The Robert M. Pirsig Links Page
(Last Significant Update 11th October 2005)
The following content is the pre-existing Psybertron Pirsig Pages, retained for the links and notes contained, whilst the main entry page is updated. This page may be reduced in scope or even deleted if and when that is considered complete.
The Psybertron WebLog already contains many posts on thoughts about, and one way or another directly or indirectly related to Bob Pirsig, though it's not currently organised to make those implicit or explicit connections easy to find.
My thinking in Psybertron goes back longer than 10 years, I’ve been blogging my thoughts and links since September 2001, but in fact never actually read Pirsig’s 1974 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM) until February 2002. How I came to read it, and my initial reactions are captured in a review I placed here. I read his later 1991 book Lila within a month, and have since re-read both books several times. A more comprehensive paper on my relevant experience in reading ZMM up to Summer 2005 can be found in my paper which I presented with summary slides at the first MoQ Conference - Liverpool 2005.
Better still, if you want to understand my experience of reading Pirsig for the first time I cannot recommend anything better than Dr James Willis own personal and moving essay on the significance of ZMM. As he puts it “The relevance of this book to our present-day situation seems to me impossible to exaggerate.” I have to agree with him on that too.
Before and since then I’ve read a great deal more philosophy, and my thoughts are similarly scattered through the web log. Suffice to say I find Pirsig’s metaphysics of quality and his dynamical layers of values the closest thing to my own real-world experience, which has led me on a search for pragmatic alternatives to the hyper-rationalism of an exclusively scientific view of the world, in day-to-day organisational life. This is the subject of the Psybertron WebLog from a perspective more general than Pirsig and his MoQ.
The two authoritative sites to visit for the definitive state of Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality are ROBERTPIRSIG.ORG and MOQ.ORG (Both operate with Pirsig's blessing, though without any editorial control or direct input from him.)
ROBERTPIRSIG.ORG is run by Dr Anthony McWatt at Liverpool University Philosophy Dept. Ant is the first philosophy academic to take the MoQ to the level of a PhD, and recently (7th July 2005) organised the first ever MoQ Conference noted above, which was attended by Robert and Wendy Pirsig.
MOQ.ORG evolved from the "Lila-Squad", an interested group of individuals who started a site for discussions and papers related to the MOQ. Today it remains hosted and managed voluntarily by "Horse" on behalf of anyone interested in discussing Pirsig's MOQ.
The Pirsig Timeline and ZMM Route Map
(These are now further updated since 11 April 2004, with materials from St. Paul newspaper clippings. )
In order to organise my thoughts in relations to Pirsig’s, I’ve constructed a timeline of his life and a map of the ZMM route from which to link to other discussion points. A better ZMM route-map is published here by Gary Wegner.
In preparation for constructing the Lila sail-boat trip map here is a link to the Erie Canal / Mohawk River / Hudson River system.
Suffice to say for the uninitiated, that Chautauqua are traveling tented roadshows of educational and entertaining lectures that started in the 19th Century US and peaked in the 1920’s. Pirsig adopts this style of discourse in telling us his underlying thoughts. The “Easy Rider” Chautauqua link has a good description and history. See also the Library of Congress Chautauqua entry. Apart from succeeding as the mechanism for creating his works, this social story-telling appeals to Pirsig's American Anthropological bent too.>
One way or another Quality is the theme running through Pirsig's work and thoughts. As awareness of value, good or virtue Pirsig uses Quality to construct his Metaphysics of Quality (MoQ), ostensibly as an alternative to classical subject-object metaphysics (SOM) of traditional scientific Western thought, though there is evidence he was really tilting at a windmill or perhaps a strawman here.
Nevertheless his MoQ, (succinctly summarised here by Maggie Hettinger) is an immensely powerful model of reality. The question "What is the Metaphysics of Quality?" was more formally summarised as follows by Ant McWatt with Pirsig's own input in 2005.
The Metaphysics of Quality, or MOQ, is simply a philosophic answer to the question of what is Quality, or worth, or merit, or value, or betterness or any of the other synonyms for good. There are many possible answers but the one the MOQ gives is that you can understand Quality best if you don't subordinate it to anything else but instead subordinate everything else to it.
It says there are two basic kinds of Quality, an undefined Quality called Dynamic Quality, and a defined quality called static quality. Static quality is further divided into four evolutionary divisions: inorganic, biological, social and intellectual. Our entire understanding of the world can be organised within this framework. When you do so things fall into place that were poorly defined before, and new things appear that were concealed under previous frameworks of understanding. The MOQ is not intended to deny previous modes of understanding as much as to expand them into a more inclusive picture of what it's all about.
