Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals by Robert Pirsig

Lila

Summary
  1. Phaedrus, from The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, returns and ponders life’s essential elements as he sails down the Hudson River.
Key Takeaways
  1. Quality is Morality. Quality is Value. They are the same thing. Quality doesn’t have to be defined. You understand it without definition, ahead of definition. Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions. Quality is indivisible, undefinable and unknowable
  2. A thing does not create value, value creates a thing. Therefore, if something has no value it cannot exist 
  3. In Zen, Phaedrus divides between classic and romantic but here the first, and most important, division is into static and dynamic quality 
  4. Dynamic Quality – pre-intellectual cutting edge of reality, source of all things, completely simple and always new. It always comes as a surprise and the first time you are made aware of it, it weakens your static patterns so that all dynamic qualities around you shine through. You become obsessed with something, but normally only a little while because soon it turns static again (favorite song loses its appeal quickly)
  5. Static Quality – what we expect and is necessary to everyday life as it gives structure but when it becomes exclusive of dynamic, they are poor quality
    1. Both static and dynamic quality are necessary for life
  6. Beauty isn’t things trying to look like something else. Beauty is things just being what they are
  7. Nothing has quality as quality can’t be possessed. Quality dominates everything
  8. All life is a migration from static patterns of quality to dynamic quality
  9. Without static quality an organism cannot last. Without dynamic, it cannot grow 
  10. Everything in the world is an ethical activity, not just man’s actions. This binds science and ethics and caused Phaedrus incredible joy 
  11. Whatever is more dynamic, or at a higher level of evolution, is more moral 
  12. Morality hierarchy: dynamic — intellectual — social — biological — inanimate 
  13. “This Cartesian “me,” this autonomous little homunculus who sits behind our eyeballs looking through them in order to pass judgment on the affairs of the world, is just completely ridiculous. This self-appointed little editor of reality is just an impossible fiction that collapses the moment on examines it”
  14. Morality is that which enhances evolution 
  15. Trying to understand a member of another culture is impossible without taking into account differences in their values 
  16. MOQ resolves relationship between intellect and society, subject and object, mind and matter – objects are inorganic and biological, subjects are social and intellectual. they are parallel but not the same and can therefore exist without contradicting each other 
  17. Goes pretty in depth about insanity, his time in an insane asylum and how to resolve it (as he doesn’t believe in “curing” insanity). If there is only one person in the world, could he be insane? Insanity is always relative to others
    1. Sanity is not truth. Sanity is conformity to what is socially expected
  18. When a new fact comes to fruition that does not fit our patterns, we don’t throw out the pattern, we throw out the fact
  19. The only exit from suffering is to detach yourself from static patterns, to “kill” them
  20. Goes full circle and starts thinking about Native Americans again. Native Americans do not think in hierarchy (what type of good) but in quality (a good dog). When Native Americans say it they mean that good is the whole center of experience and that Dusenberry (a good man), was an incarnation of this center of life
    1. Primitive cultures only discuss about actual experiences. They don’t discuss virtue, good, evil, etc. They don’t talk about abstract ideas.
    2. Good is a noun. That was it. That was what Phaedrus had been looking for. Good as a noun rather than as an adjective is all MOQ is about. Take care of your goodness. If you had to reduce the whole MOQ to a single sentence, that would be it.
