Pirsig, Whitehead, Sneddon & McWatt – Credit Where Credit’s Due

It’s no secret that my philosophical – metaphysical – journey was helped along early on by the writing of Robert Pirsig [(1974) “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and (1991) “Lila“], although I was late to that party, at the turn of the millennium.

I’m pretty catholic when it comes to sources of meta-physical thought and their syntheses  into a comprehensible & workable real-world-view, but I do still maintain that Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality is as good a framework as any I’ve come across. Almost all other syntheses of my own I relate to the MoQ even if, like any other philosophical theory, there is plenty of room for disagreement in interpretation and application, even amongst those that take the MoQ seriously. (I still maintain my Pirsig Pages.)

The path of getting Pirsig into the academic canon has been (and continues to be) a rocky one. Plenty of academic philosophers have written comparative papers, short-courses and even masters theses. So far as I am aware, there is still however only one full PhD dedicated to the work of Pirsig, and no full-time / tenured academic staff and/or courses that major on Pirsig.

A Critical Analysis of
Robert Pirsig’s
Metaphysics of Quality

Anthony Michael McWatt

(PhD thesis submitted in accordance with the requirements
of the University of Liverpool, November 2004.)

I don’t major on Pirsig particularly these days, although my intuitions of MoQ-as-Framework persist. This 20 year blogging project attests to the range of philosophy, metaphysics and fundamental physics I’ve researched since first reading Pirsig, and I’d not re-read McWatt’s thesis until this past week.

Anyone following my thought journey will have noticed that Whitehead figures prominently in the last year or two. Well, there are over 30 references to Whitehead in McWatt’s thesis that must have gone right over my head when I first read it. (I was prejudiced against Whitehead’s mathematical collaborations with Russell until I eventually caught up with his metaphysical thinking.) McWatt has references to “Process & Reality” (PnR) and to “Adventures of Ideas” (AoI) as well as secondary references, including

Andrew (AG) Sneddon (1995). MA Thesis
A Process Analysis of Quality:
A. N. Whitehead & R. Pirsig on Existence & Value

Having been knocked-out by PnR – I discover I already had an unread copy of AoI. Perversly, according to most evidence, I’m finding AoI harder going than PnR.

Anyway, I clearly need to do a round-up of my Pirsig<>Whitehead synthesis at some point. Credit to McWatt for  his earlier work here.

The West is Dangerously Weird

Had this piece from The Harvard Gazette bookmarked for a couple of weeks and still not fully digested:

“How the West Became WEIRD
– that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.”

It’s an interview of Joseph Henrich by Juan Siliezar.

Main thread in my own agenda that “western rational arrogance” is a disease that we suffer from and leaves us blindsided when it comes to understanding that there are alternative world-views held by those not subjected to western colonisation, mental via media if not physical via force of arms.


Follow-on beyond and unrelated to the above article, a topical example of why dominant Western reasoning is a problem for the world:

The alternate views of Covid19 “disease” on the one hand and Covid19 “response measures” on the other.

Prof. Sunetra Gupta – Oxford UK (theoretical) Epidemiologist – with alternate views on this balance of risk. (I’m pretty close to her position.) “Do the math” is the false step; easy, but false. Classic memetics.

Dr. Reiner Fuellmich – German lawyer – a bit too big-capitalism business-conspiracy focussed for my taste, but interestingly bringing in very early the idea of archetypal Germans being very disciplined in terms of rational logic representing a target for “the science” driving the Covid19 response. He goes as far as to say “there are no excess deaths anywhere”

If nothing else in a rational democratic society – popular consensus is not a great measure for scientific validity, not when the very basis is already biased to that kind of “Western” logic. The modern (post 1920’s) East is thoroughly contaminated with the same western mental virus.

The only “conspiracy” is that we are memetically trapped – complicit – in this reasoning loop.

And “economy” has nothing to do with the arithmetic of money either – that’s “autistic” to coin the phrase. It’s about living meaningful lives.

The only argument for lock-down is the delaying effect that prevents overload of health services. The delay in itself has no other value, yet has huge and profound downside “costs” in its own right.


