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All posts for the month May, 2003

More on Pirsig Timelines – Interesting pages from the English (Anglistik und Americanistik) Dept at Vienna University, which hosts an “Easy Rider Anthology” (complete with obligatory soundtrack – betcha can’t guess which tune) with a good analysis of ZAMM, including some detective work on dates. [See earlier timeline post.]

Recent (post ZAMM 1974 / post Lila 1991) output from Pirsig includes ….

SODV – Subjects, Objects, Data and Values – delivered to the Einstein meets Magritte conference in Belgium in 1995 (17:00 – 18:00, Plenary session 11, Thursday, June 1, 1995) . Paper maintained and annotated by Doug Renselle on the Quantonics site. Excellent paper much analysed by MOQites and the Lila Sqaud, which focuses on the connection between the Quantum world views and the Metaphysics of Quality. Worth a read [as I noted much earlier here]. Note also that Heylighen was one of the coordinators, the conference was at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels (VUB). Illya Prigogine also one of the contributors.

Annotations to Lila’s Child compiled by Dan Glover from the Lila Squad dicussion board hosted on MOQ Focus since 1997. Compilation published this year including extensive comment and annotation from Pirsig miself. Pirsig’s comments are interesting but large parts of the correpondence suffer from the over-zealous disciples interpretion, and disagreement about interpretion, of the sacred scripture syndrome. One or two pragmatic views in there worth digging for. I certainly hold with the static & dynamic levels view, thought I’m less fixated with precisley how many levels since every layer is three layers ad-infinitum anyway. The emergence and evolution between the layers in the key IMHO. I wonder if the original four layers have some relationship to quantum processing as has been suggested for the four DNA bases in Quantum Genetics ? [and here]

Vol 36 No.3 Presidents Letter September 2001[Quote]
The historical bifurcation of technical and liberal education may result in technological “advances” that are not always well-informed or in the long-term, best interest of society. Pirsig in the neo-classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, points to a possible cause,“What’s wrong with technology is that it’s not connected in any real way with matters of the spirit and of the heart. And so it does blind, ugly things quite by accident and gets hated for that.”

Historically we have “trained” engineers in very narrow vocationally oriented disciplines ready to be “productive” on the job as soon as they graduate. Indeed, Woodrow Wilson relegated the “skillful servant of society along mechanical lines” to the non-ruling class. “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class…to forgo the privilege of a liberal education.”

Fortunately, history is not destiny and Pirsig provides a ray of hope. “The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barriers of dualistic thought that prevent a real understanding of what technology is–not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both.” [Unquote]

Another engineer sees Pirsig as a ray of hope. See my plea about the “engineering” skills needed to get a planeload of anthropologists airborne in my review of Dawkins’ Devil’s Chaplain too.

Quality – Truth and Beauty ? Interesting exchange here started when Ray Kurzweil initiated a Mind eXchange thread in Jan 2002 on “Why is beauty making a comeback”. Someone points out that Pirsig’s “quality” is what they are talking about, whilst another (ironically fortunately) suggests that neither is on-topic for a thread on AI. Many a true word spoken in irony.

Struck by this quote from Salman Rushdie’s Ground Beneath Her Feet, 1999 [Quote] But Sir Darius Xerxes Cama wasn’t listening. He was standing at the great window of the library, staring out at the Arabian Sea. “The only people who see the whole picture,” he murmured, “are the ones who step out of the frame.” [Unquote]. Via Jonathan Marder writing in MOQ Focus.

The reason it struck me is Pirsig has a similar liking of stepping out of the frame too [Quote from ZAMM Chapter 1] In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. [Unquote] See also my comment on Paul Kelly’s blog about the fact that I drive a convertible car !

Blogged earlier about Gimbo driving over the second Severn river crossing “in a zen-like state”. Robbie just reminded me that DNA’s Holistic Detective Dirk Gently used the Zen driving technique – following the driver in front on the assumption that he knew where he was going and that it was probably a place worth going to. (The catch being that if there is no one in front you must apply the rule to the person behind ?)

