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What are you and what should you do?

By Mark Lencho

The Metaphysics of Quality says that humans are composed of four types of static pattern: inorganic, biological, social and intellectual. This rough guide to the static levels explains what they are and looks a some moral implications of this approach to reality.


You are a CHEMICAL COMPOUND, a system of rules and principles unique unto itself:

You can be heated, cooled, boiled, frozen, dehydrated and then freeze dried; you can be set on fire, exploded, vaporized, turned into ash, calcified, and made radioactive. If you are dropped out of an airplane, you will fall downward, accelerating until you hit the ground with a splat. You can be crushed in a vice. You obey the laws of physics.

You are a BIOLOGICAL ORGANISM, a system of rules and principles unique unto itself:

You eat and breathe, sleep and salivate; you make sweat and snot and cough up phlegm; you belch and burp, cry and sneeze; you fart and fuck and piss and shit and vomit; you make babies which some of you squeeze out of your bodies all covered with blood and placental slime. You a member of the only extant species (Sapiens) of the genus Homo.

You are a SOCIAL UNIT, a system of rules and principles unique unto itself:

You go to school; you occupy yourself by gainful employment; you might have to register for the draft, fight in wars, lay down your life; you obey laws of the community, state and country; you pay taxes; and you pay money for all the things you are compelled to acquire (in order to keep up): new clothes when old ones are serviceable, chemicals to change your natural smells, cosmetics to change your appearance, new VCRs, cell phones, radios, TVs, stereo sets, CDs, computers, video games, boats, cars, houses, microwaves, dishwashers, lawnmowers, fences, satellite dishes, software, silverware, lazy-boys, waterbeds, candy, coffee, red meat, house pets, vacations, books, baseball tickets etc, etc, etc. You're a consumer, a client, a caregiver; you have family obligations and obligations to your friends; you want to be well-liked; you think you should go to church. You are a member of society.

You are a THOUGHT PATTERN, a system of rules and principles unique unto itself:

You calculate, analyze, and rationalize; you have ideas about things; you have a mind and a conscience; you make choices; you think; you talk of your spirit; you create works of art and conduct scientific experiments; you exhibit common sense; you can imagine hell and heaven.


The following moral vignettes illustrate how Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality enables us to evaluate the moral dimensions of some representative cases.


You are shoved into an oven which is then turned on. You begin to get hot, in response to which your body begins to sweat.

DILEMMA: As a chemical system you are inclined to heat up, but as a biological organism you work to cool down.

MORAL OUTCOME: Your sweat cools you off, and you do not roast. (Biology over Physics)


As you are sitting in class, you find that your are uncomfortably flatulent. The classroom is rather small and there are many other students listening to the instructor's lecture. You know that if you evacuate the gas, you will make everyone around you uncomfortable--and maybe even angry; you will surely disrupt the class.

DILEMMA: As a biological organism you desire to pass gas, but as a social unit, you do not wish to disrupt the social setting.

MORAL OUTCOME: At the risk of becoming constipated, you stifle any discharge. (Society over Biology)


As you read Lila on a Friday evening after school, learning about the sources of behavior, the origin of culture, and the nature of morality and reality, you are paid a surprise visit by a group of friends who invite you to go out to party with them.

DILEMMA: As a social unit you are inclined to join the group, but as a pattern of thoughts, you are compelled to contemplate the root nature of the human condition.

MORAL OUTCOME: You decline the invitation and continue your reading. (Intellect over Society)

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