Post Note:

Tricky part of this whole debate is what constitutes an “acceptable” level of death. Zero or minimal sounds reasonable but is in fact totally irrational.  As someone quipped on Twitter the other day, aiming for zero deaths shows a lack of ambition, we should aiming to raise people from the dead 🙂

Keeping “Excess Deaths” within normal expectations is the benchmark most settle on, but even here, the question of excess relative to what is still a political (ie policy) choice. The appearance of science and pre-school arithmetic is attractive, but nevertheless entirely political. Consider:

Expectations Alive in 2020
UK Pop 67,800,000
UK Life Expectancy 81
Average annual (all causes) 837,037
Average monthly 69,753
Average weekly 16,005
Recent 5 yr recorded average 11,000 – 12,000

Slightly scary is that formal stats of UK excess death rates being used in public stats on Covid progress are using weekly deaths relative to that 5 yearly average. Recent years have been exceptionally low death rates, life expectancy and population have been rising unusually rapidly recently in the UK. Policy is being set on keeping it rising at these rates. Peak levels of deaths during Covid 19 (22k/wk) have been barely as far in excess of the lifetime expectation (16k/wk) as the 5 yr average (11-12k/wk) is below it.

Given this is marginally significant, it is even more worrying when looking at actual Covid reported deaths (these are just England, not UK). Whatever the age group 95% of reported deaths coincide with pre-existing conditions over the whole Covid period since March.

I agree with the general “Barrington” position that Covid health risks are being greatly exaggerated in connection with Covid policy measures.

We should be living life, taking precautions and taking extra care of the elderly and those with (known) pre-existing conditions. Just as we would with any infectious potentially life-threatening disease. Basic good manners.

In terms of my own longer-term agenda, simple arithmetic is being used as a substitute for sound judgement because simple arithmetic looks like following-the-science and absolves decision-makers from the responsibility of making judgements that could be challenged by such simplistic scientism as being “unscientific”.

Simplistic scientism is killing real science and civilisation as we know it.

Wake-up folks. No conspiracies of skilled-incompetence needed, just natural laws of evolution, driving humanity to irrelevance until we recognise this fault in our modern rationality.

Critiques of Whitehead’s Metaphysics

Just another placeholder post, like the last one from Alan Rayner, this one from Leemon McHenry who, the only time I came across before, was as editor of a collection of articles including Alan Rayner.

Anyway this link to a piece reviewing contemporary Critiques of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, including Russell. (Made it pretty clear I’m a fan of Whitehead’s process / event-based worldview, even if he over-elaborates his arguments.)

Cormac O’Raifeartaigh / O’Rafferty

Just capturing a link to the AntiMatter blog pages of Cormac O’Rafferty.  (Like me he blogs about plenty of current affairs and global politics beyond his academic teaching interest in physics. For me these are in fact deeply connected via human memetics and social decision making – in both science and politics.)

Capturing the link because he was the one scientist linked by Rick Ryals in his “Einstein Was Right” agenda … turning the clock back to supplementary knowledge of Einstein that was overlooked by the science community when Relativity and QM took off after 1917 – and left us with all the paradoxes and anomalies of 21st C Physics. (Rick’s video presentation on that page.)

Topical because I’m following-up references to Peter Rowlands, who also follows the clock back to some mathematical conventions that were overlooked in development of Dirac’s version of Schrödinger. (Hamilton, Quaternions and Clifford mathematics). A Dirac Nilpotent Rewrite that leaves the reality of the symmetric elements exposed to the human reader as the algorithmic computation of much simpler maths. (Completed my read. Excellent. Recommended. Must publish a more detailed review.)


Post notes:

(Rowlands does continue to have 2018/19/20 joint publications of papers, so he is still active out there. Intriguingly this one:

“Amoroso, Richard; Gianni, Albertini; Kauffman, Louis; Peter, Rowlands (2018). Unified Field Mechanics Ii: Formulations And Empirical Tests – Proceedings Of The Xth Symposium Honoring Noted French Mathematical Physicist Jean-pierre Vigier. Singapore: World Scientific. p. 601. ISBN 978-981-323-203-7.”

On a wiki page about the psyche in science. The plot continues to converge.)

And, whilst I remember, my original contact with Rowlands, via Peter Marcer of BCS / CASYS also included Brian Josephson and Karl Pribram. Rick Ryals was the common communication between O’Raffery and Rowlands. Need to refresh these old (email) contacts.

And, oh my, having mentioned Clifford maths above, the link has already been made here. What a tangled web.

Here a reference to Cormac by Cory Powell in Discover magazine which, given the “new” Einstein topic, is maybe where Rick picked-up the reference. (There are other Discover and Cory Powell links in Rick’s references.)

And, Cormac is also a surfer. A synchronicity one level too removed to elaborate here.

Maths Left Me Trailing

As an aeronautical engineer and an information modeller, I am more than averagely capable mathematically. Literate in the calculus and statistics of human-scale classical physics, natural science and business economics, including say, the compressible flow of Navier-Stokes for example.

Several years ago I wrote of Peter Rowlands (2007) “Zero to Infinity – The Foundations of Physics” ..