I find that a pretty fair summary from my own considerations too - a useful, inclusive, evolutionary framework. Despite much writing and debate attempting to better define dynamic quality it remains, as the summary confirms, essentially indefinable yet knowable - an ineffable bootstrap to a comprehensive and pragmatic world-view.
The world is full of them, but two seem worth noting here.
The first is that I used to ride a 250cc Honda CB72/77 (aka Superhawk), long before I had any inkling of interest in philosophy or had heard of Pirsig. Ironically, and to my shame, I mistreated it, ignored simple maintenance and it survived under a year after I acquired it in the summer of ’74 - (the same air-cooled over-heating seizure Pirsig describes in ZMM25 p31). It was my first taste of motorised mobility aged 18 and amongst other things, it took me on a 400 mile pre-University tour from the NE of England, via London and Reading to Farnborough in Surrey. Apart from meeting people who became friends for my 4 year University stay in London starting later that year (another long story), it took me over streets I revisited in 1980 and still regularly commute over near my current home in Reading some 30+ years later. Even without the motorcycle, that journey saw some significant recurring events and locations in my life and, remember I didn’t read or even become more than generally aware of ZMM until spring 2002, yet I find I was riding the same motorcycle (Pirsig's bike was actually a 305cc CB72/77 "because an unexamined bike is not worth riding"). Spooky.
The second is that the spring evening in 2002 when I purchased my copy of Lila and the Tao Te Ching, I was sitting in The Pickerell pub in Cambridge and I was approached by a tutor at Magdalene College (Michael Anderson) who noticed I was reading Moby Dick. He asked me what I thought of it and why I was reading it. It was of course because of the critical comparisons with ZMM. Anyway, he had with him two others, a young English student whom he was encouraging to widen his literary tastes beyond Austen and the Bronte’s, and a colleague who had previously taught ZMM to students at Berkeley. Well you can imagine how animated the conversations became as the contents of my bag from Borders Bookshop were revealed. Eventually, Michael asked if I believed in synchronicity, not something I’d even been conscious of until that moment, and suggested I also read I Ching. Spooky.
Until these moments in 2002 all of these would have been events I’d have rationalised, dismissed as just coincidences, and forgotten about. Now I’m not so sure.
Links to general Pirsig resources
Guide to ZMM by DiSanto and Steele
SODV – Subjects, Objects,
Data and Values - 1995 paper by Pirsig. [
Anthony McWatt's web site containing his Textbook on Pirsig based on the first PhD on the subject of Pirsig's MoQ. On 7th July 2005, the first conference on MoQ was organised by Ant at Liverpool University and his web site is now organised around the proceedings of that conference. Psybertron has a report and a photographic record of the conference.
– The Metaphysics of Quality web site and associated discussion forum
(I have been quite active previously in posting on the MOQ Discuss Forum)
(See also the additional links to other published sources on the “Forum” page.)
Wikipedia entry on Robert Pirsig. Much improved Wikipedia pages includes a biographical summary (which appears to be extracted from my own timeline, or from the AMSAW biography which is itself based on mine, with acknowledgement). Also includes comprehensive links including two archived radio interviews with Bob.  
Patrick Jennings e-Journal - eclectic collection of travelogues and critical thinking links, including Pirsig and Kerouac. Pirsig resources much updated in recent years and cross-linked with the Wikipedia entry and many other sites here.
ZMMQuality.Org – Henry Gurr’s site, including research and many photographic records of the ZMM route (including Pirsig’s own !)
ZMM Travel Route – Gary Wegner’s site, including an excellent route map, with more detailed information than the book. Note that the entry page on Gary's site is the front door of Montana / Old Hall at the Montana State College (Now the State University) in Bozeman, where Pirsig taught freshman English, and developed his ideas on Quality, with the help of Sarah's "seed crystal" moment. Gary's site has a great collection of photos from his own 1978 trip, linked from his descriptions in each daily page of the ZMM Route Map. Enjoy.
St. Paul (Minnesota) Newspaper articles, from 1974, 75, 76 and 79.
Quantonics – Doug Renselle’s web site.
Lila’s Child – by Dan Glover (2003 compilation of Lila Squad discussions since 1987 with annotations by Pirsig himself.)
The Quality Event – Bodvar Skutvik’s site, including his “Quality Event” Parts 1, 2 & 3
Easy Rider – anonymously created at the Dept of English and American studies in Vienna.
The Tao of Pooh – Benjamin Hoff's contribution.
