What’s wrong with this picture?

(My Holarchy and the integration of

Robert Pirsig and Ken Wilber)


By Gary M. Jaron

May 30, 2002[1]



I must confess my own holarchy/map/diagram of metaphysical reality began out of rejection.  I looked upon a map/diagram and was displeased, it was ugly.  Socrates taught me about the Good, the True and the Beautiful.  Robert Pirsig[2] taught me that this holy trinity was one and it was Quality.  Of course!  Things of powerful and fundamental truth were not only good, but they were beautiful--they were simple elegant statements of clarity.  Truth and Beauty were united.  Classical attributes of beautiful things were simple, elegant, and balanced.  Lets us look at the map of reality that precedes Pirsig’s revelatory new metaphysics.


Subjective(Mental)                                Objective(Physical)

Classic (intellectual)                               Romantic (Emotional)

Here is a balanced and sturdy configuration.  On the top is a unity out of which branches off two levels of balanced items.  It is no wonder that such an edifice has stood the test of time.  A building such as this has a solid foundation.  It is like a two story building with a peaked roof.  Solidity, strength, simplicity, are all adjectives one can used to describe the diagram on purely esthetic observations.  It thus should have some sort of truth to it, since it has such overwhelming beauty.  But, there is something wrong with the picture when you examine it through the eye of intellect[3], as thousands of years of philosophic and scientific writings have conveyed.  Now, lets look at the ‘New’ metaphysics of Robert Pirsig, he the champion of Quality, he the unifier of all that is Good, True and Beautiful.


Romantic Quality                                   Classic Quality

(Preintellectual Reality)                                    (Intellectual Reality)

                                      Subjective Reality     Objective Reality

(Mind)                    (Matter)

My first reaction to this map/diagram was purely esthetic.  And I was shocked.  It was ugly.  It was unbalanced.  If it was a building it would surely topple over!  This edifice could not stand on its own!  I was completely baffled.  How could someone who wrote with such elegance about truth, which surely Pirsig does, create such an picture that so clearly lacks elegance?  Without even analyzing the words and ideas conveyed by the diagram I felt that there was something wrong with this picture of reality.

But, most shocking of all, upon my current re-reading of Pirsig’s book, probably my 6th or 7th read of it, I had my own revelation!  The diagram Pirsig presented was not an accurate picture of his own words!  It was as if the diagram was laid out by the Narrator and not by Phaedrus the philosopher who had the revelation concerning Quality.  Return with me to chapter 20 of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Go to what is page 247 in the Quill edition, the paragraph begins thusly:

‘He’d been speculating about the relationship of Quality to mind and matter and had identified Quality as the parent of mind and matter, that event which gives birth to mind and matter.  This Copernican inversion of the relationship of Quality to the objective world could sound mysterious if not carefully explained, but he didn’t mean to be mysterious.  He simply meant that at the cutting edge of time, before an object can be distinguished, there must be a kind of nonintellectual awareness, which he called awareness of Quality.  You can’t be aware that you’ve seen a tree until after you’ve seen the tree, and between the instant of vision and instant of awareness there must be a time lag….The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans.  The present is our only reality.  The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal.  Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal.  Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place.  There is no other reality.  This preintellectual reality is what Phaedrus felt he had properly defined as Quality.  Since all intellectual identifiable things must emerge from this preintellectual reality, Quality is the parent, the source of all subjects and objects.’

Powerful words.  But let us carefully consider them.  The scene that Pirsig is describing consists of a person observing a tree.  So, first off there exists matter!  A human being stands on planet Earth and a tree grows out of the soil of planet Earth.  Examine the word ‘preintellectual’.  Watch were it takes us.  Pre-intellectual means something before there is an intellectual understanding.  The intellect is a faculty of a human mind!  Pre-intellectual is before the things the mind creates, which is words.  Before intellect there is a non-verbal occurrence.  We now have a body which has sense data, non-verbal, and this body process the sense data with its intellect--its mind.  Out of this processing we have understanding.  Pirsig labels Preintellectual with Romantic Quality and intellectual with Classical Quality.  The actual diagram Pirsig is describing looks more like this:


(Objective Reality)


(Planet Earth)

(trees and people)

a human mind

(Subjective Reality)

Romantic Quality

(preintellectual awareness)

Classic Quality

(intellectual distinguishing

identifiable things)

Now this visual edifice is solid and stable.  But this is not the diagram that Pirsig gave in his book!  But it is the diagram as described by the paragraph from his book that I just cited!  Quality exists before words, before intellect.  We are made of matter and perceive things made of matter (trees).  We silently, non-verbally are aware of, experience objects made of matter and then we come to understand those objects and give them labels, words.  This labeling is Classic Quality which we make in our intellect--our mind!  Classic Quality is a product of a human mind!  Romantic Quality is the silent appreciation and experience of matter by a human being with a mind![4]  That is exactly what Pirsig is saying in the paragraph I quoted.


Then if we examine Chapter 24 and the Train metaphor it reinforces the re-worked Pirsig map just laid out above.  Pirsig begins this metaphor by calling the Train traveling across the prairies the train of knowledge, which he subdivides into Classical and Romantic Knowledge.  At first it appears that he has acknowledged that the human mind can classify it’s understanding of Reality into a division of two worldviews and that the cars in this train are filled with Romantic stuff and Classical stuff.  But, this is not the case.  Classic Knowledge, the knowledge taught by the Church of Reason, is the engine and all the boxcars.  All of them and everything that’s in them.  If you subdivide the train into parts you will find no Romantic Knowledge anywhere.’ [ZMM, pg. 283.]  This is odd, so where is Romantic Quality?

