Re: MF Discussion Topic for December 2003

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Tue Dec 09 2003 - 12:51:46 GMT

  • Next message: Paul Turner: "RE: MF Discussion Topic for December 2003"

    Dear friends,

    A second stab at explaining my difficulties with RMP's account of the intellectual level. I may have
    assumed too much in my earlier post.


    I take seriously RMP's comment in his letter to Paul Turner that "When getting into a definition of
    the intellectual level much clarity can be gained by recognizing a parallel with the lower levels."
    So let us consider a hypothetical IQ test question set in, say, 2050:

    "As the atom is to the physical level, and the gene is to the biological level, and the tribe is to
    the social level, so is X to the intellectual level" - What is X?

    That pretty much sums up my initial line of enquiry.

    But to say a little more..

    RMP has variously defined what the intellectual level is; it is the level of independently
    manipulable signs. So I think that RMP would now say that X is an 'abstract sign (standing for a
    pattern of experience)'. At the end of his letter to Paul Turner, however, he retreats to a mystical
    perspective on the intellect: "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 asks."

    I think this is both a cop-out and primary evidence of incoherence. Either we can talk about the
    intellectual level in comparison with the other levels or we can't. Either we can develop some
    systematic analysis and description of how the intellectual level functions and about the static
    patterns that we can discern emerging, or else the level collapses into DQ, whereof one must remain
    silent. Either RMP is right to say that "Grammar, logic
    and mathematics can be described as the rules of this sign manipulation" - and we can therefore
    describe some elements of the fourth level with confidence - or else RMP is right to say that "the
    intellectual level cannot describe itself any better than an eye can
    directly see itself."

    I believe that we can talk about the fourth level of the MoQ. I believe that the interactions
    between the levels can be delineated with more or less precision, and I believe that the
    characteristics of the static fourth level patterns, and the way in which they respond to Quality
    can be discerned. My concern is that RMP's delineation lacks Quality, simple as that.


    Firstly, a response to something which David B raised partially, and which Paul Turner has raised
    before in the MD forum. There is a distinction between a person and an intellect (or, to use my
    language, the 'choosing unit', ie the autonomous individual in level 4). The person is the whole
    human being, ie including all the different levels in more or less harmonious arrangement. The
    intellect is that part of a person which is able to make decisions in response to Quality - in other
    words, it is that element which functions on the intellectual level in an analogous fashion to the
    atom, gene and tribe on the other levels. So my hand is a part of my person, but it is not part of
    my intellect. My intellect is that part of my person which affects and is affected by intellectual
    patterns of value - and is, indeed, a more or less rich static accumulation of such patterns of

    Now in RMP's latest missive, he talks freely of 'a person who is already intellectual'. I take this
    to mean a person (ie four level static patterns of value) who has some aspect which can operate on
    that fourth level. This is, of course, to be carefully distinguished from the social title
    'intellectual' which may or may not correspond with the existence of such an aspect. My
    understanding of the fourth level is similar to this, so when David comments: "it might help to
    simply point out that Pirsig never asserts that intellect is independent from the rest of our
    humanity" he is not asserting something with which I disagree. The problem lies in how that fourth
    level aspect engages with Quality.


    As I said before, the principal problem I have had with using 'intellect' as the description for
    level 4 is that it is too narrow. Most importantly, I accept RMP's "We must all use terms as they
    are described in the dictionary or we lose the ability to communicate with each other." (Note 24 in
    Lila's Child). My dictionary offers as the definition of intellect "the capacity for understanding,
    thinking or reasoning, as distinct from feeling or wishing" and I believe this to be what RMP has
    in mind when he talks about intellect. (In particular, from his letter to Paul Turner, he uses the
    word 'abstract' to describe the signs of the intellectual level.)

    This understanding, prevalent in our culture, is the one which gives emotions no cognitive content,
    ie it precisely IS 'distinct from feeling'. (It derives ultimately, I would argue, from a particular
    strand of neo-Platonism, ironically enough using the interpretation of the Phaedrus which RMP
    rejects in ZMM - but then that raises the question of whether ZMM is consistent with Lila. perhaps
    another month for that one. I note with interest that Ant McWatt confidently claims that the thinker
    closest to RMP is Plotinus - something which I was trying to argue for in the MD forum a while back,
    but which seemed not to be accepted.)

    If the MoQ is going to become widely accepted then it needs to engage with the wider academic world.
    When that academic world accepts that emotions are central to our thinking processes - and that
    'abstract' thought, contrary to the previously accepted paradigm, cannot take place without an
    emotional input - then I contend that the MoQ needs to give an account of this also. When DMB writes
    that "I don't know that we'll find him [RMP] using the specific terms "emotion" or "viscera", but it
    seems quite clear to me that the biological and social levels are where we'd locate such things" I
    think he is reflecting accurately the 'standard' interpretation. Unfortunately, this standard
    interpretation of what emotions are is hugely impoverished, and needs to improve if the MoQ is to
    stand any chance of being coherent. Otherwise all these discussions will remain - and deserve to
    remain - within an intellectual ghetto.

    The MoQ needs to give some account of how Quality is discerned at the intellectual level. RMP
    contends that grammar and logic are two such ways; I accept that, but I think they reinforce the
    'narrow' definition of intellect which excludes emotions and is therefore unacceptable. To use
    correct grammar and logic is to operate at the intellectual level with Quality. To use incorrect
    grammar and logic is to operate with less Quality. Emotions have to be involved in the discernment
    of Quality - to tell, to use an abstract example, which particular mathematical solution has
    'elegance' - so, if we are to keep the language of Quality (and value) then we need to have a much
    more sophisticated account of that emotional involvement. If we do that, I believe we will find that
    'intellect' is inadequate to account for the complexity of the fourth level.

    I think that will do for now. I haven't even touched on his comments about the Egyptians.


    By the way, I wonder if anyone would like to respond to Wim Nusselder's points made in his post to
    MD of Sun Oct 05 2003 - 22:10:55 BST, (at )
    which I thought raised some very pertinent points for this debate.


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