What I got out of it
  1. In my mind it doesn’t quite live up to Zen but it is an incredible book. It takes some interesting turns where some parts are so intellectual, especially Phaedrus’ inner dialogue, and the rest is almost stream of consciousness and superficial. Shows the divide or dichotomy in Phaedrus and all of us
Great interview with Robert Pirsig
More in-depth analysis of Lila
Read Lila

Part 1
  • A sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Phaedrus is again the main character
  • After enough beer everything gets reduced to pure biology, where it belonged
  • Phaedrus is on a boat sailing to NY when he sees Lila again. He had seen her long ago but she has changed and is now a hooker
  • Describes his filing system for his “slips” – little pieces of paper with his Metaphysics of Quality (MOQ)
  • Goes back to his time in Bozeman, Montana (same as in Zen) and talks about Dusenberry (a professor at the college there). They do peyote with an Indian tribe as Dusenberry is a Native American anthropologist. Phaedrus describes his experience and concludes that the Native Americans do not imitate anything, it all comes directly from the heart – they are the originators. From this, his entire pile of slips of MOQ originated from
  • Speaks to how Native American culture and characteristics were incorporated into Americans but they don’t get any credit – hence his feeling of being “home” while doing peyote with the Indians
  • Seems to me that at this point the Indians in many respects are quality and Americans have adopted some of those quality qualities. All men created equal is a Native American way of life, not a belief but inherent and they can’t see it any other way
  • Cultural immune system – have to say things the accepted way before it is listened to (anthropology strictly scientific as opposed to what their lives are like on a more daily basis). Can’t measure culture or attitudes scientifically
  • Phaedrus gets really caught up on Native American anthropology and decides he will try to break down the cultural immune system by attacking the thinking that anthropology does not need to take into account values. Argues against the scientific method of anthropology and how stupid it is that they don’t use value in their field and this led him to metaphysics (a collection of the more general statements of a hierarchical structure of thought – deals with the nature and structure of reality)
    • Asks questions like does the world exist outside of our consciousness of it?
    • Often accused of being too mystical but some of the most honored philosophers were mystical – share a common belief that fundamental nature of reality lies outside of language. There is no division, we are all one
  • Quality is Morality. Quality is Value. They are the same thing
  • Quality doesn’t have to be defined. You understand it without definition, ahead of definition. Quality is a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions
  • Quality is indivisible, undefinable and unknowable
  • Metaphysics must be definable and divisible so “Metaphysics of Quality” is a contradiction of sorts
  • Value lies between the object and the subject
  • MOQ would show how things become enormously more coherent when you start with an assumption that Quality is the primary empirical reality of the world
  • Phaedrus and Rigel argue over breakfast about quality overall and this perturbed Phaedrus for a while until he got to the conclusion that Rigel had attacked him because he was  a celebrity. This wasn’t true and Phaedrus is bothered by this argument the whole novel
  • Blend of European and Native American goals causes tension in Americans – successful businessman is supposed to be friendly and all smiles while still wanting to kill the competition but nobody is supposed to be better than anybody else
  • Quality is the primary reality of the world and as quality = morality, the world is primarily a moral order
  • A thing does not create value, value creates a thing. Therefore, if something has no value it cannot exist
  • If quality is the ultimate truth, then more than one set of truths can exist – the highest quality intellectual explanation of things
  • When a substance becomes a stable pattern of inorganic values, the world of objects and the world of values is unified
  • Subject-object way of defining world is always misfitting and imperfect – platypus example that is neither mammal nor reptile but value based definitions don’t face this issue
  • After sleeping with Lila, they are on the boat together headed to New York – they clash and Phaedrus is constantly thinking and she doesn’t understand what he is saying
  • The “scientific reality” should not only be understood by a handful of people, but by mostly everyone. It is a starting point for experiences
  • Scientists hold that causation cannot exist since it cannot be measured but with value definition this problem disappears (A causes B or B values precondition A)
    • Cause reflects certainty but nothing is certain – everything prefers to do something (even molecules prefer to go a certain direction)
    • Same argument holds true for “substance”
    • Once these words are swapped out there is a huge integration of the humanities and sciences occurs – no need for certainties or only things that can be measured
  • Impossible to create a perfect metaphysics as this is like trying to create a chess strategy that will win every time – it can’t be done
  • In Zen, Phaedrus divides between classic and romantic but here the first, and most important, division is into static and dynamic quality
  • Mexican named Zuni was frustrated because his natural tendencies did not have a natural outlet in his society – this could be a universal trait. Seen as a leader because he did not change himself based on the culture, he was the new culture before anybody else saw it (dynamic quality)
  • Dynamic Quality = pre-intellectual cutting edge of reality, source of all things, completely simple and always new. It always comes as a surprise and the first time you are made aware of it, it weakens your static patterns so that all dynamic qualities around you shine through. You become obsessed with something, but normally only a little while because soon it turns static again (favorite song loses its appeal quickly)
  • Static quality is what we expect and is necessary to everyday life as it gives structure but when it becomes exclusive of dynamic, they are poor quality
    • Both static and dynamic quality are necessary for life
  • Beauty isn’t things trying to look like something else. Beauty is things just being what they are
  • Nothing has quality as quality can’t be possessed. Quality dominates everything
  • All life is a migration from static patterns of quality to dynamic quality
  • Asks the question of why does the fittest survive? Why should simple elements combine and form larger/more complex forms of life?