I know it exists[5], it is found in ‘hip-ness’, it is the emotional response to somethings appearance, it is the recognition of the Beautiful, it is seeing the world through the eye of Art and beauty.  But Pirsig says ‘Romantic Quality, in terms of this analogy, isn’t any ‘part’ of the train.  It’s the leading edge of the engine…’[ZMM, pg. 283]  Hmm, this is odd.  Yes there is a leading edge, yes that leading edge is before words, pre-verbal and thus ‘pre-intellectual’.  But, is this really Romantic Quality?

It’s the leading edge of the train of knowledge that keeps the whole train on track.  Traditional knowledge is only the collective memory of where that leading edge has been.  At the leading edge there are no subject, no objects, only the track of Quality ahead, and if you have no formal way of evaluating, no way of acknowledging this Quality , then the entire train has no way of knowing where to go…The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.  Value, the leading edge of reality, is no longer an irrelevant offshoot of structure.  Value is the predecessor of structure.  It’s the pre-intellectual awareness that gives rise to it.  Our structured reality is preselected on the basis of value, and really to understand structured reality requires an understanding of the value source from which it’s derived.’ [ZMM, pg 283-4]

Yes.  That cutting edge is the contact with Quality.  Our prior understanding of what Quality is, the contents of the train helps guide us in where we are going and what we will comprehend out of that encounter with the unknown at the point of the leading edge.  Quality guides us, but is it Romantic Quality?  I think that Pirsig realizes that there is pre-intellectual experience and intellectual experience but he also acknowledging that there is pre-intellectual understanding of a thing and of Quality, and that there is intellectual understanding of a thing and of Quality.  Pirsig is combining experience with understanding.  I believe they are two separate constructs.  Experience is an event and term to describe the process of encountering Reality and therefore encountering Quality.  Understanding is what we do after the encounter.  It is the results of the encounter.

Thus, Classic Quality[6] and Romantic Quality are useful terms to describe our appreciation of, our understanding of Reality.  They describe the understanding of Reality and the results into knowledge.  I would put Romantic Quality back into the train, and make some of the box cars Romantic Quality.  Now, it is true that Romantic Quality appreciates the surface value of events and things and thus is not Classically intellectual.  Romantic Quality draws more heavily from the emotions as to feeling its way into understanding.  Things either feel right or wrong using the Romantic perspective.  Emotions, as I believe and as I will explain, are prior to intellectual constructs and that is why I believe Pirsig linked pre-intellectuality with all things Romantic.  But by mixing experience with understanding he took Romantic Quality understanding and left if out of the box cars of knowledge.  I think we should put it back.

One last thing.  If the box cars are the sum total of our knowledge, which I have now described as being Classic and Romantic, what is the engine?  That I believe is the human mind.

So, what is this pre-intellectual experience, this leading edge of the train?  It is most definitely an encounter with Quality.

Quality is not a thing.  It is an event.  Warmer.  It is the event at which the subject becomes aware of the object.  And because without objects there can be no subject--because the objects create the subject’s awareness of himself--Quality is the event at which awareness of both subjects and objects is made possible.  Hot…This means Quality is not just the result of a collision between subject and object.  The very existence of subject and object themselves is deduced from the Quality event.  The Quality event is the cause of the subjects and objects.  [ZMM, pg. 239]  Absolutely!  The encounter with Quality, the Quality event that is the leading edge of the Train of knowledge!  It is not Romantic Quality.  The leading edge is the time and place where the subject and object meet.

Now we have one final map from ZMM.  Everything is properly classified and both Classic and Romantic Quality has been satisfied.


(Objective Reality)


(Planet Earth)

(trees and people)


a human mind

(Subjective Reality)

(preintellectual experience & awareness)

(intellectual distinguishing

and understanding identifiable things)

Romantic Quality -- Classic Quality

My goal, for the remainder of this essay is to work out the implications of this new diagram.  In doing this I will attempt to integrate the world views of Robert Pirsig and Ken Wilber.  I will do this with the model of the brain and the mind from Erich Harth’s book: The Creative Loop: How the Brain Makes a Mind (1993), and lastly with my own insights.  In the end the success or failure of this venture lies with me.  I foresee a view of the world that starts with energy moves up to matter, through simple cellular life, going up to plants, animals and continuing on up to human beings, who have minds, and have a connection to the ultimate spirit of cosmic all and oneness.  My intention is to end the ‘mind -- body question’ by simply pointing out that Pirsig, Wilber, and Harth have actually already solved and dissolved that age old problem.

What is the Mind?  Rene Descartes in his Discourse on Method (1637) posited that the body was matter in motion and the source of emotions, desires, instincts, and physiological process.  The Mind was a non-material intellectual faculty whose nature was totally different than anything else in the material universe.  The mind and the body: two unique substances that interact with each other.  Since then many have others have entered the fray and proposed all sorts of ways to describe and overcome the difference between the mind and the body.  I believe the mind and the body are two sides of the same thing.

Take with me this leap of faith and imagine the universe thusly: The universe is made up of energy and matter and that is all, nothing else but this.  What makes for the rich diversity of existence is structure.  Matter and energy is interconnected and structured in an almost infinite variety of ways and configurations on an incredible multiplicity of levels.  From sub-atomic particles all the way up to galaxies.  All of it is merely energy and matter which has a particular structure.  Now having said this, I do not believe that the universe is devoid of life, mind, spirit or Quality.  I simply believe that all of these things evolve from the complexities contained within the internal and external attributes of the structure of energy and matter.  I believe that Quality is the Internal aspect and the cause of the diverse configuration of structure Externally and Internally of all energy and matter in the Universe on all levels.  I believe that mind and spirit are the internal experience and the internal attributes of the external arrangements of all energy and matter.

