RE: MF Discussion Topic for May 2004

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Mon May 17 2004 - 20:41:57 BST

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

    Mark, Sam, Rick and all MFers:

    dmb had said:
    The idea of levels in Pirsig's thinking goes back to ZAMM, at least.

    Mark asked:
    Is there textual support for this? You must remember that ZMM presents many
    ideas which are abandoned as the MOQ is developed. For example, the
    Classic/Romantic split no longer plays any part in the MOQ, and to attempt
    to integrate it into the MOQ would be a mistake.

    dmb replies:
    Yes, I think there is "textual support". I don't think that I'm trying to
    intergrate the idea of levels into the MOQ because they are already there.
    I'm just pointing out that Pirsig didn't do anything very novel or invent
    them out of thin air. And so I honestly don't see why the idea "would be a
    mistake". The point was simply to show a similarity between ideas, a
    continuity in Pirsig's thinking with respect to levels, but I also happen to
    know from Wilber and others, that the same basic idea is found in virtually
    every thought system throughout the world, except our own. BUT, if you need
    to see this stated in Lila to accept it, I found one without even looking.
    It doesn't make a very fancy case, but since this is such a reasonable and
    harmless assertion, I hope that a simple one'll be enough. At the beginning
    of chapter 12 Pirsig says, "This classificaton of patterns is NOT VERY
    ORIGINAL, but the MOQ allows and assertion about them that is unusual. It
    says they are not continuous. They are discrete." (My emphasis) Which brings
    us to Sam's comments...

    Sam said:
    ........, 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

    dmb replies:
    I think you've missed the point of Pirsig's computer analogy. He uses it to
    explain his "unusual" assertion; that the level are "discrete", "not
    continuous" and "have nothing whatsoever to do with each other". Immediately
    following this unusual assertion, he says "This observation is impossible in
    a substance-dominated metaphysics where everything has to be an extension of
    matter." and then moves directly to the analogy, telling us explicitly that
    it is intended to illustrate each level's independence. "An excellent
    analogy to the independence of the levels, Phaedrus thought, is the relation
    of hardware to software in a computer." This is where the "Machine Language
    Instruction Repertoire" comes into the picture. More below...

    Sam said:
    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'.

    dmb says:
    There is a particular pattern related to the MLIR which is the primary
    vehicle for DQ? This is very unclear, but I get the impression that you're
    saying that this "interface" is a third entity that sits between one level
    and the next, like a gasket, a washer or some kind of lubricant. This would
    be a fiction that is defied by Pirsig's explanation of the MLIR. And even if
    my impression is not correct, I think its safe to say that it wouldn't hurt
    to seek some clarity by taking a closer look at what he says about the
    "Machine Language Instruction Repertoire"...

    "The two sets are independent. Except for a memory map and a tiny isthmus of
    information called the 'MLIR' - a list so small you could write it on a
    single page - the electronic circuits and the programs existing in the same
    computer at the same time have nothing whatsoever to do with each other."

    Here we can see the passage where he first introduces the MLIR. And if he'd
    said nothing else, I can see how this "tiny isthmus of information" COULD
    seem like an exception to the idea that "the two sets are independent", how
    it MIGHT seem like there is a third thing that acts as a connector between
    levels, but Pirsig has more to say about it. He says,..

    "These Machine Language instructions were the final achievement toward which
    all the circuits aimed. They were the end performance of a whole symphony of
    switching operations. When he got into programming he found that this
    symphony of electronic circuits was considered to be a mere single not in a
    whole other symphony that had no resemblance to the first one. ..The Machine
    Language Instruction Repertoire, which had been the entire design goal, was
    now the lowest element of the lowest level programming language."

    I think this idea really gets at the relationship between levels. The very
    pinnacle of achivement on one level becomes the first baby step of the next.
    This, I think, is what Pirsig is saying about the relationship between the
    most complex inorganic molecules and the most basic life forms. Likewise,
    it's easy to imagine that the very first social level patterns were just
    beyond the most advanced kind of biological instincts or that the most
    advanced social level values evolve enough to become the most basic of
    intellectual patterns. I think we see this in Pirsig's assertion that myths,
    rituals and cosmology stories "may be the connecting link between the social
    and intellectual levels of evolution". "From these" he says "the first
    intellectual truths could have been derived." (end of chapter 30) And just
    in case anyone is still tempted to conclude that there is a pattern or
    patterns on the interface that is an exception to the rule of independence,
    he says even more.

    "Although both the circuit designer and the programmer knew the meaning of
    the instruction, 'Load Accumulator', the meaning that each knew was entirely
    different from the other's. Their only relationship was that of analogy.
    ...Even in this narrow isthmus between these two sets of static patterns
    called 'hardware' and 'software' there was still no interchange of meaning.
    The same machine language instruction was a completely different entity
    within two different sets of patterns."

    So the Machine Language Instruction Repertoire is described is "a tiny
    isthmus of information". From from one level it looks a great symphony, the
    entire design goal, the height of achievement. But to the next level it
    looks like a single note and serves as a basic building block. It's not a
    third thing that sits between levels nor even an entity that functions
    equally in both. The analogy serves to illustrate that there is "no
    interchange of meaning" even within that tiny isthmus. The point is to show
    that the levels are like oil and water, that one is NOT an extension of the
    other, that they are "not continuous", that "the two have nothing whatsoever
    to do with each other", that the levels are not only "independent" but even
    "in oppostion" to each other.


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