That Baloney Generator – This was one of the items I also picked out in my review of Pinker. This link is to Searchlight an interesting Blog by cmac (?) at Chicago Uni. (Recently recommended list includes Lila !) David Gurteen also commented on the baloney generator. In Pinker’s words [Quote] The conscious mind — the self or soul — is a spin doctor, not the commander in chief.[Unquote]

Avoiding the Charybdis of Scientific Fundamentalism – A paper from Dr James Willis given to an audience of medical practitioners last year. Those of you following my blog will notice I’m working my way through James’ work and find that he voices the need to avoid the extremes of scientific fundamentalism as he calls it (hyper-rationalism as I’ve said) with a passion and humour born of hard-bitten experience. In our context here – don’t ever assume knowledge can be represented by some fixed ontology backed with numbers. (I’ve just obtained another of his books, Friend’s in Low Places.)

I last rounded up on this stuff back here. And just before this I linked to the abstracts from Quantum Mind 2003 held in Tuscon, Arizona in March this year.

The original BCS Cybernetics Group stuff I linked to earlier is being taken forward in the CASYS’03 conference in Liege, Belgium in August under the title “The Universe, The Nothing That Is”. Sounds like the BCS emphasis is on Information Processing (QIP) in the sense of how the mind actually works, as opposed to the David Deutsch / Oxford-led commercial QuBit quest for creating computing devices based on Quantum effects, though this too seems to have expanded again in collaboration with Cambridge.

The title of one paper from John Wood (?) includes the words Quantum, Synergy and Quality – could that be quality in the monist Pirsig MOQ sense ?

BlogTalk – Looks like a great time was had by all – so disappointed I couldn’t be there – maybe next time ? All these people (and more) conspicuous in photographic evidence and in copious postings from the event and in reflective post-event blogs.

Matt Mower
Paulo Valdemarin
Lilia Efimova
Dan Gillmor
Haiko Hebig
Heiko Hebig
Jorg Kantel
Thomas Burg
Seb Fiedler
Martin Roell
Ton Zijlstra
David Weinberger
Phil Wolff
Oliver Wrede
And many more ….

My Brief History of Zen. It’s barely a year since I first even thought of reading ZMM - seems like a lifetime. Here is my first ever blogged reference, with no link to anything !!!

My thought process in the preceeding weeks was chaos / catastrophe / fuzzy / uncertainty / quanta / quantum-computing / eastern-philosophy-vs-science / Brian-Josephson / physics-of-consciousness / Zen …… and then a wondering why ZMM had been on a reading list on my MBA course 12 years earlier, and the fact that I’d never read it. The rest is history.

And now I find a link between Quantonics and Josephson.
Heres an interesting list on the subject of Cosnciousness.
A very useful Pirsig Timeline [via MOQ Focus]
Also find Kevin Kelly’s Out of Control listed by Dan Glover (MOQite) and Tim Allen’s I’m Not Really Here too, the latter (yes that Tim Allen) also quotes Pirsig as a major influence. (Kevin Kelly’s book recommended earlier by Leon.) What a tangled web.

In Lila, we get a great deal of description of the process Bob Pirsig used to manage his thoughts whilst creating ZAMM, and he gives us an insight into his trunkful of 3000 4″ x 6″ slips (index cards) in his letter of January 5th 1969 to his publisher James Landis. He mentions it again on page 129 of the 25th anniversary edition of ZAMM, and on page 189 he says …

Later, when I developed more confidence in my immunity to [the affliction of seeing every thought as archeological debris of some overall design], I became interested in the debris in a more positive way, and began to jot down the fragments amorphically, that is without regard to form, in the order in which they occurred to me. Many of these amorphic statements have been supplied by friends. There are thousands of them now.

I know how he feels – think I said in my intial review that the main thought to strike me was how much I identified with Bob / Phaedrus. I’ve just finished a third read of ZAMM, and I’m still amazed that I had never read it before the manifesto that started this quest. In fact I’d never read anything approaching philosophy before I read Pirsig either. It deserves some proper analysis because, like it or not, together with Lila, it certainly covers every thread of my blog. I think I shall create an analytical essay simply to capture and make some sense of the thousands of annotations and links I’ve made.

Since early 2002 I’ve had on my blog links to two Pirsig sites, MOQ and Quantonics. I’ve never interacted closely with these communities, despite being convinced Pirsig was onto something very important since the 50′s/60′s. I think the reasons for this were, and are, twofold. Firstly, I baulk at the almost religious zeal with which so many followers, nay disciples, seem to approach Pirsig. Secondly, if your aim is to establish MOQism through discourse ahead of any other “ism” and Pirsig ahead of any other philosopher, then be my guest, you will not be alone. My aim, like Pirsig’s I believe, is much more pragmatic.