To get from the above vast vision to my explanation I need to start with an examination of words.  To understand words I need to briefly explore Taoism.  Lao Tsu taught that: ‘The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.  The name that can be named is not the eternal name.’ [From Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, Chapter One, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English.]  Alfred Korzybski wrote something very similar when he said: ‘A Word is not the things spoken about, and that there is no such thing as an object in absolute isolation.’ [From pg 50 of Korzybski’s book Science and Sanity.]  And: ‘The map is not the territory it represents, but if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.’ [Korzybski, pg. 58.]  The Tao is the ultimate object that we can speak about and the ultimate territory that we can try to map.  But everything that we say is ‘not the eternal Tao’ it remains words.  The Tao is before human words and human maps.  Human words and human maps come after and are not the same as the pre-verbal/non-verbal reality and experience of the Tao.  So, what follows is a map in the form of words.  It can never be the same as the Tao, but it is all we humans can do[7].  We are map makers[8] and word users[9].

The human word ‘Tao’ [which has the literal translation into English as a way, a path, a road.] and the human word ‘Quality’, I believe are exact equivalents.  The choice of words are the products of two individuals working within the maps of two cultures.  One map and culture was a Romantic Quality culture (China, and thus the world, as experienced by Lao Tsu) the other a Classical Quality culture (United States, and thus the world, as experienced by Robert Pirsig.)  Having said this, I will start with both terms for final emphasis and then drop the use of the word ‘Tao’ and switch to Pirsig’s term Quality, since this essay that follows is more about Classical Quality map making than Romantic Quality map making. >

I believe that Tao/Quality is the ultimate Holon, and all Holon’s exist not in absolute isolation but in a Holarchy[10].  And by saying this I therefore am asserting that the totality of everything, all non-verbal objects and all verbal objects are Holons.  The assertion that Quality is a Holon is something that is inherent in the nature of and the reality of Quality.  It is not a mere human map.  [An analogy: The word ‘gravity’ is a human invention and everything that can be spoken to describe ‘gravity’ in what ever symbol system used is still a collection of human effort.  Yet, Gravity is a force which exists in the workings of Reality before any human every noticed its presence.]  (The word ‘Holon’ and the word ‘Holarchy’ are the invention of Arthur Koestler from his book ‘The Ghost and The Machine’.  The recognition of the importance of those terms to making a true map of reality was later acknowledged by Ken Wilber[11].)

A Holon is a term to describe an object which has the characteristics of simultaneously being both an individual whole, composed of parts, as well as being a single part of some larger whole.  This part and whole aspect is complementary and not a divisible distinction.  An analogy is to a photon having both wave and particle characteristics, depending on the tools use to examine the photon.  All Holon’s have the following characteristics.  They came be described from the perspective of External and Internal, as Individual Wholes and as Parts of a Collective, and they have Dynamic Quality and Static Quality. [These last two terms are from Robert Pirsig and were not known to, or used by, Koestler or Wilber.]

All of these characteristics are not either/or choices.  Not one or the other.  Either/or choices are forcing that which is Dynamic into something artificial and Static.  Each pair, External--Internal, Individual/Wholes--Collective/Parts, Dynamic--Static, are choices along continuums where abstract purity is imagined at either end of the continuum, but objects can be described anywhere along that continuum.  The continuum is a metaphor which recognizes the Dynamic Quality relationships in the structure and nature of Reality.  To use only the tool of comparisons and contrasting is to utilize only Static Quality tools.  The act of placing an object along the continuum is a human choice.  And thus is not the ‘True’ choice, which is what both Lao Tsu and Korzybski warns us about.  That all objects have those characteristics is ‘True’, it is a part of the non-verbal and pre-human nature of reality.  Realizing that those choices exists and formulating a map to describe those choices is a human act and a human product and thus theoretically there can never be an end to the map making.

As Koestler and Wilber have eloquently stated in their books, all Holons are part of a Holarchy.  They can be mapped out showing their relationships vertically and horizontally.  This arrangement is endless in either direction.  Unless you recognize that at either end, the final uppermost/biggest whole that can be imagined is Quality and the final smallest part that can be imagined is Quality.  To give as an illustration of a External Classical Quality holarchy, one made by a Western Scientists, the Universe would be at the top of the holarchy and quarks, or whatever makes up quarks, would be at the bottom of their holarchy.

Now begins my map making.

Reality is because there is Quality.  Without Quality there would only be pure, uniform, undifferentiated energy quantum particles.  Because there is Quality the Universe exists and is structured as it is.  Energy and Matter continually dance and flow in a continuum of Dynamic and Static manifestations all in accordance with Quality.  Quality is what makes for organization in a structural pattern of Holon’s in a Holarchy.  That flow of energy and matter has formed into many things, some of which are a form of life[12] which is sentient.  [Theoretically humans are not the only such species in the Universe, hence this reference.  But for the sake of simplicity I will henceforth only address this discussion to our own species.]

All human beings interact with the Universe and within themselves.  This interaction is Pirsig’s Quality Event.  That interaction starts externally as an interaction of energy and matter with other configurations of energy and matter which make up the human body.  This External aspect of the Quality Event, like the rest of the Universe, is a continuum of events of sub-atomic through atomic, through molecular, through chemical, bio-chemical, through networks of biological systems.

Our brains have evolved such that the neurological wiring not only processes data coming in from sources external to the brain, but it is wired to react to and monitor it’s own brain processes.  Our brain is ‘self-aware’ on a biological level because of this reflexive and recursive neurological structure[13].  This ‘self-awareness’ of our own biological/nervous system and brain states is the external key to our own inner experience of self-awareness.

This addition of Wilber’s sense of Internal is what Harth was missing from his own analysis.  Harth only had a construct of the external physicality as being all that was, and thus could not imagine that all things had by their very nature a valid and acceptable Internal aspect.  Once this is added then Harth’s own model is complete in and of itself.  He has describe the model of neurological structure that gives rise to the mind.  This being aware of our own processes is the experience that is a continuum from sensations up to feelings and even up to thoughts.  This internal experience and processes is what gives rise to the Mind.