Robert J Bannis - Zen and the Road [from Bozeman] to Redmond. BMW Owners of America 2001 Rally along this section of the ZMM route. [via Henry Gurr]
ThirdWaveDave - Wiki Pages of Dave Thomas. Has several separate Wiki ages about ZMM, Lila, Peirce, James and Alexander
– Jowett’s 1871 translation, also via
Ditto equivalent WebGuest Directory
Honda CB72 / CB77 Superhawk enthusiast pages including reference to Pirsig's machine.
William James Sidis – archives site (“Astro-biological” bent, but comprehensive resources.)
FAQ about W. J. Sidis – Dan Mahoney’s site, with much Buckie-Fuller and Pirsig material too.
Days and Dates Calendar (This is too spooky for words, because here is
Maynard E Pirsig (Bob’s Father) – University of Minnesota Law School 1949 and the NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF COMMISSIONERS ON UNIFORM STATE LAWS
Reviews, Extracts and Quotes from specific articles by others
Uneasy Rider - The original and influential New Yorker review by George Steiner. (The one which commends comparison with Moby Dick as "suitable", as well as criticising Pirsig’s philosophical inaccuracies.) This copy of the interview is hosted on the site of Grade 11 / 12 English Teacher Brian Bauld at Amherst Regional High School (ARHS) in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. (Does Brian know there is no link or even reference to his school on his site ?) Anyway a wonderful site, full of English literature and rhetoric resources, essays and links - including for example, indirectly an on-line copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness [and here], and Anthony Burgess Top99 novels in English 1939 to 1984 (!), plus William Blake and existentialists everywhere. A Gold mine.
The Enormous Vroom - R.Z.Sheppard Time April 15th 1974 - On Gary Wegner's site, together with a dated copy of Uneasy Rider
1974 New York Times interview by George Gent - (my local copy with annotation)
Dr James Willis – Friends in Low Places. A medical practitioner who has bought Pirsig's message and is attempting to bring an alternative to "scientific fundamentalism" in modern healthcare management. This personal review of ZMM is a good place to start, but his other works are all worth reading too.
A Philosophic Novel – Bruce Charlton’s 1992 review. This is good on comparisons with modern and post-modern philosophers, and interestingly Bruce is / was a Reader in Evolutionary Psychology at Newcastle University Medical School, and a professor at the UEL Centre for healthcare policy. What is it with Pirsig and healthcare ? Willis, Charlton and Lozon all in this field.
Audit and Accountability in the management of education– by Bruce Charlton (2002).Parallels the other sources in healthcare, where managerialism has come to dominate common sense. In fact Charlton is reasonably supportive of management technologies applied to audit, but not when applied to direct control of professional operations. He concludes; [QUOTE] The very success of audit technologies has created the conditions of its own destruction by triggering the breakup of the unified monopoly State University system. Auditing has generated such a heavy administrative load that resources have been drained from teaching and costs are much higher than they need to be for Universities to do their job effectively. As things stand, private Universities could almost certainly out-compete the State sector, by undercutting costs and/or providing a better service. For example, the situation is ripe for prestigious Universities to opt-out of State control, and raise more income than they lose by charging market level fees (presumably these would be at least as high as private school fees - which are running at about five to ten thousand pounds per year). Such an institution could save on the ‘transactional costs’ imposed by a bloated bureaucracy, and attract the best academic staff (who naturally seek greater autonomy and a lower administrative load - as well as higher salaries). … It may be predicted that the UK State University system will soon begin to break-up, as institutions realize that the State asks too much in return for too little. Under pressure of a resurgent private sector, the Audit Society in Universities will be rolled-back. With luck, we shall see ‘accountability’ to officials replaced by responsibility to students, and teaching ‘qualityassurance’ replaced by genuine educational excellence. [UNQUOTE] He doesn’t reference Pirsig in this paper (chapter of his book Education! Education! Education!), but we know Charlton is a Pirsig scholar (see reviews below), and a player in education as well as healthcare – healthcare education in fact.
