RE: MF Discussion Topic for December 2003

From: Paul Turner (
Date: Wed Dec 10 2003 - 16:52:49 GMT

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    Hello everyone

    Sam said:
    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)'

    I think that's right. One could say that the intellectual level is
    composed of the different ways in which independently manipulable signs
    bond to form patterns of thought.

    Sam said:
    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 his point here is not that intellect is undefinable in a mystic
    sense but that the process of definition and conceptual differentiation
    itself *is* intellect. (As an analogy, it is like writing "How do I
    follow the rules of English grammar?" or asking somebody "Can you tell
    me what 'talking' is?") The boundaries of the process are realised when
    one transcends conceptual differentiation, and I think this is where
    Pirsig's inclusion of mystic understanding comes in. He isn't saying
    that intellect is mystical, in fact he coined the term "preintellectual"
    to distinguish mystic awareness from intellect.

    Sam said:
    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."

    He is right to say both things, it's just that any definition is always
    another intellectual pattern of value itself and follows the rules which
    govern those patterns. Intellect can "see itself" in the rules of
    grammar, logic and mathematics but cannot "get out of" the rules of
    grammar, logic and mathematics, or the symbols they manipulate, to
    describe itself. That last sentence, with its use of ocular and physical
    metaphor, is a perfect example of that. Consider that my writing and
    your reading of "the manipulation of symbols" is itself a manipulation
    of symbols.

    Sam said:
    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.

    Right. As Mark says, a person is in the coherence between static
    patterns and in a relationship with Dynamic Quality. This is important
    to my understanding of the MOQ and is why I can't get my head around the
    need for the equation between "intellectual" and "individual," or the
    need to identify any level as where we would locate a person.

    Sam said:
    The intellect is that part of a person which is able to make decisions
    in response to Quality

    I think this is incorrect, or maybe it just needs qualification. I think
    decisions, defined as assertions of value, are made at all levels. The
    intellect is that part of a person that manipulates symbols
    independently of the particular experience they symbolise. Decisions
    made through predicting and assessing consequences symbolically would be
    based on intellectual patterns. Decisions made emotionally would be
    based on biological patterns. I don't see any reason why decisions could
    not be made on a combination of both biological and intellectual (and
    social) assertions; in fact this is probably closer to actual
    experience. It may not always seem that way because I think we spend a
    lot of time trying to demonstrate that decisions made biologically,
    socially or Dynamically have intellectual quality. It is commonly known
    as "rationalizing."

    Sam said:
    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.)

    I think this is a fair characterisation of Pirsig's conception of the
    intellectual level although, as Pirsig demonstrates in his letter,
    "thinking" is prone to being extended beyond this usual understanding
    into absurdity.

    Sam said:
    This understanding, prevalent in our culture, is the one which gives
    emotions no cognitive content, ie it precisely IS 'distinct from

    Yes, but intellect does not exclusively determine human behaviour. It
    may struggle against the other levels for dominance but it hasn't
    "conquered" them once and for all and if it did it would be at the cost
    of its own elimination. This struggle between levels is certainly
    evident in everybody I know, including myself.

    Sam said:
    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.

    Actually, the phrase "symbol manipulation" is probably borrowed from
    cognitive science. This quote from Stevan Harnad's "The Symbol Grounding
    Problem" seems to show similarities to Pirsig's conception of intellect.

    "According to proponents of the symbolic model of mind such as Fodor and
    Pylyshyn, symbol-strings capture what mental phenomena such as thoughts
    and beliefs are. Symbolists emphasize that the symbolic level (for them,
    the mental level) is a natural functional level of its own, with ruleful
    regularities that are independent of their specific physical
    realizations. For symbolists, this implementation-independence is the
    critical difference between cognitive phenomena and ordinary physical
    phenomena and their respective explanations. This concept of an
    autonomous symbolic level also conforms to general foundational
    principles in the theory of computation and applies to all the work
    being done in symbolic AI, the branch of science that has so far been
    the most successful in generating (hence explaining) intelligent

    My point here is that we can always find academic evidence to back up
    our beliefs, our static filters see to that.

    More to the point that you raise, the MOQ does support the belief that
    society, and therefore intellect, need biology to support them. The
    paradigm that has postulated that mind includes emotion would classify
    the upper three levels of the MOQ as having a role in an overall concept
    of mind. However, because a definition of mind is not his primary
    concern and because he is describing reality (including human behaviour)
    in terms of levels of value, Pirsig limits mind to the symbolic level in
    a way similar to that mentioned above and describes emotions as
    biological patterns of value. In other words, he is not starting with a
    concept of mind or body when he builds his metaphysics; he is starting
    with value and deriving everything else from that. Consequently, I think
    the term "mind" and its plethora of meanings can be dropped from the MOQ
    with no loss in explanatory power.

    Sam said:
    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.

    I think you have yet to make the case for incoherence. You have, so far,
    made the case for a lack of alignment between the MOQ and some theories
    of mind and/or your own beliefs and definitions.

    Sam said:
    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.

    I don't think you have shown why emotions belong in the intellectual
    level rather than the biological level strongly enough to declare the
    MOQ system unacceptable. Intellect is not supposed to contain or include
    the value of all other levels, and it is not a period of history or a
    species of people.

    Sam said:
    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.

    I think you are mistaken in equating "sense of value" with "emotion." I
    would argue that the appreciation of mathematical elegance is aesthetic,
    but not emotional i.e. it is not a biological response. I would further
    say that emotion is a subset of aesthetic (value), not the other way

    Sam said:
    If we do that, I believe we will find that 'intellect' is inadequate to
    account for the complexity of the fourth level.

    I believe that any definition of the intellectual level is inadequate to
    account for the complexity of *a human being*, but there are three other
    levels and Dynamic Quality.

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

    Those pesky Egyptians :-)



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