From: Valence (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Tue May 11 2004 - 23:44:23 BST
The question is "what is a level?". I was hoping Sam might elaborate on the
question a little more (ie. set some context for the kind of answer he's
looking for), but in the absence of such elaboration, I'd like to take the
question down to its most basic terms. I could be wrong, but I think
Pirsig's first use of the term "level" comes near the end of ch.11 (p.167 in
"Biological evolution can be seen as a process by which weak Dynamic forces
at a subatomic level discover stratagems for overcoming huge static
inorganic forces at a superatomic level."
Then again on p.169...
"What the Dynamic force had to invent in order to move up the molecular
level and stay there was a carbon molecule that would preserve its limited
Dynamic freedom from inorganic laws and at the same time resist
deterioration back to simple compounds of carbon again."
And then on the same page...
"This division of all biological evolutionary patterns into a Dynamic
function and a static function continues on up through higher levels of
Then at the beginning of chapter 12...
"...[S]tatic patterns of value are divided into four systems: inorganic
patterns, biological patterns, social patterns and intellectual patterns.
They are exhaustive. That's all there are. If you construct an
encyclopedia of four topics - inorganic, biological, social and
intellectual - nothing is left out. No 'thing', that is. Only Dynamic
Quality, which cannot be described in any encyclopedia is absent." LILA,
Notice here that Pirsig describes the four divisions as "systems." He
continues this into the next paragraph when he writes...
But although the four systems are exhaustive they are not exclusive. They
all operate at the same time and in ways that are almost independent of each
But on the next page he flows right into...
Although each higher level is built on a lower one it is not an extension of
that lower level. Quite the contrary. The higher level can often be seen
to be in opposition to the lower level, dominating it, controlling it where
possible for its own purposes.
..which suggests he's using "level" and "system" as essentially
interchangeable. From here on out it's mostly (though not exclusively)
"levels." So I went to the dictionary...
DICTIONARY.COM (top 3 definitions for "level")
1. Relative position or rank on a scale: the local level of government;
studying at the graduate level.
2. A relative degree, as of achievement, intensity, or concentration: an
unsafe level of toxicity; a high level of frustration.
3. A natural or proper position, place, or stage: I finally found my own
level in the business world.
1. A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming
a complex whole.
2. A functionally related group of elements, especially:
a. The human body regarded as a functional physiological unit.
b. An organism as a whole, especially with regard to its vital
processes or functions.
c. A group of physiologically or anatomically complementary organs
or parts: the nervous system; the skeletal system.
d. A group of interacting mechanical or electrical components.
e. A network of structures and channels, as for communication,
travel, or distribution.
f. A network of related computer software, hardware, and data
3. An organized set of interrelated ideas or principles.
4. A social, economic, or political organizational form.
5. A naturally occurring group of objects or phenomena: the solar system.
6. A set of objects or phenomena grouped together for classification or
7. A condition of harmonious, orderly interaction.
8. An organized and coordinated method; a procedure. See Synonyms at
9. The prevailing social order; the establishment. Used with the: You can't
beat the system.
From this, "systems" actually seems better when describing an individual
division of patterns (ie. each 'level' is a system of some kind). We can
see in the ordinary dictionary definition of "system" many of the attributes
of the static pattern groups (ie. Intellectual - a set of interrelated
ideas, Social - the prevailing social order, Biological - a functional
physiological unit, Inorganic - a naturally occurring group of objects). It
seems to me that the definition of the word "level" only becomes relevant
when the systems are "ranked". When we speak of the "social level," we are
not just talking about the social system alone, but the social system as it
sits relative to the other four systems as ranked by Pirsig's MoQ.
If one didn't believe, as Pirsig does, that the four systems can be ranked,
he'd probably drop the word "level" and just call them systems, to wit: an
inorganic system, a biological system, a social system, and an intellectual
system. Each system being a group of interacting, interrelated, or
interdependent elements forming a complex whole and each being governed by
their own rules (and all the other stuff Pirsig envisions about them).
They're only "levels" though, after they're ranked (sorry, I realize none of
this is groundbreaking, but this is what the question asked, no?).
That's how I read Pirsig anyway. Personally, when I think about that "MoQ
encyclopedia" Pirsig hypothesizes, I can't help but to wonder whether it
might be better to characterize the 4 components of the static moral
hierarchy as "topics" rather than "systems". What are the levels? They're
everything we talk about broken down into 4 topics and then ranked morally.
This would suggest reading the quote above from p.153 as if it read "Static
patterns of value are divided into four topics....".
That's all I've got for now.
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