Arthur Young And Pirsig:
Can Young help us to understand the levels?
By David Morey
The object of this essay is to introduce MOQers to the work
of Arthur M. Young and his book "The Reflexive Universe" (Delacorte
Press 1976). In this work Young looks at cosmic evolution and proposes his own
theory of process. It is my view that his examination of the relation between
time and structure adds to what Pirsig has to say about dynamic and static quality.
Young also has his own version of levels that may clear up some of the problems
with respect to Pirsig’s suggestions.
Young points out that structure cannot refer to the activity
of time, that it describes a ‘system of relationships’ and is therefore
static in Pirsig’s sense. A clear distinction needs to be made between
‘an act in process’ and ‘an act completed’. Introducing
time and process is the difference between still pictures (structure) and a
Young begins his examination of cosmic evolution with the strange
world of quantum particles, full of opposite pairs that seem to imply the nothingness
from which they come.
Young refers to the assumption of science that it discovers
laws which it holds as sacred. Law implies restriction and limitation. However,
the value of this ‘law’ is that it provides some certainty and therefore
becomes the means of achieving ends. If there is a value to SQ and a purpose
to the cosmos, surely Young is looking in the right place. In as far as we can
assume A causes B then determinism is an opportunity to expand our freedom rather
than reducing it. Young, as an inventor, always suspected that if you were ever
going to get a design to work you had to have a purpose for which you were aiming.
Young suggests that all processes go through seven stages and
notes that many myths about the creation of the cosmos go through seven stages.
The seven stages are represented by seven levels being: ‘light,
particles, atoms, molecules, plants, animals and man’. Also clear how
the higher level needs the levels below to exist.
Young begins with light that is without mass, that travels
at a speed where time does not exist, is pure energy and to this extent non-physical.
Young also aims to sub-divide the seven levels by seven. Such
as the seven periods of the atomic periodic table. He also suggests that the
final stage of each group of seven is able to complete the process and attain
dominance over the lower stage and is therefore in possession of greater freedom,
e.g. DNA in relation to organic molecular processes.
The relationship with Pirsig’s dynamic quality is very
close. Young describes quantum of action (light) as having three degrees of
freedom and none of constraint. The process of evolution then requires freedom
to be given up and constraint (physicality) to be taken on. After light, particles
have two degrees of freedom and one of constraint. This is the realm of ‘probability
The introduction of mass is the degree of constraint. At this
level the appropriate science is that of electro-magnetic fields rather than
mechanical concepts of matter in motion. We can then see how atoms are more
constrained than particles, and the combination of atoms, i.e. molecules, are
the most constrained of all entities.
It is the science of molecular bodies and materials that gave
us the billiard ball notion of mechanics in the first place. It is the lack
of dynamic freedom possessed by molecules that make them the ideal ‘object’
of scientific study. Determinism was a theory that came out of the study of
this particular level of non-dynamic (non-free) entities.
For Young, this represents a kind of fall from the unrestrained
freedom of light to the certainty and constraint of molecules. The next point
is, of course, to suggest that the levels of plant, animal, man build on this
certainty to achieve progressive levels of freedom that are unique to them.
DQ goes on a journey, sacrificing itself to SQ so as to produce a level of physicality
and existence with the potential to organise itself to obtain a high level of
DQ in a context of SQ physicality. From nothing to something and back to nothing
it might be suggested. A cosmos that is a form of self-expression where the
artist has had to create her own materials. What is mass if not the expression
of restraint? What are static patterns, if not the withdrawal of dynamic activity
for the sake of endurance and the same again? And why the same again, if it
is not because the same again seems to be of value. Young points out that science
developed the notion of laws in relation to inert objects, in which many particles
are combined to cancel out their natural agitation (activity). Amusingly Young
suggests Galileo would not have got far with his theories if he had dropped
birds! Also interesting to note that it is the agitation of particles that accounts
for their ability to occupy the vast empty spaces of the atom.
It is also a great wonder how such different atomic properties
arise from the different combinations of protons, neutrons and electrons that
make up the different elements. To return to particles, it needs to be realised
that the uncertainty with respect to their behaviour is ontological and not
simply epistemological. The location of an electron can be known only through
interacting with it (an event) its motion has to be described in terms of probability
fields. Probability implies freedom or even choice. The electron has a given
set of possibilities where it might turn up. This is key to movement over time
and process. It is only with respect to the past, to a snap-shot, to an event,
that we can speak of an electron as having a location in space. Structure implies
relationships at a moment in time, as if time could be stopped, and freedom,
movement, process did not exist. These are the reasons why DQ is a problem in
terms of analysing it. Young draws an important analogy between the behaviour
of particles and the freedom of human beings. It is well known that when science
tries to describe either of these entities it has to rely on statistics because
the only possible patterns apply to the group but not the individual, as any
insurance company or particle physicist will confirm.
Young’s theory of an initial descent from freedom to
static structures has three levels. Young suggests that this may be similar
to the fact that you would need three fixed ropes to pin down a wild animal.
Matter for Young is the containment of motion. The free moving
photon losing some freedom when captured in a spinning particle, is further
reduced when that particle is bound to other particles in an atom, and truly
fixed into position in the grid of a crystal.
Giving three steps from freedom to determined entities. To
climb back up to freedom will therefore be three steps in the opposite direction.
Young also notes for the three stages of descent there is both
a move from the homogeneity of the photon to the complexity of molecular combinations,
and from high degrees of energetic uncertainty to the certainty of energy in
the contained form of matter.
It is only at a very stable level of matter, within a small
temperature range that it is possible to build the molecules required to build
Next Young points out the connection between constraint and
symmetry. Highly constrained levels have full symmetry such as crystals. Plants
have the freedom to grow and therefore lose their symmetry from top to bottom.
Animals have more freedom of movement and also lose their symmetry front to
back. It is quite easy to understand that full restriction relates to full symmetry:
front to back, left to right, top to bottom.
It is also interesting to note how human left/right symmetry
is not perfect in the face, in handedness, and left/right brain function.
Young draws out his scheme thus:-
Complexity increases from light to molecule to man but the
important thing is to see that freedom reduces from light to molecule but increases
after the turn from molecule to man.
I hope this brief essay will lead my fellow MOQers to take
a look at Arthur M Young’s work as I think it offers new insight into
the concept of levels. A more detailed and better constructed argument will
be found in Young’s The Reflexive Universe, (Delacorte Press 1976).