We evolved, for reasons unknown, the ability to conceive of and process the monitoring of our own internal brain processes into sets of symbols.  These symbols give rise to words.  A product of the workings of our brain biology gives rise to a mind.  Within that mind are thought processes, which are pre-symbolic.  We developed overtime symbols, which eventually evolved into words, as a means to organize our thought processes.  Our attempting to organize and understand the world we live in and experience is a process which utilizes symbols and words.

The brain is a collection of neural structure which is holarchical.  It can be mapped out vertically and horizontally.  What I am about to do is to describe that holarchical structure.

The First, lowest, and quantitatively speaking, the largest amount of activity takes place at this ‘basement’ level of brain activity.  It is the level of matter/energy exchange taking place in the form of bio-chemical neural interaction.  It is where and when information from higher level brain activity is transmitted and starts other bio-chemical neural interactions which lead to information being sent to the rest of the body bio-chemical systems.  All sensory data is input to this level.  All sensory data is compared to stored information made up of, at this level, previous patterns of information.  To reiterate, everything on this level is either in coming or out going matter/energy and it is also the structured patterns of matter/energy which makes up the whole unit known as a single human body, a single human being.

The second level up, and the next largest amount of activity, is when the bio-chemical neural patterns of information is processed, is matched up with the bio-chemical neural patterns of information that is stored as  the symbols of human creation.  When the highest 3rd level takes notice of this activity, it is the Internal experience of this External bio-chemical neurological process which is what we humans describe as non-verbal feelings, non-verbal images and non-verbal sensations [Touch, taste, smell, etc.].  This experience is Internal and the first experience of what has been labeled by the word--‘Mind’.  All those ‘feelings’, ‘images’, ‘sensations’ (‘smells’, ‘tastes’, ‘touches’, etc.) have been stored as patterns of neural inter-relationships similar to how data is stored in a computer, to use a metaphor.  We can by example compare this 2nd level with all the data stored in a computer, which is stored as patterns of ones and zeros, on and offs.  This is the same for neurons.  They have, or have not, a bio-chemical charge, which is the equivalent of the computer’s ones and zeros.  At this 2nd level information is sent up to the upper 3rd level of brain activity and information is brought down from that 3rd level.  This 2nd level also interacts with the level before and below itself, the 1st level.

This 2nd level starts as an External processing level and therefore before the existence of human words.  At this level non-verbal ‘feelings’, ‘images’ ‘sensations’ are then being translated into human symbols and words.  Also at this level human symbols and words are being translated back into non-verbal feelings, etc.  This activity when it is noticed by the uppermost level will be first experienced non-verbally and then be experienced verbally when the 3rd level desires to comprehend the experience.  Then the 3rd level will experiencing ‘thoughts’ and ‘emotions’.  At the moment any of this is noticed by the 3rd level it becomes part of the Internal aspect of the Mind event/experience.  This 2nd level is where the neural system process the data and ‘understands’ that data.  This is the level of both ‘sub-conscious thoughts’ and ‘un-conscious thoughts’, to use terminology of the human map called psychology.  Of course so long as their thought processes remain un-noticed by the upper 3rd level then remain non-verbal processes.  Any and all thoughts noticed by the 3rd level are experienced by that 3rd level as ‘thinking’, ‘ideas’, ‘beliefs’, ‘theories’, etc.  All products of the human Mind are first composed/created at this 2nd level.

At this 2nd level External objects, External experience of those objects, and even the human constructs of Ideas, Beliefs, etc, all are classified and located along the Classical Quality -- Romantic Quality continuum.  ‘Classical Quality’ and ‘Romantic Quality’ are not part of the six characteristics of Holons.  They are pure human experience and constructs.  They are products of Internal human activity[14].  They have no External existence outside of a human mind[15] [except that the words which the human mind has created can be manifested in External mediums, on computer screens and on paper, for two examples.]  This means that theoretically anything can be classified as either having more or less Classical Quality, or more or less Romantic Quality by any single individual human and these choice can be diametrically in opposition and contradiction to another human’s choices.

Over all it is here at the 2nd level that what we humans describe as Internal Reality is created[16].  Everything experienced ‘here’ at this level is part of Internal Reality.  Everything not experienced ‘here’, and not experienced at the final 3rd level is thus designated as External Reality.

The uppermost level of neural activity is the smallest quantitatively.  It is the level of ‘Consciousness’.  Another word for this level is ‘Awareness.’  Consciousness is the Internal experience of self-identity.  This upper 3rd level is where and when all brain activity previous described is experienced.  Here is where and when thoughts can be formed in a verbal manner that directs the human body to take action.  Here is where and when the experience of controlling the lower level activities takes ‘place’.  This is the level of awareness.  It is a level of pure experience.  It is not a level of brain processing[17].  All neural brain processing which allows there to be the experience of consciousness, is done at all the lower levels.

The 3rd level  is simply the sensation of directing thought and experiencing emotions and even experiencing the non-verbal sensations and all other sensory data.  What is called ‘the conscious mind’ is at this level.  To repeat myself: the activity that gives rise to the ‘conscious mind’ or ‘conscious awareness’ or ‘consciousness’ is all taking place below this 3rd level holarchically speaking.  This experience of consciousness can be extremely focused.  Consciousness can fixate on simply the Partness of a single Holon, be it a singular object or act of Internal or External reality.  Or consciousness can focus on the Wholeness of a single Holon, mystically expanded into a sensation of cosmic communion with the totality of Internal and External Quality.