Throughout ZAMM, he uses the recurring metaphor of looking and travelling up towards “heights” of one form or another, and on each occasion returning to earth or the ocean. In one of the climactic episodes [ch20 p244] when he decides not to complete the hike to the summit with his son Chris, there are questions and suggestions about his lacking the courage to do so [ch21 p255]. I’m sure achieving the rarefied heights of establishing a philosophy for philosophers to debate was never on his agenda. In fact fixed objectives are almost anathema to his dynamical / process view of reality – how many times does he use the aphorism of being better to travel than to arrive – he always returns to his comfort zone of the craftsman and the job in hand. As he says [Quote ch25 p297] Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think what I have to say has more lasting value. [Unquote] Fix a motorcycle ? How about help any kind of organisation to create and deliver any kind of product or service. That’ll do me.

To illustrate my recent points [eg here] about memes suffering from too much communication ….

In my manifesto I mentioned the fact that “rabbits run”. An idea, a piece of information released into the world, is very difficult to control being spread and multiplied by onward communication. Normally recognised in relation to subjects where there is some a priori reason for confidentiality or controlled timing, and where a misleading (or embarassing) half-truth escapes. My point relates even to the communication of well considered messages. You know the case. You’ve spent the last two weeks honing that presentation getting those bon mots just right, and the following week someone quotes you, but “That’s not what I meant, but, but, ….” Too late. Face the fact that in effect that IS what you meant, if that’s what was understood. The effort needed to change the situation to your original intent, or a considered revision of that view, escalates as the rabbits breed.

Always a suspicion of conspiracy theory – your words being twisted for someone else’s ends – or stupidity if not – did you deliberately misunderstand me you dimwit ? Speed of light communication of memes just accentuates the effect, conspiracy or cock-up is irrelevant, forget causality, it’s nature.

See, even me too. My apologies for doing it with the word meme itself – I actually no longer have any precise recollection of what Dawkins or Blackmore actually defined the term to mean, just the general idea – received / perceived wisdom – in practice I just mean “a thought shared by communication, which can be further shared and can mutate in the process”. A paradox I see, not something I’m advocating you understand, is that without some species boundaries to communication, mutation is degeneration all the way. Someone tell me I’m wrong, please. (Or is success just a numbers game ?)

The Nonsense of Knowledge Management – Paper by Professor Tom Wilson [via Oryon] lamenting the fact that KM is just the latest fad in management bandwagons. Actually he’s more objective and less scathing than that, but I have offerred the same lament once or twice recently. KM is becoming de-valued jargon linked with every management issue, and the new followers would do well to research some of the more general organisational management subjects before adding the KM tag. Tom also, like me, is concerned with narrowing the definition of Knowledge itself to distinguish it from Information, something which I approve in theory, but accept that language defines itself. Interesting that Oryon’s only problem with this is the Popperian view that one cannot scientifically “prove” the meaning of any word – 100% correct, about as much use as an ashtray on a motorcycle – that’s science for you.

Actually this is the same issue I blogged about memetic evolution suffering from too widespread communication too soon. A term like KM can only ever come to mean some watered down mediocre average of what anyone who first coined the term could have really intended. Fortunately this doesn’t change the significance of the issue intended. Tom actually seems to shoot his own argument in the foot by placing any credibility on the numbers-game head count of of references to KM in various management consultant papers etc, though I guess that’s the Catch-22 of having to prove his point – scientifically.

The Future’s Bright … ? From Future Meetup (4th Thursday every month) a subset of Blog Meetup (3rd Wednesday every month) via Ming The Mechanic (A blog I’d lost contact with until today.) “Future” blogs are blogs by futurists, and their meet up agenda includes these two points.

? Ray Kurzweil has suggested that by 2099 humans and machines will be indistinguishable from each other. Can this be a good thing?
? How can we maintain the higher elements of the human spirit as computers begin to exceed human intelligence in our lifetime?