Maths Leaves Me Trailing

I could tell I was reading an important book, actually just the free peek at the introductory chapter(s) afforded by Amazon, but the maths of fundamental theoretical physics I found impenetrable as presented. I have the same problem with some of the more formal logical notations of pure philosophy, whilst we’re on the topic.

At that time, online correspondent Rick Ryals (since deceased) encouraged me by pointing out he had qualified in physics and been employed in science research, and yet in recent decades he too found it impossible to present his own latest thinking in the kind of mathematics expected. It was holding him back getting his own evolving ideas taken seriously.

I never did buy Rowlands 700 page tome, partly out of fear for the maths and partly because, as a hard-back text-book I would struggle to read, the price was scary too. Recently with all the renewed interest in the psychological and psychic aspects of fundamental physics, and the recurrence of my own informational foundations, I found myself re-reading that earlier post. I was moved to buy a second-hand copy of the 2008 hard-back reprint at last. And glad I did. Still expensive but reinforced the original impression of its importance and value.

Recently, I had also been looking at good reviews of Jim Baggott’s latest (2020) “Quantum Reality” and Tweeted a quip about the sub-editor’s use of Schrödinger’s Cat in  the headline sub-title. Like Hawking did “I reach for my gun” whenever I hear mention.

I’ve not actually ordered it yet …

because … well … imagine my surprise

… following-up the renewed Rowlands interest and discovering he has written several books including (2015) “How Schrödinger’s Cat Escaped The Box” clearly described as a popular readership version of his more formal work.

But that meme of a title?

(Hat tip to @Katoi – from a project “about Dirac”, the only human face amongst the cartoon characters, with Schrödinger as Tom – the cat – from Tom & Jerry.)

Why had I never heard of Rowlands since? A professor of physics at Liverpool Uni, many publications including many books. Hmmm. His books published by World Scientific out of Singapore, few citations to be found, and most of those from his circle of collaborators. This is thought overlooked – or rejected – by mainstream physics?

Anyway, I’ve taken the plunge and acquired a copy of “How Schrödinger’s Cat Escaped The Box“, now reading the Kindle version in advance of receiving the hard-copy.

It is a wonderful read.

I’ve read a great deal of popular, and not so popular science, even more philosophy of science and the metaphysical foundations of its ontologies and epistemologies. As Rowlands points out is his aim, it is clearly written in such a way that the maths – yes there still is a lot of maths – is presented very simply. The simplicity comes from sticking with the abstractions symbolised in the mathematical relations and dispensing with the ubiquitous thought experiments as examples; Schrödinger’s cat-in-a-box for one (hence his title) but all the rubber sheets and bowling balls, clocks and astronauts travelling on trains, spacecraft and beams of light. Let’s escape from the box of conventional thought.

I’m only two chapters in so far, and I must have read the same content hundreds of times before – the particles and forces of the standard model(s), quantum mechanics and relativity, E=Mc2, you name it.

He does also of course make reference to his “Zero to Infinity – The Foundations of Physics” very early on. A second reason he is able to keep the maths simple in his popular work is that he is only presenting the equations that represent the model of physics. What he is not doing is presenting all the calculations that relate the model to the many physical properties, constants and observed values in the universe that lead to the current-day paradoxes, anomalies and gaps which still prevent any consensus on the unification of physics as a whole. You want that level of calculation, you go to his formal work.

If you really want to start from zero, you also dispense with the presumed realities of the human-scale physical world. It is these that make the fundamental quantum and gravitational relativity views seem weird. The only thing after zero are points of possibility, or conceivability as others have said.

“This book requires [no] prior knowledge of physics or mathematics beyond arithmetic and the simplest algebra … Trained scientist[s] will find this [not] easy. There is an immense barrier to be overcome. This difficulty is not intrinsic to the subject. Complexity has nothing to do with it. [The difficulty] comes from our own habits of thought … generations of conditioning which makes us want to see nature in a different way to the one in which it really acts.”

Nature repeats itself at different levels. Of course it’s not the actual structures and qualities that repeat, but the abstract patterns that underlie them.

[The] paradox of Schrödinger’s cat is symptomatic of our desire to compromise, to hold on to a view of nature which has some tangible connection to our ordinary world. However if Schrödinger’s cat is ever to escape from its box, we have to escape from ours.

Too true. Thinking outside the box. Any excuse to post this:

Reading on …


Post Notes: …

Read completed. Excellent. Recommended. Keeping the maths simple, the abstractions do seem to maintain their relationship to reality. Fascinating, no longer feel “left trailing” by the maths.

[Some more references to Rowlands in my next Cormac O’Raffery post.]

Contact with Rowlands and his ongoing work established:

In his own words:

“[not] broken through yet, but a few green shoots”