My map, my holarchy can be illustrated thusly:








-----------SENTIENT BEING’S MIND------------





Romantic Quality - - Classical Quality

One last thing before we leave ZMM.  I would like to touch upon what Pirsig calls Mythos over Logos, and how it lead to Phaedrus slipping into insanity.  The term logos…refers to the sum total of our rational understanding of the world.  Mythos is the sum total of the early historic and prehistoric myths which precede logos…The mythos-over-logos argument states that our rationality is shaped by these legends, that our knowledge today is in relation to these legends.’ [ZMM, pg. 349]  What keeps the world from reverting to the Neanderthal with each generation is the continuing, ongoing mythos, transformed into logos but still mythos, the huge body of common knowledge…To go outside the mythos is to become insane.’ [ZMM, pg. 350]  Because Quality is the generator of the mythos.  That’s it.  That’s what he meant when he said, “Quality is the continuing stimulus which causes us to create the world in which we live.  All of it.  Every last bit.”  Religion isn’t invented by man.  Men are invented by religion.  Men invent responses to Quality, and among these responses is an understanding of what they themselves are.  You know something and then the Quality stimulus hits and then you try to define the Quality stimulus, but to define it all you’ve got to work with is what you know.  So your definition is made up of what you know.  It’s analogue to what you already know.  It has to be.  It can’t be anything else.  And the mythos grows this way.  By analogues to what is known before.  The mythos is a building of analogues upon analogues upon analogues[18].  These fill the boxcars of the train of consciousness.  The mythos is the whole train of collective consciousness.’ [ZMM, pg. 351]

Insanity is the rejecting of your societies mythos.  Insanity is the label place on you by your culture when you venture off the known, the mythos, into the unknown and thereby the unacknowledged as even existing.  When you map out new territory, you’re mapping the unknown, the possible stuff of madness and trying to bring it back into the known.  You are forging it into sanity and thus adding to mythos.  It your map fails to get accepted or if you don’t articulate the map, either way insanity and insane is the label that will be placed on you.  If you stay to long outside the mythos or get lost in that unknown, uncharted territory you risk insanity.  All these things happened to Phaedrus.  Pirsig by writing ZMM is mapping out the territory explored by Phaedrus.  In doing so Pirsig is making what was outside the mythos understandable in terms of the mythos.  Pirsig is guiding the reader and himself, Phaedrus, back into the mythos.  He is making a new map which charts new territory.

Part II: Lila: An Inquiry into Morals

In Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals, Pirsig offers a new map[19], a new version of his metaphysical map of reality.  It is Based on the concept of Dynamic--Static Quality as the unifying principle and the construct by which Reality is formed around The words in the [] brackets are my additions.:

[Dynamic Quality]

Intellectual Patterns of Static Quality [Internal Reality]

Social Patterns of Static Quality[External & Internal Reality]

Biological Patterns of Static Quality[External Reality]

Inorganic Patterns of Static Quality[External Reality]

[Dynamic Quality]

Dynamic Quality is both the Ground of Being and the Goal of Being.

Lets use this map to illustrate the principles of holarchies.  Take a single human being.  We are a whole unit.  But if and when we get sick or hurt and we go to the doctor the doctor will treat us like a collection of parts, Biological Patterns.  We will be broken up into a collection of whole units/systems: nervous system, endocrine system, respiratory system, skeletal system, etc.  Then we could take any whole unit/system and break it up into parts.  The nervous system is composed of the brain, the spinal cord, etc.  Each of those whole units can be broken down into parts.  The brain is composed of neo-cortex, cortex, limbic system, etc.  Each of these whole units are made up of parts and etc.  Eventually we will be leaving the Level of Organic chemistry and get down to the level of Inorganic chemistry, down we go into atoms which are whole units made up of neutrons, protons, electrons.  Which are still made up of parts, sub-atomic particles and down we go until we get into the smallest which is the Ground of Being=Dynamic Quality, itself.

Then if we travel back up the levels through Inorganic, through Organic, up to Social.  On that level the whole human is part of a neighborhood.  Which is a whole unit that is part of a voting district.  Which is part of a whole unit called a state.  Which is part of a whole unit called a country.  These entities ‘neighborhood’, ’voting districts’, ‘states’ ‘country’, are all words and thus on the level of Intellectual patterns.  But, these words are describing physical geography also, they are on the level of Inorganic!  The states are part of countries/Nations [a Social Pattern level!], which are parts of continents, which are part of the Planet Earth, which is part of the Solar System, which is part of our Milky Way Galaxy, which is part of a cluster of galaxies, which are part of the Universe, which is part of Dynamic Quality, the goal of all that organizing patterns!

All those levels are separate and fixed by us humans not in Reality.  All those allocations of levels are human maps.  You can stop along the way and point to any of object in that list and talk about it as a whole unit or as a part of some greater whole.  But those words are artificially and sequentially analyzing something that is both a part and a whole in the actual context of Reality.  Pirsig’s four levels is not real.  It is a human map to describe the underlying Non-verbal Reality which can be sliced and diced up almost infinitely!

This is not much different than his previous ZMM diagram, once I had unearthed it from the text, nor is it much different than my own Pirsig/Wilber inspired map.  Quality is the ordering principle throughout.  Energy/Matter is patterned into to a variety of evolutionary levels of development.  From matter (Inorganic) up to life (Organic) to human life (Social), and each human being has a mind (Intellectual).  Quality is found through and through.  The mind is not a substance different from matter but a more evolved pattern of matter which evolved because it is a manifestation of Quality.

Pirsig appears to be being simplistic if he is asserting that each object on each of his levels is purely a static pattern of Quality.  This would not make sense and would be contrary to facts.  On the subatomic level matter is anything but static it is in dynamic quantum potential.  An above the atomic nothing is fixed or stable but subject to, at the very least, the affects of time--things wear down and/or grow old and die.  So even such a simplistic view of reality would pronounce that no thing exists as a permanent static pattern.  The difference being that some patterns are more stable and lasting than others but all patterns have within them the element of dynamic growth and decay.  Thus we are back to my earlier presentation that Dynamic--Static is an attribute of all Holons, all things that exists.  Which brings Pirsig’s MoQ from Lila map to look like this:


Intellectual Systems[Internal Reality]

Social Systems[External & Internal  Reality]

Biological Systems[External Reality]

Inorganic systems[External Reality]


A difference between this Lila map and ZMM map is that Lila focus is on collectives and the focus of ZMM is on the individual.  Two different aspects of all Holons.  They are in principle the same map.


