The Levels Undressed

An Inquiry Into The Static Levels Of The Metaphysics Of Quality

By Magnus Berg

September 2008

The four static levels of the MoQ have been the source of much controversy ever since first mentioned in Lila. Pirsig himself did not offer a very strict definition in the book, and also continues to be vague in later writing such as the SODV paper (Subjects Objects Data and Values).

Various people, including myself, on the Lila Squad, (which later became MoQ Discuss), have also often tried to offer definitions of one or more of the levels. But to date, it seems nobody has been persuasive enough to convince the rest of the group to adopt one set of definitions.

Some even claim that the lack of a strict definition of the levels is a good thing, a sign of health for the MoQ. The reasoning being that if the MoQ is dynamic enough to adapt, it is better suited to cope with future advances in the sciences. That might be true, but then one must also ask oneself what the purpose of a metaphysics is. Is it to be able to explain scientific advances in retrospect, or should it be able to catalyze new advances? I.e. should it be lead by science or lead it?

If metaphysics only adapts to scientific advances after they have happened, it doesn't really change anything. And if it doesn't change anything, it doesn't matter if it simply doesn't exist. This type of reasoning can be used to prove if something exists or not. If our reality is identical with, and without something, then that something doesn't exist. So, in other words, if metaphysics is lead by science, it doesn't exist.

However, if metaphysics is leading science, it affects our reality since science is a part of it, and therefore pops back into existence.

(Note that this reasoning is partly based on my personal preference about how a metaphysics lead by science affects our reality, so it can't really be used to prove anything. Some people are very satisfied by being able to use metaphysics to explain difficult scientific advances such as relativity and quantum mechanics, and this satisfaction is quite real, so it does affect those peoples' reality even though it's lead by science.)

OK, what does this have to do with a definition of the levels?

If metaphysics, in our case the MoQ, is to exist, it must therefore not just be able to adapt to new advances in the sciences. It must go two steps further so it can be used as a guide for scientists. But how can it possibly do that?

One part of the answer is the two, perhaps most important, aspects of the levels that Pirsig did define quite strictly in Lila.

1. Each level is discrete.

2. Higher levels depend on lower ones.

Both of these assumptions have been debated and questioned over and over again on the MoQ discussion lists. For example this question:

- How is it possible to make a discrete distinction between the inorganic and the biological levels? The biological level is supposed to contain all living beings, as opposed to the inorganic that contains dead matter. But the definition of what is alive and not, is not discrete. It depends on what you mean with life.

It seems to refute the first assumption above about discreteness quite effectively. However you do it, the border becomes fuzzy.

But if one of the assumptions are refuted, it also casts serious doubts over the other. In fact, without the first assumption (about discrete levels) the second isn't worth much anyway.

Without these two assumptions, the MoQ levels themselves become pretty useless since they are thrown back into being lead by science again. This leads to the realization that the two assumptions must be saved, but how?


To save the first of the crucial assumptions, we must somehow answer the difficult question about the distinction between the biological and the inorganic levels.

The most commonly used definition of the biological level is that it is simply made up of all living things. But that definition merely relies on the definition of life, and there are plenty of problems with that. First of all, there are more than one of them. Second, most are pretty vague, and third, none of them can pin-point a discrete break where inorganic matter ends and biological life begins. I'm sure most of the definitions claim they do define such a discrete break, but as I will show later, even if the break seems well defined, it has no metaphysical relevance.

So, we need to leave 'life' as a definition for the biological level, but what shall we use instead?

Part of the answer comes from Pirsig and other aspects of the MoQ. When he talks about the biological level, he doesn't use words such as life, plants or animals. He first of all mentions the senses of those things, not the things themselves. Senses like taste, smell, touch etc. belongs to the biological level. And when we think closer about it, that's how the MoQ sees reality in the first place. Primary reality is not defined as objects (and subjects), but by the relationships and interactions between objects. An object doesn't come into existence until it interacts with another object. Or to use MoQ terms, the quality event is the source of both subject and object. We can call this the object versus the experience point of views.

With this in mind, we can then move on and divide reality into the static levels. Remember to not mention objects when talking about levels, but only how objects interact with each other, i.e. use the experience point of view. The inorganic level is one plane of existence, i.e. one way in which objects interact. The biological level is a completely and discretely different way in which objects interact, i.e. another plane of existence.

