Re: MF Discussion Topic for May 2004

From: Sam Norton (
Date: Mon May 24 2004 - 04:13:15 BST

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    Hi David (MB),

    > P.S. Sam, my criticism was NOT that you took Pirsig's analogy literally. Not
    > even close. Mine was centered on refuting the idea that there is anything
    > between the levels. There is no gasket, washer, lubricant, etc. Have you any
    > response to that criticism? Did I NOT make a good case that the analogy is
    > aimed at illustrating the discrete nature of the levels?

    Fair point, I was distracted by Mark's criticism and I should have come back to you more clearly on
    this. My apologies.

    I don't agree that Pirsig's view is that there is a 'gasket' or 'washer'; nor is it what I was
    arguing for (and what I'm trying to do here is explicate his views, not advance my own, if that
    wasn't obvious). In other words, the point is not that there is something 'between' the levels, as
    that there is something which is comprehensible (for want of a better word) from both sides, and
    which is the 'vehicle' (Pirsig's word) for the evolution of the higher level. I think that you
    haven't grasped his point about the 'machine language interface', at least, not the whole of it. To
    demonstrate that I want to talk about DNA.

    The full quotation behind my point would probably help:

    "...the biological patterns of life and the molecular patterns of organic chemistry have a 'machine
    language' interface called DNA but that does not mean that the carbon or hydrogen or oxygen atoms
    possess or guide life. 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." (chapter 12)

    DNA, as a 'balanced' mechanism, is the vehicle that the weak subatomic forces adopted to steer to
    'all sorts of freedom by selecting first one bonding preference and then another. (See the end of
    chapter 11; note that here Pirsig actually describes the 'vehicle' as a DNA + protein combination,
    static and dynamic in >coherent< harmony (Sam winks to Mark))

    What I am wanting to pick up on is that a) DNA is the 'breakthrough' from the inorganic to the
    biological level (surely not contentious?); b) DNA structures or bounds the biological level
    (again, surely not contentious?). It is not that DNA functions as a 'gasket' *between* the levels.
    On the contrary, DNA is a product of one level that effectively creates the new level all on its
    own. As I understand the machine language interface point, that's exactly what Pirsig is describing.
    Your picking up of the note/symphony language is spot on; so DNA is a 'note' that the inorganic
    level has managed to create (giving itself more freedom) but the existence of notes allows for the
    existence of symphonies, which are composed of notes. The interesting thing is not the existence of
    notes but their patterning according to the classification by level - that's what makes the
    difference between a 'note' that happens randomly (a sound which is meaningless; the inorganic
    level) and a 'note' within a symphony (a sound which is meaningful; the biological level). Although
    the DNA evolved to give more freedom at the inorganic level, it became open to DQ in a radically new
    way - and we have all of biology as a result. So I'm not arguing that the 'machine language
    interface' sits *between* the two levels. I'm saying this is how the one becomes the other - and
    therefore there is a perceptible link (as Pirsig puts it, the levels are ALMOST independent). All of
    the biological level is constructed out of the machine language interface of DNA.

    Of course, what I'm really interested in are what the parallels are to DNA at other levels, but lets
    try and get some agreement on this bit first. If we can't agree some of the technical aspects then
    we won't get very far, and I think this concept and language is very important to understanding the
    levels in the MoQ. I'm sorry I'm not making it clear.


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