    • Life is not heading or evolving towards some final, ultimate goal as teleology suggests
    • Molecules combine to form people because they prefer not to follow any laws (static) but have to at least a little
  • Survival of the fittest = survival of quality, more specifically dynamic quality (migration of static patterns toward dynamic quality is what brought about life)
  • Without static quality an organism cannot last. Without dynamic, it cannot grow
    • The group you surround yourself with is so important because it determines what is “normal” and therefore how far/hard/where to push yourself
  • All static quality falls into 4 categories – biological, social, intellectual and inorganic
  • Mind v matter paradox – mind is contained in static inorganic patterns and matter is contained in static intellectual patterns. They are on completely separate evolutionary patterns and can therefore hold each other without contradiction
  • Determinism v free will – man’s static qualities are determined but he is free when it comes to his dynamic qualities
    • Morals = values = fundamental basis of everything –> morals = fundamental basis of everything (laws of nature are moral laws)
    • Everything in the world is an ethical activity, not just man’s actions. this binds science and ethics and caused Phaedrus incredible joy
  • Quality shows that there are many moral systems, not just one
  • Whatever is more dynamic, or at a higher level of evolution, is more moral (more moral for doctor to kill a germ than the germ the patient. Germ isn’t doing anything immoral, it is trying to save itself vs lower level morals)
    • This is key because it provides a system of morals based on reason
    • Moral to kill somebody if it protects an idea as ideas are evolutionarily higher than people
    • More moral to kill a society than to kill an idea (and since people are a collection of ideas it is immoral to kill them unless they threaten higher ideas)
    • Major conclusion for Phaedrus as he has been pondering if Lila has quality or not. Determines that Lila does have quality and not quality – biological quality but not social quality
  • Morality hierarchy: dynamic — intellectual — social — biological — inanimate
  • Constant battle between intellectual and social values (Victorian age was all social with corsets and pompous showing of wealth but after WWI it has turned toward the intellectual). Intellect and society are not one, but both are going their own way and at constant war with each other
  • Tristes tropiques – always a feeling of sadness in Mexico (or whatever tropic) and it seems better to live with that than all the talk of progress you get in the north
  • Lila – “When men make love they’re really trying to destroy women. A woman’s got to be real quiet because if she shows a man anything, they’ll try to kill it. But they all get fooled all the time as there’s nothing to destroy. And so they destroy that and hate what’s left and they call what’s left “Lila” and they hate Lila. But Lila isn’t anybody. That’s true. You don’t believe me, but it’s true”
  • “Fuck your questions! I’m whatever your questions turn me into. You don’t see that. It’s your questions who make me who I am”
  • “This Cartesian “me,” this autonomous little homunculus who sits behind our eyeballs looking through them in order to pass judgment on the affairs of the world, is just completely ridiculous. This self-appointed little editor of reality is just an impossible fiction that collapses the moment on examines it”
  • From the cell’s point of view, sex is the highest dynamic quality. him and Lila have sex and he contemplates it and is fascinated that they can get over all the social and intellectual differences and the biological side just takes over
Part 2
  • Lila and Phaedrus go into NY to talk to Jamie (one of Lila’s old friends, her former pimp) to try to convince him to join their crew on the boat down to Florida – he gets pissed off at first but she later explains they can get rid of Phaedrus once they’re down there and take his boat
  • Zen Shoshin – beginner’s mind, everything is exciting and new and dynamic
  • Thought experiment – a giant is to people what the farmer is to chickens and cows. Feeds and takes care of people in order to later devour them and survive and people have no idea of its existence
    • The giant is a superorganism that is made of a pattern of values superimposed on top of biological human bodies. Uses people until they have no more energy and then spits them out and finds somebody new
  • Once you understand something well enough, you don’t need to run from it
  • NY is the most dynamic place on earth
  • Freedom = Dynamic quality
  • That’s the whole thing – having static and dynamic quality simultaneously
  • No minority has the right to block a majority from conducting the legal business of the organization. No majority has a right to prevent a minority from  peacefully attempting to become a majority