To continue, the inorganic plane of existence is the type of interaction described by physics. In this level, we see interactions such as gravity, electromagnetism etc. Remember that these types of interactions are not objects, but ways in which objects can interact, or in MoQ terms, types of quality events.

As mentioned above, the biological plane of existence contains interactions such as taste, smell and touch.

Now, let's examine that first assumption again: "The levels are discrete." When we now look at the inorganic and biological planes of existence as gravity and electromagnetism versus taste, smell and touch, they immediately look very different than before when we defined the biological level as life. The discreteness of those two levels are simply not questionable anymore. Taste doesn't weigh anything, it's not attracted or repelled by magnetism. Neither is smell or touch. They are simply so different that any attempts to compare them are futile.

I often use the dimensional metaphor to describe the levels. If you could assign a value to each inorganic quality event, you could then plot those values along, for example, an x-axis. Different inorganic quality events are then pretty easy to compare, and if they are the same type of inorganic quality event, for example weight, you can easily compare them or use them to calculate different things about the objects that were involved in the quality event.

However, when applying the dimensional metaphor to the levels, the next level becomes another axis. So if we plot biological quality events along the y-axis we start to see what happens. Every single biological quality event has no (zero) inorganic value, and every single inorganic quality event has no biological value. And this is exactly how it's supposed to be. There are many people who suggest that the levels should be plotted along one axis, or rather, the evolution of life should be plotted along one axis and the levels are then a measure of how far along this axis evolution has progressed. But this brings us right back into the objectification of the levels again, and it also brings with it the fuzziness of the level borders and makes people argue about which objects are in which level etc. and we don't want that.

A good example that shows how to use the dimensional metaphor is the relationships between the height, width and weight of a wooden board. Use the x-axis as width and the y-axis as height. Now, if you need a board of a certain width, you should naturally make the width exactly that wide. Changing the width of the board will not affect its height. Likewise, if you change the height of the board, the width will not be affected.

However, the weight of the board will be affected by both changes. And if we turn it around, if we want a board with a certain weight (while keeping the thickness unchanged), we must change either the width or the height or both to get that weight.

What I have described here is what it means to be orthogonal. In this example, the width and height are orthogonal. They don't affect each other, they simply don't have anything to do with each other. However, the weight of the board is not orthogonal to any of the other axes. If you were to draw a weight axis in the same diagram as the width and height, it would extend from zero and point somewhere between the x- and the y-axis.

Let's now go back to the MoQ levels. Each level must be orthogonal to all other levels. That's what the first assumption really says. If we wanted to change the height of the board, it doesn't matter how much we change the width, and vice versa. Using the metaphor on the levels it becomes, if we want to change the smell of an object, it doesn't matter how much we change its inorganic attributes such as width and height. In other words, a wooden board will smell wood, no matter how high, wide or heavy it is.

On the other hand, if we define a level that isn't orthogonal, it will (or at least can) affect more than one of the scales in the same way the weight axis affected both the height and the width scales. For example, if we do use the evolution of life as the definition for the biological level, it will not only affect its own biological scale, but it will also affect the inorganic scale as the animals grow larger and larger. There is of course no direct connection between size and the evolutionary development, but size is affected by that scale, which means that it is not orthogonal to the inorganic axis, and consequently breaks the first assumption that levels should be discrete. This is what I meant earlier when I said that a biological level defined as life has no metaphysical relevance.

Molecular biology

So, we have now determined how to reason about the levels, that they must be orthogonal and that the examples given by Pirsig seem to satisfy the first assumption about being discrete. But we still have to check the second assumption for the inorganic and biological levels, that the higher level is dependent on the lower.

First of all, it's rather straight forward to realize what that dependency means in an object point of view. For example, an animal of the biological level is dependent on the inorganic patterns it is made of to survive, otherwise there is no animal.

But now when we have switched to an experience point of view, the dependency postulated by the second assumption is a bit different, or is it?

As we have seen earlier, the values we have assigned to the inorganic and biological levels are so different that a comparison is impossible, so it may seem illogical that they can depend on each other. But dependency is not about comparing incomparable types of value. Dependency can arise even though there is no other relationship and we shall see later exactly how that may work.

