Re: MD The Individual Level

From: Wim Nusselder (
Date: Tue Apr 20 2004 - 22:34:37 BST

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    Dear Steve,

    You asked Platt 20 Apr 2004 14:24:23 -0400:
    'Are you aware of any justification in Pirsig's work for levels including
    other levels? Doesn't Pirsig say the levels are discrete?'

    Yes, there is some:

    Pirsig wrote to Paul (according to Paul's posting of 29 Sep 2003 16:52:03
    'When getting into a definition of the intellectual level much clarity
    can be gained by recognizing a parallel with the lower levels. 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. 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. Intellectuality occurs when these customs as
    well as biological and inorganic patterns are designated with a sign
    that stands for them and these signs are manipulated independently of
    the patterns they stand for. "Intellect" can then be defined very
    loosely as the level of independently manipulable signs. Grammar, logic
    and mathematics can be described as the rules of this sign manipulation.'

    Like you I can't square this with the discreteness of levels. So I replied 5
    Oct 2003 23:10:55 +0200 (addressing Pirsig) that I didn't see how clarity
    about the intellectual level was gained in that way and I continued:
    '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

    Paul offered 6 Oct 2003 13:15:56 +0100 a way of squaring them:
    'I don't think it is about complexity alone, although diversity is
    certainly part of it. I think they are discrete because they follow
    completely independent "rules" to form completely different patterns.
    You cannot reduce the intellectual patterns to the rules governing
    inorganic, biological or social patterns. E.g. metaphysics is an
    intellectual pattern of values. It may be described as a structure of
    thought which is expressed in words, the meaning of which have to be
    socially learned, spoken or written biologically and carried
    inorganically in vibrations in the air and on a PC or ink and paper.
    Without the existence of patterns at all levels below, there can be
    nothing at the intellectual level. If you can't see the marks on paper
    or hear the sound you won't "see" or "hear" the words but not all sounds
    or images "carry" words, that is a socially learned pattern. If you
    haven't learned to understand the words you can't begin to grasp the
    philosophical ideas but not all learned skills involve the meaning of
    words or symbolic thought.
    [The intellectual level is so different because it] is symbols being
    manipulated without any direct or immediate effect on the patterns that they
    stand for, whereas although you could say that ritual dancing is "symbolic"
    of tribal identity, socially learned dancing always involves the biological
    movement of dancing. However, the intellectual symbol "dance" does not
    require one to get up and start dancing to be able to manipulate it along
    with other symbols into a structure of thought, such as an anthropologist
    writing a thesis on tribal ritual.
    It is also symbols being generated as abstract and "universal" symbols from
    what was a particular or set of particular experiences.'

    This answer by Paul is not fully convincing to me. An intellectual pattern
    of value consists of symbols. These can be symbols that stand for social
    patterns of value and the collection and manipulation of those symbols
    requires social patterns of value. That doesn't require yet to say that the
    symbols themselves (the intellectual pattern of value) 'is' also a social
    pattern of value.

    I'm glad Pirsig concluded his letter to Paul with:
    'Perhaps you can pass all this along to the Lila Squad with the caveat that
    this is not a Papal Bull, as some would have it, or just plain bull, as
    others will see it, but merely another opinion on the subject that it is
    hoped will help.'
    It didn't help me. Does it help you?

    With friendly greetings,


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