  • Radical idealists and degenerate hooligans often strongly resemble each other (jazz and modern art)
  • Morality is that which enhances evolution
  • Difficult question is how to differentiate the saviors form the degenerates
  • NY does not care to preserve its static power. its strength is its looseness (dynamism). the freedom to be so awful gives it the freedom to be so good
  • Lila and Phaedrus are still in a fight. Phaedrus meets Robert Redford at his hotel room to sell him the movie rights to Zen
  • worries about becoming too famous – if you get too famous you go straight to hell
  • Each person you come into is a different mirror (think circus mirror) and they reflect you differently. No way of knowing if own view of yourself is just another distortion
  • Deconstructs what celebrity means and why ordinary people become obsessed with them  – its a dynamic social phenomenon but wares out quickly
  • Truth, knowledge, beauty all the ideals of mankind are external objects, passed on from generation to generation
  • Biology beat death billions of years ago, society beat biology thousands of years ago but intellect and society are still fighting it out and that is the key to understanding both the Victorians and the 20th century
    • Victorians are very static and believe that intellectual patterns are subordinate to social patterns
  • Trying to understand a member of another culture is impossible without taking into account differences in their values
  • Drinking is not inherently a vice. Drinking and driving and killing someone is, but drinking to relax is not
  • Lila leaves a restaurant since she can’t pay and wanders around until she finds the boat. She is hallucinating and saw her dead dog, husband and baby
Part 3
  • MOQ resolves relationship between intellect and society, subject and object, mind and matter – objects are inorganic and biological, subjects are social and intellectual. they are parallel but not the same and can therefore exist without contradicting each other
  • Fundamental purpose of knowledge is to dynamically improve and preserve society
  • 5 codes of morals – inorganic-chaotic, biological-inorganic, social-biological, intellectual-social and dynamic-static
  • What’s good is freedom from domination by any static pattern
  • The most sinister thing about the fall of the Roman Empire was that the people who conquered it never understood they had done so. they paralyzed the patterns of Roman social structure to a point where everybody just forgot what that structure was
  • Cannot stop crime with words alone – only social patterns can control biological patterns
  • Meets Lila on the boat and it is clear she has gone insane
  • Goes pretty in depth about insanity, his time in an insane asylum and how to resolve it (as he doesn’t believe in “curing” insanity)
  • If there is only one person in the world, could he be insane? Insanity is always relative to others
  • Argues that since insanity is culturally defined, would be better to send insane people to anthropologists who could then send them to a culture which would accept them (brujo would go to Cheyenne Indians…)
  • Sane people don’t realize what a bunch of role players they are whereas insane people do and resent it
  • Sanity is not truth. Sanity is conformity to what is socially expected
  • Static filter – when buy a car, tend to see more of it. you never see certain things because you are never told to see them
  • Seeing is not believing. Believing is seeing (Eskimos have 16 different types of ice, some cultures don’t have words for past/future…)
  • When a new fact comes to fruition that does not fit our patterns, we don’t throw out the pattern, we throw out the fact
  • He saw some light emanating form Lila and speaks how light has for centuries been synonymous with enlightenment and shows up in many different religions/authors, etc.
  • Jamie shows up for work but Lila tries to kill him as she thinks he killed her baby (the doll) and her and Phaedrus have to leave the dock immediately. Lila is in a catatonic state now and he has to figure out how to help her and what to do with her
  • The real question is not what makes people insane, but what makes them sane – insanity is just a low-quality set of value patterns
  • From the insane person’s internal point of view, insanity is not the problem, it is the solution since it is a better “reality” than what they are truly living
  • Much of the time contrarians aren’t just being negative towards static moral patterns, they’re actively pursuing a dynamic goal
  • Evolution doesn’t just happen within societies, it happens within individuals too. As they fight for dynamic quality, their value patterns change and adapt as they try to fight the static patterns in their lives
  • If you eliminate suffering, you eliminate life. There’s no evolution. Suffering is the negative face of quality that drives the whole process. All these battles between patterns of evolution go on within suffering individuals like Lila
  • William James is known for pragmatism and radical empiricism.
