Many tweets and memorial pieces coming in, still every 20 seconds or so via social media – most “so long and thanks for all the …. fish” one-liner memories, linking to some already published mainstream obituary. Some like SeymourBlogger @AbbeysBooks (followed by Jim Landis) have their own very specific “learnings”.
Seymour has clearly read more of the “Foggy Froggy” Post-Modernists than I have. I’ve read enough (mainly Foucault) to appreciate what I think I need to know – always dangerous – but have always since branded myself as a “PoPoMo” if I ever need to claim a label in response to some pejorative “PoMo” criticism. After Radical Empiricism, we have Speculative Realism, and more. But I digress.
No detailed review of Seymour’s thesis is possible here – I don’t actually know what it is – but several points to note. Like any of us with very specific reasons to hang our hats on what we learned from journeying with Pirsig, the writing and presentation is a bit idiosyncratic – “crowning” Pirsig – breathless, weird even, but with good reason.
Alterity – what Pirsigians call SOMism or Subject-Object-Metaphysics, what I simply call “identity politics” – the simple fact that by long established convention (an evolved cultural memeplex) all objects (even ourselves) are defined and identified in relation to us as subjects, however arrogantly we “greedy-reductionists” continually claim “evidence-based” objectivity.
Irreversibility – In “Quality” thinking there is a very important distinction to be made in the way things evolve through time. Pirsig’s MoQ (Metaphysics of Quality), contrasted with SOMism, is a framework of evolving Cultural (Intellectual and Social) layers built on top of Life, built in turn on the Physical. The contrast is simply that in this framework there are no fundamental objects other than the “quality” of interactions dynamic or static patterns. Lower (older evolved) static patterns and layers become latches for higher (newer) ones. Pirsig actually influenced many in the Total Quality Management business during the 1980’s; the big name gurus, like Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence with Bob Waterman) as well as many pragmatic individuals directly or indirectly. Anyway, there is something in Pirsig that highlights the 2nd Law, that reverse entropy gradients can only ever result from localised intentional processes, and furthermore, only a subset of this “constructive” activity occurs in ways that are reversible. My original (engineering) mentor, worked with a welding guru, known as Tad Boniczevski who was forever warning us in our engineering specifications to be careful in applying quality management processes and checks to recognise those where “parts become irreversibly incorporated into the whole” as opposed to those that didn’t. Different rules must apply in practice. Reversibility is very much the exception, one of ingenuity.
There is a lot more to recommend in Pirsig; too much to mention again here and many people have thanked Pirsig for many different kinds of inspiration but the technical philosophical and quality stuff is a rich seam.
Also published on Medium.