Intellectual Systems [Internal/Subjective Reality]

Classical Quality (Intellectual formulations)

Romantic Quality (Preintellectual awareness)

Individual humans [a biological Matter]organized in

Social Systems [Objective/External Reality]

Biological [Matter] Systems (that lack a sentient & symbol making mind)[Objective/External Reality]

Inorganic [Matter]Systems [Objective/External Reality]

Now, to add to all of this, Pirsig is not the first to make such maps.  Humans have been doing it since the beginning of thought!  Try this map made by Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi [1165-1240 CE]:

Mineral World[Inorganic Level]

Vegetal World[Organic Level]

Animal World[Organic Level

Surface[Intellectual Level, by a human & thus Social Level]

Signs [Intellectual Level]

Universal order[Intellectual Level]

Integral ideas[Intellectual Level]

Intellect in Holy forms[Intellectual Level]

Visions-wholeness[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

Ascending sights[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

Divine light[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

Bliss[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

Witness-totality[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

Gnosis[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

A Returned One[Pure Dynamic Quality(?)]

The map was provide by Ken Wilber in his book Integral Psychology.  Pirsig not being a mystic does not get into mapping out the levels of Dynamic Quality.  Here’s another map presented by Ken Wilber, this one is found both in Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and in his book A Brief History of Everything:  This map is from Plotinus [205-270 CE]

Matter[Inorganic Level]

Vegetative life[Organic Level]

Sensation[Inorganic Level sense data in a human thus Social Level]

Perception[Organic Level brain process]

Pleasure/pain[Organic level brain process]

Images[Intellectual level]

Concepts & opinions[Intellectual level]

Logical Faculty[Intellectual level]

Creative Reason[Intellectual level]

Soul/World Soul[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

Nous[Intellectual Level & description of Dynamic Quality]

Absolute One[Pure Dynamic Quality (?)]

Hopefully you are getting the point.  Pirsig was not the first, nor will he be the last to map out Reality.  His map is similar to those who historically came before him, even if he was not directly influence by them.  His map is not new.  But, this does not diminish Pirsig/ his maps usefulness.  The importance is to not limit oneself to only one tool/one map.  The only way to understand Reality is to acquire more maps.  There is a saying: ‘The mind is like a book.  Both are only useful when they are open.’  To limit oneself solely to Pirsig, having a closed mind, or for that matter to any single author, is a mistake[20].

[End of Part II.  Part III will continue with a full exploration of Lila

[1] This essay is a work in progress.

[2] I will be footnoting this essay with citations from Pirsig’s book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values’, Quill edition, 1979, as I re-read it.

[3] ZMM [pg 282] ‘This eternally dualistic subject-object way of approaching the motorcycle sounds right to us because we’re used to it.  But it’s not right.  It’s always been an artificial interpretation superimposed on reality.  It’s never been reality itself.’

[4] ZMM [pg 374.] ‘”Man is the measure of all things.”  Yes, that’s what he is saying about Quality.  Man is not the source of all things, as the subjective idealists would say.  Nor is he the passive observer of all things, as the objective idealists and materialists would say.  The Quality which creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience.  He is a participant in the creation of all things.’

[5] Pirsig, ZMM, , pg 73, ‘A romantic understanding sees it [the world] primarily in terms of immediate appearance…The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive.  Feelings rather than facts predominate.  “Art” when it is opposed to “Science” is often romantic.  It does not proceed by reason or by laws.  It proceeds by feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience.’  [pg. 124] ‘The romantic reality is primarily esthetic, but it has its theory too.’  [Could Romantic Quality be a recognition by a human being of the Internal nature of objects?]

[6] Pirsig, ZMM, pg. 73, ‘Classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself.’  [pg 74] ‘The classic mode…proceeds by reason and by laws-which are themselves underlying forms of thought and behavior…There is a classic esthetic which romantics often miss because of its subtlety.  The classic style is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical, and carefully proportioned.  Its purpose is not to inspire emotionally, but to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known.  It is esthetically restrained.  Everything is under control.  Its value is measured in terms of the skill with which this control is maintained.’  [pg 124] ‘…classic reality is primarily theoretic but has its own esthetics too.'  [Could Classical Quality be the recognition by a human being of the External nature of objects?  ‘Underlying form’ being an attribute of the External nature of an object.]

[7] This process of using words and making maps is a process of taking a dynamic event composed of the interaction of the infinite world of things and rendering them static.  It is a process of taking life out of it all.  Pirsig, ZMM, pg. 83, ‘When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process.’  This death is a necessary by product of analysis, of map making.  Map making is always studying dead things.  Map making is linear and sequential, because that is the structure inherent in the use of human language.  To make up for this linear, sequential staticness metaphors are employed.  Metaphors are a static attempt to put back the element of the dynamic into one’s analysis/maps.  Pirsig [pg. 283] ‘A train really isn’t a train if it can’t go anywhere.  In the process of examining the train and subdividing it into parts we’ve in-advertently stopped it, so that it really isn’t a train we are examining.  That’s why we get stuck.  The real train of knowledge [The Eternal Tao and not the word Tao] isn’t a static entity can be stopped and subdivided.  It’s always going somewhere.  On a track called Quality.’

