From: Sam Norton (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Tue Dec 09 2003 - 12:51:46 GMT
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 http://www.venus.co.uk/hypermail/moq_discuss/5386.html )
which I thought raised some very pertinent points for this debate.
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