Dr John Holleman’s review of ZMM At last something critical. [QUOTE] Unfortunately, while exploring the defects of our philosophical heritage from Socrates and the Sophists to Hume and Kant, Pirsig inexplicably stops at the middle of the 19th century. With the exception of Poincaré, he ignores the more recent philosophers who have tackled his most urgent questions, thinkers such as Peirce, Nietzsche (to whom Phaedrus bears a passing resemblance), Heidegger, Whitehead, Dewey, Sartre, Wittgenstein, and Kuhn. In the end, the narrator's claims to originality turn out to be overstated, his reasoning questionable, and his understanding of the history of Western thought sketchy. His solution to a synthesis of the rational and creative by elevating Quality to a metaphysical level simply repeats the mistakes of the pre-modern philosophers. But in contrast to most other philosophers, Pirsig writes a compelling story. [UNQUOTE] Passing resemblance –I’ll say ! - I must have scribbled “Nietzsche” in the margins of ZMM and Lila more than any other single word (except perhaps Wow !!!) Although Pirsig doesn’t acknowledge Nietzsche, his tightrope-walking-falling-then-flying dream in Lila is so evocative of Zarathustra, that I find it hard to believe he hadn’t been influenced by it – though dates of availability of Nietzsche translations might shed some light. (Douglas Adams uses a very similar line in Dirk Gently too, only much later of course.) I’d also be interested to know which “mistakes of the pre-moderns” he actually makes. His rail against pure objective hyper-rationalism is certainly not original, but I’ve not seen anything quite like the MoQ anywhere else. Presumably such philosophological criticisms of ZMM led him to research more modern philosophers before Lila, and settle on William James as his anchor. I kind of agree with Pirsig, that having to know a detailed history of philosophy is not a qualification for actually being a good philosopher, merely a philosophologist.
Science and the Humanities in the Understanding of Human Nature - by Robert M Young, Professor of Psychoanalysis at Sheffield Uni, and co-editor of NIBBS- Human Nature Review. [Quote] In my opinion psychoanalysis, seen as a discipline in the humanities, is centrally complementary to biological approaches.... Among the most Socratic books I have read are two which I have recently had occasion to re-read and give to my children. Both are about many things, but the first looks centrally at what's gone wrong with our conceptions of the relations between the technical and the world of values -- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974). The other is not as celebrated. Seventeen years after Robert Pirsig wrote Zen… he wrote Lila: An Enquiry into Morals. The central question in the book is whether a derelict, feckless, mendacious wreck of a woman had value. Throughout the book the issue hangs in the balance. I want to live in an academic world in which it is thought important and even natural that students in science, technology and medicine should read and reflect upon those books. [Unquote]
Sean Moore – Public Policy Advisor [QUOTE] since you asked, let me suggest that (ZMM) provides some important insights on human nature, office politics, the form and substance of dialogue, intelligence, ambition, quality, wisdom - even madness. In other words, it might just help you understand a bit more about the various personality types one deals with in public affairs. [UNQUOTE]
The Daily Senator – of the Arizona Senate quotes “Theplace to improve the world is first in one's own heart, head and hands.” -Robert M. Pirsig
The Indian Time Newspaper – 1983 (Indian as in Iroquois Native American) acknowledges Pirsig spreading the idea that enlightened views such as democratic tradition itself originated with the Indians.
University of Minnesota – History of the School of Journalism and Mass Media says of Robert M. Pirsig, M.A. 1958 - Bob, who edited the Minnesota Daily's Ivory Tower edition with co-editor (and future wife) Nancy James. This page is now dead. The new history pages omit any reference.)
Montana State University - Some extracts from and links to the web pages of MSU in Bozeman, where Pirsig taught 1959 to 61, and re-visits during the ZMM trip.
Creative Computing – Volume 1, 1976 – Peter Kugel reviews ZMM and says [QUOTE] This book has as much to say about computers as Zen or motorcycle maintenance …Pirsig says more sensible things about the relationship between man and machines in the first half of his book, than a lot of books have to say in two halves. [UNQUOTE] And all this from a person who admits frankly that large parts of it were beyond him – interestingly, given the fact that MoQ is the main legacy of ZMM and Lila, he like me suggests that Pirsig is wrong in focussing on “quality” – I think I said it was just a metaphor for the classical “virtues” in my initial review – but what’s in a word anyway ?
Zen and the Art of the Healthcare System – 2000, Jeffery C Lozon, CEO of St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto. Quoting liberally from ZMM he says [QUOTE] Do the recent reports of the national and provincial commissions represent a new national vision for healthcare? We do not believe that they do. In creating and refining the framework within which to achieve a new vision, stakeholders have become overly focused on optimizing the existing structure and shape of the industry and have lost sight of the purpose and desired outcomes of the industry’s original goal. [UNQUOTE] I wonder if James Willis is aware of this paper ? (Another strange little synchronicity …. When I did my MBA Dissertation at IC, my tutor was Sandra Dawson, now the head of the Judge Institute of Cambridge University, where she leads a specialism in Healthcare Management. I work in Cambridge and have crossed paths with several others at the Judge as part of this information-modeling quest.)
A Stage Play of ZMM (Draft) by Charles Riffenberg (Draft as recent as 2000 – wonder what stage this is at ?)