    • Pragmatisms – the idea that the test of truth is its practicality or usefulness. The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief. Truth is a species of good. Truth is a static intellectual pattern within a larger entity called Quality
    • Radical empiricism – subjects and objects are not the starting points of experience, they are secondary. They are concepts derived from something more fundamental. Pure experience cannot be called either physical or psychical – it logically precedes this distinction. There must always be a discrepancy between concepts and reality because the former are static and discontinuous whereas the latter is dynamic and flowing
  • MOQ says pure experience is value (joins pragmatism and radical empiricism)
  • Says that trying to cure an insane person is like trying to cure a communist. You won’t make much progress. What you need to do is prove to them that changing their beliefs or POV will add more value to their lives
  • Insanity is only in one, if in two or three – it is a religion. 
  • One of the most valuable things insane asylums do is leave insane people alone, allowing them to “meditate.” That is why Phaedrus bought his boat, so he can be quiet, alone and meditate. Boats, golf courses, lake cabins, etc. also serve this purpose of allowing dhyana
  • Traces quality back to ancient Greeks and delves into “arete”, a Greek word for quality but can be traced farther back to rta (Sanskrit)
  • Dharma is quality itself, the principle of “lightness” which gives structure and purpose to the evolution of all life and to the evolving understanding of the universe which life has created. It is the bond which holds society together
  • A revolution of freedom against old rituals produces a new order, which soon becomes another old ritual for the next generation to revolt against
  • You do not free yourself from static patterns by fighting them with other contrary static patterns. you free yourself from static patterns by putting them to sleep. You master them with such proficiency that they become an unconscious part of your nature. You get so used to them you completely forget them and they are gone. In the center of the most monotonous boredom of static ritualistic patterns, the dynamic freedom is found (speaking in the context of monk’s whose entire life is a series of rituals…)
  • We don’t perform religious rituals because we believe in God. We believe in God because we perform religious rituals (context of rituals being the basis or building blocks of intellectual truths, cavemen had rituals to build houses, rituals and knowledge becomes indistinct)
  • Rigel ends up meeting Phaedrus and Lila. Him and Phaedrus discuss Lila and says he is taking Lila since she wants to go back to Rochester with Rigel instead of being with Phaedrus since she claims that Phaedrus is trying to kill her. When she leaves Phaedrus is a little shell shocked since he was preparing to spend the rest of his life taking care of Lila and just like that she is out of his life
  • The only exit from suffering is to detach yourself from static patterns, to “kill” them
  • Some of the greatest moral leaders – ChristLincolnGandhi – did not karma dump (blame others) for their problems, they absorbed all the problems and did something about it
  • You can tell a lot about a society’s idols – they would be an objectification of the culture’s innermost values, which were its reality
  • Lila left the doll onboard and Phaedrus now feels like it has a new set of value patterns and sees it almost as an idol and considers burying it for his own sake as opposed to just throwing it out
  • Phaedrus and the doll idol have a sort of conversation within Phaedrus’ mind and the idol convinces him that this is a happy ending since everybody wins – Rigel gets his self-righteousness, Lila gets Rigel and Phaedrus gets dynamic quality
  • Phaedrus left the doll idol in an old abandoned fort to be taken by the tide. He then is grateful that he is free of Lila, Rigel, NY, etc.
  • Goes full circle and starts thinking about Native Americans again. Native Americans do not think in hierarchy (what type of good) but in quality (a good dog). When Native Americans say it they mean that good is the whole center of experience and that Dusenberry (a good man), was an incarnation of this center of life
  • Primitive cultures only discuss about actual experiences. They don’t discuss virtue, good, evil, etc. They don’t talk about abstract ideas.
  • Good is a noun. That was it. That was what Phaedrus had been looking for. Good as a noun rather than as an adjective is all MOQ is about. Take care of your goodness. If you had to reduce the whole MOQ to a single sentence, that would be it.

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