There is also another requirement for such metaphysical relationships that Pirsig didn't mention. Perhaps it's too self evident that you shouldn't have to state it, but as someone once said "philosophy is the search for underlying assumptions". By stating what you think is obvious, you can sometimes find someone who disagrees, and the result is often quite rewarding one way or the other.

Anyway, the additional requirement on the dependency (and also on the discreteness discussed before) is that it must be implicit. And by implicit, I mean that it must not be some constructed dependency such as - you need one male and one female to produce a mammal offspring. That's just true because life on earth happened to evolve that way. And even here, science has found ways around it. A metaphysical rule must be universally implicit, impossible to break, circumvent or even bend.

OK then, let's see if we can find such a dependency between the inorganic and biological levels. How does, for example smell, depend on inorganic patterns?

First off, it's pretty easy to realize that smell does depend on matter, in this case gaseous matter. A thing that smells can't smell forever. As it smells, parts of the thing evaporates into the air and a nose nearby can detect it. We can also see that things that smells much evaporates much of itself, either by being transformed in some kind of biological rotting process, or by simply sending off pieces of itself until it vanishes. Other things, such as metal, don't smell much, if at all.

This explains where the smell originates, and we can also see that smell is somehow dependent on the inorganic pattern of the thing, but we don't see exactly how that dependency works, or for that matter, how the smelling quality event works.

I realize that some readers may react to that phrase "how the smelling quality event works". How could it be possible to further explain how the most basic process of reality works? If it is the most basic process, then there can be no more basic processes that can be used to explain it, or?

But it's rather the other way around. When we discuss a certain type of quality events, in this case biological, we actually discuss one specific instance/type of quality events. This event is a bit more specific, i.e. less general, than the most basic quality event, which is why we can say a bit more about for example biological events. In this case, since we want to explain how the biological quality event, smell, depends on inorganic quality events, we need to explain the biological event in terms of inorganic events.

And this is where the really interesting part of this inquiry begins. It actually turns out that the biological level uses the complex three-dimensional shapes of the large (often carbon based) molecules as the basis for the biological quality event. To better understand what I mean by this, a picture would be of great help, but until I can find or make one, I'll try to paint one with words instead.

Start with the old computer game Tetris. Differently shaped blocks falls from the top of the playfield and the player must try to rotate and move the currently falling block to fit into the old blocks that have fallen earlier. If the player succeeds, the block fits well and there remain no unfilled holes in the playfield.

Now, add a dimension, so instead of having 2D blocks of 4 "atoms" each, you get 3D molecules of tens or hundreds of atoms each. These large molecules are mostly not spherical. Some are sphere-ish but with protruding atoms here and there, others are sphere-ish but have holes in them, and then there are of course molecules of every imaginable shape, with every imaginable and unimaginable combination of protrusions and intrusions. Some molecules are like differently shaped stones used to build stone walls. To make a steady stone wall, the stones that are stacked on top of each other must fit quite well. The same goes for molecules. If they should be fitted together, each molecule must have one side where the atoms are positioned suitably and that can bond chemically with the atoms on the other molecule.

With these molecules in mind, it's not hard to imagine that some will fit with each other while others will not. Some may fit perfectly and some may fit a bit less perfect. It is this three dimensional fitness that is the basis for the biological quality events smell and taste.

If the particular event type is smell, then the 3D fitness between a gaseous molecule being drawn into a nose and the molecules in the sensory organ, decides how well the gas smells. It's actually rather natural. If the molecules of a smell fit well, then the molecules of the thing that evaporated the smell will probably also fit well when it's digested by the body and can be used to replace old parts, build new cells etc. This can be used by the body to adapt the sensory organ, or rather the reflex caused by different smells, to eat or not eat something that the body for the moment needs or doesn't need. This is what has happened when we get a craving for some particular type of food.

There are lots of other examples of similar biological quality events. Taste is of course one of them, the only difference is that with taste, there are two liquid molecules involved in the event. Actually, since smell and taste are the simplest biological quality events, they are also the oldest. And this is probably why smells and tastes trigger so vivid memories when we recognize them, even if they are from a very early childhood. Other senses such as sight and hearing are much more complex and were developed much later in the evolution of life. As such, they are not as deeply woven into our beings. With that, I mean that senses like sight were developed when the brain was already in place. Those parts of the brain that were already working knew what taste and smell was, so those parts could, and still can, be affected in a more direct way by old senses. But they can not be affected by the newer senses directly, only indirect via the newly developed parts of the brain that handles the new senses.

