Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2004

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Fri May 14 2004 - 10:31:21 BST

  • Next message: Kirk Rankin: "Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2004"

    Hi all,

    What is a level?

    I had intended to get something on this topic out sooner, but real life has been something of a
    constraint recently. I had a number of queries in my mind as to what a level was, in Pirsig's
    account of the MoQ. Most of them have now been answered by Rick's post, which made a lot of sense to
    me. But my main underlying interest is in finding out if we can get some consensus on what sort of
    thing might constitute a level, what sort of thing a level is - and those who know my point of view
    will understand why I ask the question. This post gives my answer.

    Pirsig describes the MoQ as being a study of static latches, or static Quality. I think the first
    (obvious) thing to say about what a level is, is precisely this: that it is a description or
    classification of static Quality (ie Quality statically latched); more precisely, it is a
    description of particular classes of patterns of value, so: (static) reality is composed of patterns
    of value, these can be classified in the following way etc.

    Secondly, Pirsig does arrange the levels in a hierarchy, with the higher levels being more 'moral'
    than the lower. This is a part of his evolutionary stance, that over time, Quality becomes more and
    more 'present', ('statically latched'?). So there is an ascent from the inorganic to the biological
    to the social to the fourth level. This ascent is led by DQ, and is geared around freedom, "A
    primary occupation of every level of evolution seems to be offering freedom to lower levels of

    Thirdly, although Pirsig says that the levels are discrete, they are not _absolutely_ discrete, in
    other words, there are ways in which they relate to each other. "They all operate at the same time
    and in ways that are ALMOST independent of each other." (ch 12, my emphasis). The way that they
    relate is through a 'machine language interface' (from his analogy with computers), "the biological
    patterns of life and the molecular patterns of organic chemistry have a 'machine language' interface
    called DNA." (ch 12 again).

    Fourthly, there is a 'purpose' involved at each level. (Perhaps this could be redescribed as saying,
    DQ operates or is experienced differently at each level?) So Pirsig writes, "A primary occupation of
    every level of evolution seems to be offering freedom to lower levels of evolution. But as the
    higher level gets more sophisticated it goes off on purposes of its own." I don't think Pirsig
    explicitly says this anywhere, but it seems to me that this 'purpose' can be expressed in terms of
    laws, eg the law of physics at the inorganic level; the law of natural selection at the biological
    level. Pirsig does, however, go on to talk about the different levels emerging to give more freedom
    in the context of those laws, "One could almost define life as the organized disobedience of the law
    of gravity", "This would explain why patterns of life do not change solely in accord with causative
    'mechanisms' or 'programs' or blind operations of physical laws. They do not just change
    valuelessly. They change in ways that evade, override and circumvent these laws. The patterns of
    life are constantly evolving in response to something 'better' than that which these laws have to
    offer." (ch 11)

    Fifthly, at least if we go from the DNA example, there seems scope for suggesting that there is a
    particular pattern, (closely related to the static latch which is the 'machine language interface'),
    which is the primary 'vehicle' for the operation of DQ at each level, ie the 'migration of static
    patterns toward Dynamic Quality'. "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. They do this by selecting superatomic mechanisms in which a number of
    options are so evenly balanced that a weak Dynamic force can tip the balance one way or another. The
    particular atom that the weak Dynamic subatomic forces have seized as their primary vehicle is
    carbon"; "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." (ch 11)

    It seems to me that these are aspects (doubtless not all the aspects) of what sort of thing a level
    is. So a level in the MoQ is: a classification of static patterns of value that fits into the
    hierarchy of evolution led by DQ, which relates to the other levels via a 'machine language
    interface' and whose purpose can be classified according to a particular 'law' or 'laws', and which
    is most easily understood by consideration of the 'vehicle' on which DQ operates.

    Anyone care to refine this formulation?


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