Anyone who believes that by 2099 humans and machines will actually be indistinguishable or that computers will begin to exceed human intelligence, is either barking or provocatively witty, I think I know which Ray Kurzweil is. The two questions posed suggest these futurists are actually taking the suggestion seriously.

Blinding flash – One point I picked-up from Dawkins, is that whilst genetic mutation leading to potential evolution occurs spontaneously, anywhere in any organism, in order it to get into a cycle of re-inforcement by natural selection of species, it is necessary for that population to become isolated (genetically) from other populations. In talking about cultural, technological human development, more memetics than genetics, could the same also be true. In the global village of mass media communications – there is no hope of isolating ideas, so no hope of cultural evolution except towards satisfying the mediocrity of the average of the entire global population.

This seems paradoxical, but might explain some slowness in truly beneficial exploitation of technological capabilities, and frustration at apparent negative consequences. Dialogue is clearly essential to developing ideas and turning them into “technology”, but you can have too much of a good thing – if ideas spread like wildfire converging into every domain of life too soon, are opportunities for substantive techno-cultural development actually being squandered ? An original thought, but no doubt someone else thought of this before – right ?

Re-reading ZMM It had to happen, after reading Phaedrus, and Dr Willis, and strangely after a dinner conversation alluding to Ahab’s peg leg. (The analogies with Moby Dick are patent – The New Yorker). Pirsig says …

[Quote] [Most] of the time I’m feigning 20th C lunacy …. so as not to draw attention to myself. [Unquote] I wish.
[Quote] Common sense is nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of ghosts from the past.[Unquote] Except that
[Quote] The scientific point of view has wiped out every other view to a point where they all seem primitive. It’s just all but completely impossible to imagine a world where ghosts [ie common sense] can actually exist.[Unquote] Which just about sums up the whole Catch22.

The Paradox of Progress by Dr James Willis [Quote] Throughout this book, I have used my experience of general practice as an analogy for life in a technological world … I have quoted some of the things they say in order to show the wisdom, love, humanity of ordinary people.[Unquote] A thoroughly recommended read, even if tinged with anger at the Thatcher years.

More [Quotes]
As Jacques Ellul predicted half a century ago in The Technological Society, ?Mankind is to be smoothed out, like a pair of trousers under a steam iron?

But that doesn?t worry the regulators in the least. They have all the certainty that they are right of converts to a new religion. They are absolutely unshakable in their conviction that the representation of everything in rigid rules and formal mathematical models is the very epitome of progress and they present their beliefs with a self-confidence, not to say arrogance, which would be fatuous if it were not so familiar ….. It is the replacement of individual experience, common sense, and responsibility by an external structure of rules which is the key change in the new situation.

When I started work at the Middlesex Hospital my senior medical registrar told me that our job in life was to make sure the patients died with their electrolytes balanced. Once I commented to a local undertaker on a body lying rosy-cheeked in his chapel ? ?He looks surprisingly well, considering he?s dead!?. Joking apart, when doctors work to rule there is a grave danger that the rules will do better than the patients.

Here we are at the crux of the paradox. We want to define clear solutions to the problems we can see in the world. But as we do so we progressively destroy the essence of life itself. It seems to be an unavoidable rule that the precise definition of human affairs has the effect of killing humanity itself …. As Robert M Pirsig said in his wonderful book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: “?the crisis is being caused by the inadequacy of existing forms of thought to cope with the situation. It can?t be solved by rational means because the rationality itself is the source of the problem.” … And all the time the answer we are seeking is there, not actually under our noses, but an inch or two above and behind our noses.

KEEP ON TAKING THE TABLETS OF STONE – Rules, we all knew, were made to be broken. But now technology is being used to enforce the rules without fail and the detached machinery of law is being used to impose penalties without any understanding of the human reality. Computer systems are par excellence machines for the carrying out of rigid rules.

Although many people now suspect that civilisation is rushing towards the brink of a precipice, they have adopted the short term solution of closing their eyes. ?You worry too much, James, why don?t you have a drink.?
[Unquote]

Magic stuff – just read the whole thing on-line today at two sittings. As passionate and inspiring as Pinker’s Blank Slate. Amongst philosophers, only Popper and Pirsig get quoted in the text, but the reference book list not surprisingly also includes Dawkins and DNA/H2G2. I’ve just ordered his other book Friends in Low Places on-line.