Re: MD Intellectual level - New letter from Pirsig

From: Wim Nusselder (
Date: Sun Oct 05 2003 - 22:10:55 BST

  • Next message: Paul Turner: "RE: MD MOQ and idealism"

    Dear Robert P. (and followers),

    Now that you have decided to participate in this e-discussion by having a
    letter passed on, I hope you also follow (or have reported back to you) the
    replies. An opinion backed by celebrity without 'listening' for replies may
    be even worse than a Papal Bull. The pope probably DOES show interest in how
    the opinions he expresses 'ex cathedra' are appreciated by his flock.

    You wrote 23 September (via Paul 29 Sep 2003 16:52:03 +0100):
    '"Biologically [Lila's] fine, socially she's pretty far down the scale,
    intellectually she's nowhere. . ." ... could have been more exactly put: "As
    an intellectual Lila is nowhere." That would make it clearer that the social
    title was referred to'.
    So this statement says nothing about the intellectual level,
    because -according to you- we shouldn't confuse 'the social title,
    "Intellectual," and the intellectual level itself'.

    Your next example, that's supposed to clear up the confusion of 'intellect'
    and 'intellectual' likewise doesn't say anything about the intellectual
    level either:
    'Thus, though it may be assumed that the Egyptians who preceded the Greeks
    had intellect, it can be doubted that theirs was an intellectual culture.'
    You use it to suggest that 'having intellect' doesn't prove a presence of
    the intellectual level. 'Intellectual culture' seems to mean 'a culture in
    which "intellectuals" have an important role', however. So it is essentially
    about social titles and not defining the presence of the intellectual level.

    I don't really see how clarity about the intellectual level is gained by
    your next statement either:
    'Just as every biological pattern is also inorganic, but not all inorganic
    patterns are biological; and just as every social level is also biological,
    although not all biological patterns are social; so every intellectual
    pattern is social although not all social patterns are intellectual.'
    So every intellectual pattern of value is also an inorganic pattern of
    value, like any opinion about the MoQ expressed on this list is also a
    pattern in the memory parts of our computer hardware. The higher levels add
    extra complexity, but why are the levels discrete? Why is an intellectual
    pattern of value (so) different from a non-intellectual social pattern of
    value (or from a non-biological, non-social, non-intellectual inorganic
    pattern of value for that matter) that it merits speaking about a discrete

    '"Intellect" can then be defined very loosely as the level of independently
    manipulable signs.' is less clear (because it is indeed only a 'loose'
    definition) than your earlier definition from 'Lila's Child':
    'the intellectual level is ... the collection and manipulation of symbols,
    created in the brain, that stand for patterns of experience.'
    I doubt whether 'independently' is an essential addition. Is manipulating a
    mass meeting of people to kill all Jews with a speech about of 'racial
    purity' less intellectual than writing a book about that concept? Or
    'freedom' ...?

    The question when the intellectual level started should be answered using
    one's definition of the intellectual level. Your suggestion that the
    intellectual level started with some Greek philosopher (and contemporaries
    in Oriental cultures) and was absent among preceding Egyptians, in early
    Biblical times and among primitive tribes today is not an answer to the
    question when people started collecting and manipulating symbols, however.
    It may be an answer to the question when collecting and manipulating symbols
    started to become an important part of a culture. In other words: ancient
    Greece may have marked a change from cultures (i.e. combinations of social
    and intellectual patterns of value, as you defined 'culture' in 'Lila's
    Child') in which intellectual patterns of value played only a small role
    (even if they were present) to cultures in which they had an important role.

    You wrote to Paul:
    'If one extends the term intellectual to include primitive cultures just
    because they are thinking about things, why stop there?'
    But you didn't define the 'intellectual level' with 'thinking about
    thinking', but with collecting and manipulating symbols. We shouldn't
    include a whole culture (i.e. social and intellectual patterns of value) in
    the intellectual level anyway.

    If a culture of a group of people is the sum total of the social and the
    intellectual patterns of value in which they participate, then the
    intellectual level starts with the first culture that doesn't consist solely
    of social patterns of value. It doesn't necessarily start with the first
    individual that collects and manipulates symbols. Only if individuals doing
    so manage to pass that practice on others.

    Why don't you stick with what you wrote in chapter 30 of 'Lila'?
    'He could only guess how far back this ritual-cosmos relationship went,
    maybe fifty or one hundred thousand years. ... stone age people were
    probably bound by ritual all day long ... 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.'
    That put the start of the intellectual level at the point in time when
    intellectual truths started to be derived from rituals, probably by shamans
    who passed both their social role as keepers of such rituals and the
    associated intellectual truths on via a system of apprentices and acolytes.
    That might put it back 50.000 - 100.000 years, but there WOULD be a good a
    reason to stop there.
    On the basis of your definition of the intellectual level I don't see a good
    reason to stop at the ancient Greek, however.

    You last statement is both confusing (invoking all the confusions about
    'intellect', 'intellectual level', 'intellectual' as noun, 'intellectual' as
    adverb etc. that you sought to clarify) and paradoxical:
    'for anyone who really wants to know what intellect is I think definitions
    are not the place to start. Since definitions are a part of the intellectual
    level the only person who will understand a definition of intellect is a
    person who already is intellectual and thus has the answer before he ever
    In a sense you DO have to start with a definition of the intellectual level
    to understand what it is. Only when you understand the definition you will
    know that you are an intellectual-that-also-happens-to-be-intellectual (able
    to manipulate symbols at this level of abstraction). Then you will also
    recognize that definition as defining part of your 'self', your
    participation in intellectual patterns of value.
    In another sense knowing yourself as intellectual and understanding the
    definition are two sides of the same coin. Whichever of the two you start
    with, you are doing essentially the same thing.
    The answer is in the asking, but not before. An answer is unthinkable
    without a preceding question.

    With friendly greetings,


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