If we look deeper into the world of biology, we find viruses that pretend to look like something it isn't by faking a shape that will let it enter a cell. But when it's inside, it will open up like a Trojan horse, deploy its deadly payload and destroy the cell from inside, scavenging the interior of the cell and make hundreds of copies of itself. Then this newly created army will attack one cell each and multiply each generation. If this particular virus is known to the body, then the immune system will already have a way to combat the virus. Or in other words, it will have anti bodies that can detect the unique 3D shape (called receptors) of the virus and destroy it. But if the virus is new and unknown, the immune system will have to work hard until it can create such an anti body, and during this time, the body gets sick.

Another example is the incredibly large DNA molecule. That molecule is actually redundant in pretty much the same way as a mirrored hard drive in a file server. Each bit of information exists in two places, so if one is lost, the other still holds the information. However, the redundancy of the DNA molecule is mainly not used to protect the info (even though it's probably a nice side effect), but mainly to enable it to be copied. When a DNA string is being copied, it is split up like a zipper, and then each of the halves is being complemented by a piece with a perfect 3D fit! After the unzipping and complementing, each of the two halves has been mated with an exact copy of its old mate.

The list of examples continues with the sexual reproduction organs (and no, I'm not kidding). If you follow the same reasoning you find that the male and female reproduction organs once started as simply one protrusion and one intrusion. The life form that first invented those organs forced all coming generations to travel (by average) twice as far as before to find a mate, thereby diversifying its gene pool twice as fast. It actually also explains why homosexuality exists. The question is often raised why homosexuality still exists in our (and other animals') gene pool. Since homosexuals normally can't reproduce, that gene should be gone by now. The answer is that before this change into male and female organs, everyone was homosexual. That was the norm because there existed only one gender. The gene for homosexuality is much older than the gene for heterosexuality, so if the gene for heterosexuality in a person is missing or doesn't work as the current norm, it reverts to the old underlying norm, which is still being carried from generation to generation even though it's mostly inert nowadays.

How low can you go?

The realization that the biological quality event can be further detailed than to just give examples like smell, taste and so on, is beneficial in many ways. First, there's a slightly larger chance that people can come to a consensus regarding at least the biological level and move on from there. Second, if the biological quality event can be detailed like this, perhaps other can be as well. But perhaps the most important is that it illuminates the role of dynamic quality very clearly.

The inorganic level builds molecules in accordance to its rules and quality events. These molecules can become quite large and they can even, still using only inorganic quality events, build large crystals and molecules that resemble self replication. But when the inorganic level has done what it can, and created massive molecules with all these protrusions and intrusions, then it can't do anymore. All these molecules are just floating around in the primordial soup and no inorganic quality events can be used to refine or even change the status quo. The inorganic level has simply finished its job. (This is of course not entirely true. I'm sure it had plenty of things to do, but let's imagine this was the case in a limited environment.) This is the time for dynamic quality to get to work. Instead of waiting around for eons without anything happening, it started combining the combinable parts of the soup and thereby created a completely new set of static rules, the biological level.

This description of dynamic quality does not in any way limit or constrain it. The only thing it does is to describe when dynamic quality matters the most. Dynamic quality always works in exactly the same way, but it is when static quality has run out of options that it really does its important job.

It also defines how a level border looks like. The lower level is at, or at least starts to approach, some kind of status quo for what quality events of the lower level can accomplish. The new level, on the other hand, is completely new and is merely trying out its first stumbling steps. This is perhaps not of much help in trying to find a level border since all the levels evolved a long time ago and are all very developed by now. But one very important lesson we should learn from the realization about the biological level is that it is possible to define it in terms of already established science. When defining a level, we're not constrained to having to use abstract metaphysical terms. As explained earlier, since each level is a specialization of the most general Quality Event, we can use specific science when defining it. This doesn't mean we have to revert to the SO Metaphysics which is based on subjects and objects. We can use established science and view it through our MoQ glasses.

