is prior to the talk of all levels. On
    this subject, Pirsig writes to Ant McWatt:

    "When we speak of an external world guided by evolution it's normal to
    assume that it is really there, is independent of us and is the cause of
    us. The MOQ goes along with this assumption because experience has shown
    it to be an extremely high quality belief for our time. But unlike
    materialist metaphysics, the MOQ does not forget that it is still just a
    belief - quite different from beliefs in the past, from beliefs of other
    present cultures, and possibly from beliefs we will all have in the
    future. What will decide which belief prevails is, of course, its

    Although [perhaps?] difficult to grasp, once this is understood I find
    ZMM, Lila, SODV and Lila's Child and other available correspondence to
    be consistent and capable of embedding aspects of idealism and
    materialism into a single "valuist" metaphysics, of which the MOQ is one

    Bo also wrote:

    "You seem to create a Metaphysics of Language (MOL) and why not? The
    genius of Pirsig is the "something" Dynamic/Static,
    biological ...etc. BUT QUALITY IS THE BEST "something"."

    This says a lot to me about how Bo sees the MOQ and why he can't see how
    Pirsig can say that although ideas come before matter, the idea [of
    evolution] that matter comes first is of higher quality to believe and
    is therefore how the MOQ levels are ordered.

    Whilst many different metaphysics may be built around an "ineffable
    source", as I understand it, without "Quality" or "value" as a central
    term, Pirsig's particular metaphysics makes no sense. I don't think you
    can replace the term "Quality" with "language" or "intelligence" or
    "consciousness" without destroying the whole thesis. To repeat a quote
    from above, Pirsig starts from the assumption that..

    "It is this harmony, this quality if you will, that is the sole basis
    for the only reality we can ever know."


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