RE: MD Intellectual level - New letter from Pirsig

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sat Oct 11 2003 - 21:10:29 BST

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    Mati, Morey, Turner and all MOQers:

    David Morey asked:
    Can ritual exist without language?
    Could humans copy each other's actions
    visually and form rituals? If so is ritual a form of intelligence?
    Is ritual the manipulation of the visual language?

    dmb says:
    I'm not exactly sure what you're getting at with these questions. But if we
    want to draw a line between the social and intellectual levels, and I think
    we HAVE TO do so if we want a proper definition of the intellect, then I
    think its worth pointing out that language and ritual are not intellectual.
    Yes, there is certainly great intelligence at the social level, but rituals
    and language don't involve the same kind of independent symbol manipulation.
    Its not very hard to see the difference because we're not just talking about
    some mysterious pre-historic rites, but a level of ourselves that we know
    every day...

    Pirsig in the recent letter:
    Handshaking, ballroom dancing, raising one's right hand to
    take an oath, tipping one's hat to the ladies, saying "Gesundheit!"
    after a sneeze-there are trillions of social customs that have no
    intellectual component.

    dmb continues:
    Notice how these everyday rituals each involve a physical gesture? Notice
    how each of them is largely a matter of proper behavior rather than self
    expression or anything else? We could say the same about the more formal and
    overtly religious or civil rituals of our time too. I point this out because
    there is something about the social level that seems to be closer to the
    biological level. We feel it in our bodies. We express it in gestures and
    stances and such. We can't dance with our brains; the intellect just can't
    feel the beat like the hips can, you know?

    It might be helpful to point out that things such as
    song/dance/ritual/language and story telling and religion certainly are
    distinctly different things in our modern world, but once upon a time all of
    this and more was part of a single complex. Once uopn a time these things
    were not yet differentiated from each other and the whole thing was related
    to with a different kind of consciousness. Not that we should find it
    strange and ancient, because we still shake hands and bless sneezers. (But
    one should avoid shaking hands with recent sneezers.)

    Paul Turner said:
                  ...the conscious manipulation of symbols by individuals
    doesn't seem to have occurred until around the time of Odyssey. Until
    recently I, for one, did not appreciate the massive change in human
    behaviour that seems to have occurred around this time.

    dmb says:
    You're not the only one. There are tons of misconceptions about this
    transition period, even for those who are fascinated by the ancient and
    pre-historic worlds. But there is no avoiding the conclusion that the
    difference between the social and intellectual levels is easier to see for a
    person who knows something about that period. And I think that even if
    Pirsig's ideas were completely excluded from the discussion, a person who
    learned lots about the period would conclude that something rather
    astonishing happened around that time...

    Pirsig in the recent letter:
    Just when the evolution of the intellectual level from the social level
    took place in history can only be speculated on. I certainly wasn't
    there when it happened. ...Maybe the early Greek philosophers. Who
    knows? But if one studies the early books of the Bible or if one studies
    the sayings of primitive tribes today, the intellectual level is
    conspicuously absent. The world is ruled by Gods who follow social and
    biological patterns and nothing else.

    dmb says:
    I was there. It happened on a Tuesday. But seriously, it seems we can almost
    draw a fuzzy line even if we can't pin point the exact moment. Its hard to
    imagine how such a thing could happen in a moment or that anybody at the
    time realized what was being let loose in the world. But if the Egyptians
    were not but the early Greek philosophers were and if the early books of the
    Bible were not, and the later ones were... the time frame gets narrowed down
    to something we can get a handle on. But this historical approach is only
    one way to get at it, one way to picture the shift from social to
    intellectual. There is psychology, comparative religion, the social sciences
    and my favorites - mythology. Jaynes' ideas seem to describe this same
    shift, but he's certainly not the only game in town.

    Maybe its worth repeating that the social level is not been consigned to the
    dust heap. We can learn something about it by looking at pre-historic
    cultures and such, but that level still defines us to a very large extent.
    Its most of what we are.


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