And if we now use our newly attained knowledge to try to find other level borders, we discover something very interesting. Our inorganic level builds molecules out of atoms. And it does this according to the rules of atom bonding. Each type of atom has a certain tendency to bond with certain other atoms, and these tendencies are governed by the rules of chemistry, not physics. For example gravity has nothing to do with the bonding of atoms into molecules, just as little as gravity has anything to do with the smell of a thing, and as little as the atom bonding tendencies has anything to do with that smell. Actually, the bonding tendencies do have a certain influence over the smell, but that is via the usual inter-level dependency. The bonding tendencies are a separate level of reality, and very different than the reality of smell.

What we have found here is nothing less than a new level tucked in between the biological and the inorganic. I suggest we call it the chemical level, because it is the science of chemistry that has explored its rules and there's no need to reinvent them. All we need to do is to reinterpret them through our MoQ, event based, glasses.

If we then move downward to the next level boundary, where the atom bonding starts, we must move down to the simplest atom forming the simplest molecule, and then look for the processes that created those atoms. Those are the processes of the level below the chemical level and here we find the strong (and weak) nuclear force plus electromagnetism that are responsible for the building of atoms. Again, on that level, their whole existence is about those forces. They don't have a clue about smell or the bonding between atoms, only the creation of heavier and heavier atoms. Let's call it the atomic level.

Here comes another eye-opener. We haven't yet mentioned gravity, space or time. So these must belong to another, even lower level. We know from Einstein's relativity that these three are very intimately related so they must all belong to the same level, but it doesn't make much sense to lump them together with the atomic level. As always, lower levels sets the stage for higher levels, for example, an atom building event such as a collision and fusion of two protons can only occur if the protons are at the same place at the same time and traveling at opposite directions with substantial velocities. And here is where the lower, spatial level, comes in. That's the level that sets the stage for the atomic level. By the way, that's a very apt way to describe what a level does. It "sets the stage" for the next level.

Going backwards once more, to find the next lower level border where space, time and gravity were created, we of course find the big bang. Before that, we don't know much about the state of reality. But that's probably only because science, in this case physics, depend too much on space, time and other things that was created by the big bang. The day we learn how to live without those underlying assumptions, we will be able to say much more about reality before the big bang.

Having said that, the MoQ (with these new levels) do give us some clues. To describe the reality before the big bang, all we really need to do is to take the reality we know existed after the big bang, and then remove the level created by the big bang event. The MoQ tells us that the big bang was a dynamic event, which created space, time and gravity. But what did the universe right after the big bang exist of apart from that?

For example, it seems that each particle in this quantum level below the atomic level has some sort of identity. It's usually called "thisness" and is used to explain why seemingly identical particles are still able to be unique. Some people have suggested that the sense of self we experience was developed by the social level, but I think it's much older than that. I think the thisness of the quantum level is that same sense of self. I would also think that the thisness includes an individual history. Some kind of history would help to explain what physics call entanglement. Entanglement is a phenomenon where two particles (photons) become entangled, after which they are separated. But after the separation, if one of the particles are measured, i.e. are involved in a quality event, then the other particle is immediately affected just as if it had been measured as well. The problem for physics is that it doesn't matter how far the particles are separated at the time of the measurement. The other particle is affected at the exact same instant as the other, seemingly breaking the light speed limit in the process. However, the light speed limit is a limit imposed by the spatial level, but is of no consequence to the quantum level. And since the measurement being performed is a quantum level quality event, the event knows nothing about neither time nor space, and can therefore affect its entangled partner particle no matter where (and when) the spatial level versions of the two particles happens to be.

The quantum level history would include information about which particles each particle has interacted with in the past. But before the big bang, this history of a particle was not synchronized with the histories of all other particles. There was no universal time, only a separate time for each and every particle. The universal time was created when all individual particles' histories became synchronized by the big bang event. This may not seem like a big leap, but when you think about it, it's extremely fundamental to our physical universe. Without this common timeline (and space), each quantum particle lived in its own separate universe except for brief events when it took part in a quality event with another quantum particle, after which it went back to its own lonely reality. It was the common timeline and space which made it possible for these quantum particles to actually co-exist in that common timeline and space, instead of each one living out its existence in solitude. Without the common time and space, there were no time and space in which quantum particles could merge into the building blocks of atoms, and no atoms could have formed.