[8] The word ‘map’ as I am using it is as a metaphor for a theory, a concept, a hypothesis, an idea, an intellectual tool.  Abraham Maslow said this about tools: If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tent to treat everything as if it were a nail.  [Cited by Robert Ornstein in his book The Psychology of Consciousness (1972 Pelican Edition, pg 23) cites Maslow without a page reference the source of this phrase as being Maslow’s: The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance, 1969, Henery Regnery.]  To use Maslow’s hammer analogy: a tool trap occurs when you relate to situations you are encountering in terms of the parameters set by the tools.  Thus if you only have a hammer you would find it difficult to properly use a screw, or if you had to open a sealed jar you would bang on the lid or jar itself and probably cause more damage and not succeed in opening it, or if asked to measure something you would do so in terms of x number of hammer lengths, or if you had to draw something you would have to make marks in something soft and the marks you made would be very blunt, and so on.  All tools were made to solve certain specific sets of problems and situations but they are inadequate to deal with something outside those parameters.  Listening to the rules of how and when to use the tool, traps the user from going outside of those rules and prevents creativity.  Language, as in Human language itself is the most universally used tool.  Therefore the use of language can create a tool trap.  To avoid this trap you should examine the rules inherent in language to have an understanding of the parameters that can affect how we think with that tool.  For example, Western linguistic systems are: very subject-predicate oriented, they categorize everything into things/objects and actions taken by and done with or to those objects/things, each word is generally considered to have a single specific meaning, etc.  In general I believe that the logic system used by the basic grammar of Western languages tends to be Aristotelian logic.  Now, that doesn’t mean we are limited to only A-logic it just means that the first tendency, the first tool we use when speaking in a Western language is a form of A-logic.  Thus, if we have only the hammer of A-logic we will tend to treat everything as if it were a nail--see only in black and white, in only either/or distinctions.

Pirsig gave a list in ZMM [pgs. 310-317] of other cognitive traps to avoid two I would mention here, the value trap and the ego trap.  The value trap comes about by having too rigid an adherence to the constructs/theories/ideas you have already accumulated.  If your values are too rigid you won’t see new facts.  This is a variation of what I described as a tool trap.  The ego trap is by allowing your perception of yourself, your own evaluation of your personal worth, to prevent you from seeing that you overlooked a fact or mis-interpreted a fact.  You allow your ego to prevent you from acknowledging that you can make mistakes and this prevent yourself from fixing a situation which is the results of a mistake.

[9] The structure of language and the structure of the logic tools we use should be examined if we are to avoid a tool trap.  Aristotelian logic is ‘Yes and no…this or that…one or zero.  On the basis of this elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge is built up.’[ZMM, pg. 320]  Now Pirsig states that there is a logic beyond this two-term system.  ‘Because we’re unaccustomed to it, we don’t usually see that there’s a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of expanding our understanding in an un-recognized direction.  We don’t even have a term for it, so I’ll have to use the Japanese mu.  Mu means “no thing”.  Like “Quality” it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination.’ [ZMM, pg. 320]  Now Pirsig didn’t know it but in 1933 Alfred Korzybski developed a whole system of logic which grew out of recognizing that two valued logic is not enough.  By adding this new system, this new tool we can avoid falling into the tool trap of only having A logic.  (Although, Null-A logic needs to be studied to avoid any potential tool traps it could cause.)  The book was Science and Sanity: An introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, (1933 by The International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing Company, 1941 2nd edition, 1948 3rd edition and 1958 4th edition.)  Some of the fundamental principles of Korzybski’s Null-A system are the following:  [note: emphasis of certain words were marked as such in the original source.]

1.“I want to make clear only that words are not the things spoken about, and that there is no such thing as an object in absolute isolation.” [pg. 50 from Science and Sanity]

2. “We must realize that structure, and structure alone is the only link between languages and the empirical world.” [pg. 50, ibid.]

3. “Two important characteristics of maps should be noticed.  A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness.” [pg. 58, ibid.]

4. “If we reflect upon our languages, we find that at best they must be considered only as maps.  A word is not the object it represents; and languages exhibit also this peculiar self-reflexiveness, that we can analyze languages by linguistic means.”[pg. 58, ibid.]

5. “[T]he common, A-system and language which we inherited from our primitive ancestors differ entirely in structure from the well-known and established 1933 structure of the world, ourselves and our nervous systems included.  Such antiquated map-language, by necessity, must lead us to semantic disaster, as it imposes and reflects its unnatural structure on the structure of our doctrines and institutions.”[pg. 59, ibid.]

6. “As words are not the objects which they represent, structure and structure alone, becomes the only link which connects verbal processes with the empirical data.  To achieve adjustment and sanity and the conditions which follow from them, we must study structural characteristics of this world first, and, then only, build languages of similar structure, instead of habitually ascribing to the world the primitive structure of our languages.” [pg. 59, ibid.]

7.“If there is no such thing as an absolutely isolate object, then, at least, we have two objects, and we shall always discover some relation between them, depending on our interest, ingenuity, and what not.  Obviously, for a man to speak about anything at all, always presupposes two objects, at least; namely the object spoken about and the speaker, and so a relation between the two is always present.  Even in delusions, illusions and hallucinations, the situation is not changed; because our immediate feelings are also un-speakable and not words.” [ pg. 61, ibid.]

[10] Pirsig, ZMM, pg. 101, ‘This structure of concepts is formally called a hierarchy and since ancient times has been a basic structure for all Western knowledge.’  The difference between a hierarchy and a holarchy is this:  A hierarchy is a static arrangement of parts with no acknowledgement that each element on one level is composed of all the parts of the level below it, and thus missing the realization that each element is both a part and a whole.  A holarchy is a dynamic continuum of hierarchical arrangement of holons, those parts/wholes which acknowledges the dynamic interrelationship of the levels.

[11] Ken Wilber’s main work on this subject is ‘Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution’, 1995, 2000.  Wilber wrote an ‘abridged’ version of this book when he published ‘A Brief History of Everything’, 1996, 2000.

[12] Pirsig, ZMM, pg. 12, ‘…a whole community of millions of living things living out their lives in a kind of benign continuum.’

