Re: MD What is a person?

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Mon Oct 06 2003 - 11:29:37 BST

  • Next message: Patrick van den Berg: "Re: MD Re: MOQ:What is a person."

    Hi Paul,

    I've had more of a chance to give this response some thought. What sometimes throws me is that I
    agree with a very great deal of what you say; but sometimes I think we are talking past each other a
    little. So in an attempt to get a little clearer about those disagreements, a preamble.

    One of the things I most appreciate in the Christian mystical tradition (eg Dionysus, Eckhart, John
    of the Cross etc) is the way in which they describe the unravelling of the self in the journey to
    God. In other words, our sense of self is not ultimate; it is potentially lost in 'divine union'.
    (Although the Christian tradition would also want to claim some sort of ultimate reality to
    personhood; this is one of the key contrasts with Eastern religion, as I understand it). So your
    quote from Buddhist literature is something which I have some sympathy with.

    Secondly, your analogy with 'the weather' - although I think Scott's responses have weight - is
    reminiscent of a Wittgensteinian approach, viz that there is nothing which is doing the thinking. So
    that also struck a sympathetic chord with me.

    Consequently there is a way in which I agree with your conclusion:

    > An MOQ answer might be - it is not that Sam has intellectual patterns;
    > it is intellectual patterns that have Sam.

    I think that this conveys an important truth - but the way in which I understand it is, I think,
    significantly different. So I'll first say what I think a 'person' is, and then say how I think it
    meets those two points above.

    To my mind, a person is a stable pattern of values existing at the fourth level, an 'autonomous
    individual' - ie one in whom there resides an independent response to Quality (DQ) which is not
    mediated through the previously existing static forms (the social level static latches). It is
    precisely the ability to respond directly to Quality, and therefore not to be 'controlled' - ie
    repeating the static social norms - which marks out the change in level from social to level 4. As
    you know, I think the best description for these new values is 'eudaimonic'.

    This stable pattern of values is the 'agent' around which the 'manipulation of symbols, standing for
    patterns of experience' coheres. I still don't understand how it is possible for there to be any
    stability on the fourth level unless there is some equivalent to an 'agent' around which the
    intellectual symbols (and everything else) can coalesce. It seems to run into the same problems as
    the theory of gravity just sitting around waiting for someone to discover it from ZMM. In other
    words, I don't accept that the symbols have a capacity to respond to Quality that is independent of
    an agent, ie the stable pattern of fourth level value which I call the autonomous individual. I
    think the only way that symbols can react to Quality is through the mediation of that individual, ie
    that the role of that individual is precisely to say which symbols, and which patterns and
    arrangements of symbols, have Quality, and which do not. I think both you and Pirsig imply that the
    symbols have an independent relationship to Quality, which doesn't involve the mediation of a
    personal intelligence, and I don't understand how that can happen.

    Now this stable pattern of values, the autonomous individual or 'person', is aware of and able to
    respond to DQ. And I understand the mystical path to be a way of developing that pattern, that
    person, in a way which can radically undermine the sense of ultimacy which is otherwise experienced
    by such a person. In other words, I think the 'dissolving' of identity, which is referred to in the
    great religious traditions, in various ways, is the transition between the fourth level pattern of
    values and DQ. Whereas I think that you (and Pirsig) see this dissolution of personality as being
    the transition between a level 3 stable pattern of values (the 'social self', or possibly the ego)
    and the realm of level 4. Is that fair? So, from my point of view, there is no necessary
    contradiction between my assertion of the reality of personal agency on level 4, and your Buddhist
    teaching (or Meister Eckhart's teaching etc) about the dissolution of the self. We just place that
    dissolution at different points on the scale.

    Similarly, with respect to language. I interpret Wittgenstein's point about there not being
    something which thinks (which is how I interpret your point about the weather) through a MoQian
    lens. In other words, I think it is true and accurate to say that there is no 'thing' - understood
    in SOM terms as a scientifically describable entity - which corresponds to the mind. However I do
    think that there is a stable pattern of values - a person in all their infinite variety and
    stability, of habits, language, culture and personality - which is both a source of independent
    judgement and open to dynamic evolution at a higher level than that of society, which can in fact go
    off on purposes of its own. This is an area where I think MoQ language can offer a better way of
    understanding our existence than (some) Wittgenstein. (By the way, I think that what Wittgenstein
    calls a 'form of life' corresponds quite nicely with 'social pattern of value' - but that depends
    upon seeing language as something which functions at the level of society, which I know you don't

    So I agree that it is the intellectual patterns which have Sam, ie that Sam is simply one example of
    an agglomeration of intellectual patterns of value (or, eudaimonic patterns of value, of which the
    intellect is one part) - but I think that the intellectual patterns don't have any independent
    access to Quality, other than through autonomous individual him or herself.

    Anyhow, that's a fuller response. I'm sure we will still disagree, but I wanted to point out some
    areas of sympathy as well as the disagreement.

    By the way, what do you think of the concept of 'meme'? That seems quite similar to your point of
    view about intellect.


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