This may be as far as the MoQ trail of levels can take us with our current knowledge in quantum mechanics, or it may just be my personal ignorance about quantum mechanics that is blurring the view. I'm actually quite eager to read more about the mathematics behind quantum mechanics. As I understand it, nobody has ever had a good grasp of both the MoQ and the quantum mechanics math. So it would be interesting to see what that fusion could bring.

Either way, I think science has a lot to learn from the MoQ in the quantum level. The insight that different fields of science are really different metaphysical levels, and as such, different planes of existence, should be investigated much further. Perhaps some of these level borders, i.e. borders between different scientific fields, have been very thoroughly investigated. But in that case, this knowledge should be possible to apply to other level borders as well. For example, it is very well understood that the forces used to combine atoms into molecules are very different from the forces used to create atoms from smaller building blocks. And it is also well established that the atom building forces are very crucial to the molecule combining forces, but not the other way around. Nobody has ever questioned the philosophical/metaphysical relevance of the difference and dependence between the types of forces. But when we realize that the difference between the forces originates in them being of different levels, we can explore more what a level border really is, since we already have all this knowledge about the difference between molecule bonding and atom creation. After we have done that, we can apply it to other level borders and perhaps learn more about the level border between the social and intellectual level.

Why all the new levels?

After this investigation into the lower levels, the total number of levels has increased from four to seven. This pretty big change can of course raise some fair questions like: Are all these new levels necessary? Do they add explanatory power to the MoQ? Don't they add unnecessary complexity?

The new levels are necessary if you really want to be able to explain some processes in the old inorganic level. Without the new levels, the MoQ doesn't offer any assistance in explaining them. It merely relies on the old division between the sciences (chemistry, physics and quantum mechanics) and doesn't supply any philosophical or metaphysical explanation as to why the sciences are separated in the first place. That is what the new levels provide.

And I don't think the MoQ gets too complex with a few added levels. On the contrary, it gets easier to understand what the levels are about if they can be connected to established sciences. Most people are at least acquainted with the different scientific disciplines, and can therefore more easily grasp what the levels are. Not only does it become easier for people to come to terms with the level concept if they correspond to the already established sciences. The MoQ itself benefits from it as well, because it no longer needs to reinvent the wheel.

Going upwards

Now that we have examined the lower levels and have a better understanding of what a level is, let's look closer at the two remaining, higher, levels, the social and the intellectual. We have earlier established that each level sets the stage for the next higher one, so what stage is it that the biological level provides for the social?

The biological level experiments with combining molecules that has a good 3D fitness. Or, to rephrase it in MoQ terms, molecules that value each other tend to combine themselves into larger and larger molecules, and clusters of molecules.

It is these clusters of molecules that is the stage where the social level starts. A cluster of molecules are bound together because the molecules value each other biologically. But each additional molecule that is added to the cluster because of its biological value, may or may not increase the cluster's value as a whole. It is this “as a whole” that is the gist of the social level.

In Lila, Pirsig mentions viruses which are composed of the large protein protecting the inner, sensitive DNA molecule. This is a good example of a socially valuable combination of molecules. They not only combined themselves because of their biological attraction, they are also socially good for each other. The protein provides protection for the sensitive DNA molecule, and the DNA molecule provides guidance to the protein.

It's very important to distinguish these two types of value. They may look pretty similar, especially when only two molecules are involved, but they are very different when examined closer. The biological value is only concerned with how the two happens to fit in 3D, their biological fitness. But the social value decides if this biological bond will last in the long term, or if the combination will simply devour each other.

This distinction is much more visible on the macro scale when involving larger, such as human, societies. Most, if not all, of the examples Pirsig lists in Lila involves human societies. For example, biological values are things like greed and lust, while social values are family, church and government. But what is important to note is that these examples work exactly like their smaller counterparts. Greed on the micro scale would be when a stronger molecule devours a smaller one; the result is an even stronger molecule at the expense of the smaller. Lust is a more equal attraction between two molecules, sometimes resulting in the social institution called family.