[13] This is where Erich Harth comes in.  [All citations are from the Addison-Wesley Publishing Company 1993 edition of Harth’s book.]  Harth describes four attributes of consciousness: ‘Perhaps the most striking of these are its selectivity, exclusivity, chaining, and --I believe--unitarity…1. Selectivity.  Not all neural activities enter consciousness.  Indeed, only very few do.  Some of these are sensations…We also select into consciousness perception, the identified or otherwise analyzed sensory events; and feelings, the less sensory and more cerebral transactions (such as thought patterns that do not arise from specific and present sense data,  Instead, they are brewed from stored and perhaps innate knowledge, often with a dash of hormonal seasonings. [from pg127])  In this spirit, I would call consciousness itself a feeling.  Finally, we may be conscious of our own consciousness in what has been termed a potentially infinite regress.  Some hierarchy of conscious events seems to suggest itself here.  2.  Events are selected singly into consciousness.  Being conscious of one thing prevents us from thinking of another at the same time.  This is what I mean by exclusivity.  The brain can simultaneously carry out hundreds of tasks…But your consciousness can accommodate only one sensation or perception or thought at a time….3.  Chaining.  Items in consciousness are chained together, sometimes haphazardly, sometimes following a plot, linked together by association and reasoning…4.  Unitarity.  …Consciousness unifies both the subject and the object, both the person who possess it and the contents of his or her conscious mind…Consciousness makes it appear that a single individual…is the recipient of all sensations, perceptions, and feelings, and the originator of all thoughts.  [pg 139-140]  I want to account here for some of the attributes of consciousness, but I do not have a physicalist model for the feeling of being conscious and therefore cannot claim to have an explanation of consciousness.’  [Here I disagree with the author.  I believe he is downplaying the significance of his own model.  I believe that once you recognize the Wilber realization of the Internal aspect of any Holon Harth’s model becomes a model of consciousness.]…’My model requires no separate monitoring system or ‘new form of sense organ,’ but it accomplishes the same tasks through simple and plausible neural mechanisms that are integral parts of the brain’s main sensory pathways.[pg. 141] …In his picture, consciousness involves the cyclic reactivation of images or other cognitive states through active reflection from higher order cerebral centers.  The chaining of images is achieved by associative connections in the cortex, which triggers new concepts or ideas to be fed into self-referent loops…My model further assumes that the central, symbolic neural activities by themselves are not accompanied by feelings of consciousness.  Many such activities must by going on simultaneously in all parts of the cortex.  But subjective awareness results only when specific activities are selected for elaboration and reinforcement by self-referent channels…The normal visual pathway in humans consists, as we have seen, of a series of feedback loops…Here the exclusive selection of specific sensory features is accomplished by optimization processes…I have demonstrated that the necessary neural mechanisms exist in the case of vision.  Analogous neural circuitry exists in other sensory pathways.[pg. 142.]…In the present, self-referent model that I have proposed, there is a theater, and the action is on its stage is being scrutinized by an observer.  Unlike previous attempts that have placed the theater at the highest level of cerebral activity, I believe that the unification is located at the only place where sensory patterns are still whole and preserve the spatial relations of the original scene--at the bottom of the sensory pyramid, not at the top.  It is there that all the sensory cues and the cerebral fancies conspire to paint a scene.  There is also an observer: it is the rest of the brain looking down, as it were, at what it has wrought.  Consciousness, which arises in this self-referent process, not only unifies the immediate sensory messages but also becomes the joiner of everything around us, past, present and future.’ [pg. 144] …’Nonlinearity combined with self-reference has produced unexpected and utterly astounding results…’ [pg. 148]

[14] Pirsig, ZMM, pg 79, ‘With a single stroke of analytic thought he [Phaedrus] split the whole world into parts of his own choosing, split the parts and split the fragments of parts, finer and finer and finer until he had reduced it to what he wanted it to be.  Even the special use of the terms “classic” and “romantic” are examples of his knifemanship.’

[15] Pirsig, ZMM, pg82, ‘The application of this knife, the division of the world into parts and the building of this structure, is something everyone does.’

[16] Pirsig, ZMM, pg. 82, ‘All the time we are aware of millions things around us…aware of these things but not really conscious of them unless we are predisposed to see.  We could not possibly be conscious of these things and remember all of them because our mind would be so full of useless details we would be unable to think.  From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it.  We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.  Once we have the handful of sand, the world of which we are conscious, a process of discrimination goes to work on it.  That is the knife.  We divide the sand into parts.  This and that.  Here and there.  Black and white.  Now and then.  The discrimination is the division of the conscious universe into parts.’  [pg. 83] ‘Classical understanding is concerned with the piles and the basis for sorting and interrelating them.  Romantic understanding is directed toward the handful of sand before the sorting begins.  Both ways are valid ways of looking at the world…’

[17] At least that is my current hypothesis and assertion.

[18] My own revelation, which I had when I was young, of the understanding of the process of Reality is this phrase: People shape, and are shaped by, ideas.  My ideas and Pirsig’s mythos and the process of mythos to logos which is mythos, is similar to my dialectic phrase of shaping and being shaped by.

[19] I know that in Lila, Pirsig says in chapter 9 that ZMM was a false start.  Phaedrus finally abandoned this classic-romantic split as a choice for a primary division of the Metaphysics of Quality.’[pg. 109 of the Bantam paperback ed.]  This essay is in agreement that C-R is not the ‘primary’ division, but if Pirsig therefore meant to abandon and ignore ZMM, then he is mistaken.  You need ZMM to fully complete an understanding of Reality.  The more human verbal tools/maps you have the better the chances of understand the non-verbal territory!

[20] Ken Wilber a great collector of maps and creative synthesizer of those maps is needed as a further guide to the workings of Reality.  Ignore Wilber’s books at your own peril.

[21]  ZMM, pg 284: ‘With Quality as a central undefined term, reality is, in its essential nature, not static but dynamic.  And when you really understand dynamic reality you never get stuck.  It has forms but the forms are capable of change.’  Here is the seed out of which will grow Lila.