When levels are compared, they are often seen as opposed to each other. It's always this combat between the lower and higher levels and the higher is always supposed to grab the moral victory. But no thought have ever been given to how the higher level pattern got started in the first place. For example the social pattern family would never have been created without the biological pattern lust. But even so, these two patterns are always described to be in direct opposition to each other. It's of course true that lust to another can destroy a family, but it is often forgotten that this same lust also was the initial spark that got the family started in the first place. This is also true for all other social patterns; this is the biological level setting the stage for the social. They all got started because a biological urge happened to result in a socially valuable structure. A city got started next to a creek because someone needed the water for farming, then a hardware store came along to provide tools for the farmer(s), and then I'll let Mark Knopfler continue with some lines from “Telegraph Road” by Dire Straits:

Then came the churches then came the schools
Then came the lawyers then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the telegraph road

Then if we go back to the micro scale again, we see that all clusters of cells that work 'as a whole' are in fact social patterns. It got started, just as all social patterns, with two biological patterns that found each other valuable. And then it built on from there.

I sometimes get ridiculed on the MoQ Discuss mailing list about how silly I am to claim that animals, and even smaller things like cells, are societies in themselves. They don't see where the societies stop to divide into smaller and smaller pieces. Is an atom a society of nucleus and electrons?

But as I have described earlier in this inquiry, levels are not about size but about what type of forces are involved in keeping something together. An atom is held together by atomic value, a molecule by chemical value, but larger things than that may involve only biological value, or it may involve both biological and social value. And I don't suggest that there's a fuzzy line between the biological and social level, it only becomes fuzzy if you think the size, or state of evolution, decides which level something belongs to. Another thing, I earlier wrote about “larger things than molecules”, but some atoms are much larger than some molecules, just as some molecules are larger than some biological patterns. This is just more evidence that size is of no consequence for the levels.

Now, let's take a similar look at the final, intellectual level. First, let's see how the stage look that the social level has set. Take for example a small multicellular animal. Social value makes sure the animal stays viable, i.e. works 'as a whole', even if it's changed slightly between every generation. The different cells for very small collection of cells may not need to communicate their intentions between each other; the animal may work well anyway. But as the animal grows, different parts of the animal must sometimes tell another part what to do, perhaps to synchronize movement in a certain direction. This gets done by using the means available to the animal, such as sending biological signals causing the receiving cells to autonomously do something. This sending of signals to make the animal work 'as a whole' is still social value. The signal sent has the sole purpose of making the receiving cell do a certain thing, and the cell sending the signal doesn't have any choice in the matter either, it simply sends the signal as a part of its own process of doing something, and it needs another cell to do a similar action to make the animal work as a whole. After yet some generations, the animal grows even larger and these signals that are sent back and forth through its body, the nervous system, gets concentrated in one central knot which most signals pass through on their way from sender to receiver.

Here is where the intellectual level steps in. The central knot in the nervous system gets larger and larger and can accommodate more and more complex behavioral patterns. But it's still just a social pattern since the sole purpose of the central knot is to make the different parts of the body cooperate better. The really new pattern, an intellectual pattern, is created when this central nerve knot is big enough to store dynamic information, information that represents something else than itself. As I said earlier, as long as the signals passing through, and being handled by, the central nerve knot, are merely biological nerve signals that will cause the receiver to act a certain way, then the signal only means itself. It doesn't have any other meaning or purpose. But when the nerve knot can store information about other things, such as a dangerous smell that must be avoided even though it may smell good, then we're talking intellectual patterns.

But why would such a - academic some may claim - difference give rise to a whole new level of existence? If we use a computer analogy, the difference is merely one of storing info in ROM vs RAM. ROM is Read Only Memory and is written when a device is manufactured but can never be changed, RAM on the other hand is normally emptied each time a device is shut off but are quickly filled with dynamic information once the computer starts.

As I wrote earlier, the most important difference is that the intellectual pattern means something. And not only that, it can mean something else than itself. A social behavioral bit of information can be described by just one parameter, what behavior it's supposed to trigger. But an intellectual bit of information needs two parameters to be completely described, its output (when sensed) and what that output means. This difference between one and two parameters required to describe the different bits, comes from them being of different levels. And if you really want to be picky about it, it should really be one parameter for each lower level as well. But the main point is that the intellectual bit requires one more parameter which means it belongs to the level above the social.

Another argument is that the intellectual bit of information is so much more dynamic than its social counterpart. To change the bit takes only a fraction of a second, but to change the social bit to improve the animal's behavior takes at least one generation.

As time and generations go by, the nerve knot will grow into something we would call a brain and will be able to store more and more such dynamic information. Some behavior will still be hard coded, i.e. the animal will have no choice but to react a certain way to various stimuli. But as the brain grows larger and larger, more room will be available to store dynamic information. When described like this, it's easy to see how this difference between social behavioral patterns and intellectual patterns manifests in animals. Lower animals (evolution wise) are mostly hard wired and are unable to adapt to changes in their environment, it normally takes a gene change to adapt. But animals with a larger capacity for intellectual information can adapt easier. The difference is also visible in the start of an animal's life. Lower animals have most of their behavior hard wired and can take care of themselves pretty fast, whereas higher animals require much longer time with their mothers before they are ready to move away from home. Human children are hardly ready by the age of 18.

The information stored in brains starts out with very small pieces of info such as smells to avoid or good places to look for food. But as the brain grows larger it can be used to represent complete models of the world in which the animal lives, and then the animal can try out different scenarios inside the brain before trying it in real life. Dreams are of course also made possible by these intellectual patterns.

When dealing with information, a very crucial requirement is language. Information without a language is like trying to build molecules without atoms, it just can't be done. In other words, we have a level dependency here between language that is supporting information. Language is the stage set by the social level and information is intellectual level patterns. The language developed by the animal is the language of the nervous system knot, i.e. the brain. Using this language, we can store all kinds of information in our brains. Take another social pattern, like a country, and you find another language that has developed socially, just like the language of the nervous system. As soon as the language is in place, intellectual institutions such as government can use it to enforce intellectual rules instead of social. But note that the country's intellectual patterns are still very dependent on that language. If everyone in China just suddenly forgot how to talk and read Chinese, the country China would collapse rather rapidly. And before the Rosetta stone was found, with the translation between ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and classical Greek, all the information written in hieroglyphs was unreadable, and as such of no intellectual value. But when it could be understood, when we had the language with which the information was represented, the intellectual patterns reappeared.


Now that we have spent a few chapters detailing new and old levels, it's time to recap with an overview. It would be best to show the levels as 7 orthogonal axes, but since papers and computer screens are only 2-dimensional, that would be rather difficult, so I'll just use boxes similar to the ones Pirsig used in SODV.

In each box, the name of the level is underlined, and then there's a short definition of the level. Between the level boxes, the stage set by the lower level is defined in a dotted box.


In this inquiry, I have taken a very pragmatic look at the levels, tried to see what a level is in terms of established science. Other divisions of the levels are usually done from another, more common day to day perspective. It could be contested that since I did use established sciences to look for the levels, it's natural that I found levels that mapped almost one-to-one with those established sciences.

However, I don't see what the purpose would be, or how it possibly could result in a good and viable division, to make a level division by merely guessing levels from new, very limited, and often personal, observations. New scientific advances are often done by starting with an old established science and then refine it so it also works for a wider range of conditions. If a level definition is made from scratch, chances are very high that it will not be consistent with at least some observation that wasn't considered when making the division.

On the other hand, if we start with established sciences, we can re-interpret them through our MoQ glasses and then show how they relate to each other. We don't risk getting a theory that is inconsistent with observations.

I think this new relation between the sciences that the levels provide, being discrete yet dependent, can be very important, especially when examining the quantum level where universal time doesn't exist. But it can probably also shed new light on many other problems as well.

For example, particle physicists are currently waiting for the newest and biggest particle accelerator (LHC) to be fired up. They hope to make the standard model of particle physics complete by proving the existence of the Higgs boson, thereby getting a complete understanding of the workings of the universe. However, it is often believed that such a complete understanding of the smallest parts of reality would also lead to a complete understanding of larger parts of reality. But the levels of the MoQ shows that such an assumption is flawed. Just because we have a complete understanding of the laws of one level, doesn't mean that we understand the laws of higher levels. Each higher level has a completely new set of rules and it's impossible to deduce those rules from the rules of the lower levels.

Thanks for reading this far. I hope you got a new perspective on the levels from this inquiry. Even if I can't convince everyone to adopt exactly my division, perhaps I can at least trigger a level discussion based on science instead of limited personal observations.

Magnus Berg, September 2008