Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Summary

  1. On his journey from Minnesota to Northern California, the narrator discusses quality and several other philosophical questions through examples and chautauquas. “To truly experience quality, one must both embrace and apply it as best fits the requirements of the situation.”
Key Takeaways
  1. You always temporarily suppress anger towards something you deeply despise
  2. Discusses “ghosts” and how they only exist in the mind. But then he argues that gravity, dead people, science, abstract numbers and more exist only in the mind and therefore ghosts should not be considered a bad thing
  3. Some people are interested in what things mean and others only what they are – romantic vs. classical
  4. Some things you don’t see because they’re so tiny or unimportant you simply overlook them. Other things you miss because they’re so huge
  5. You discuss things in terms of their immediate appearance or their underlying forms. Classical understanding sees the world as its underlying form and romantic as its immediate appearance. Science and facts versus art and feelings
  6. Classical deals with sorting things into piles, classifying them and dividing. A process which never stops. Phaedrus made the attempt of dividing the world into classifications
  7. The ghost which Phaedrus got to was rationality itself.
  8. Billions of dollars are spent to extend life. Only the madman asks why. We live longer so that we can live longer
  9. The narrator and Phaedrus are the same person – split personality which the narrator slowly brings to life and describes his thinking
  10. No system can be changed unless the true cause and not the effects are attached
  11. Within these two systems there are two sets of logic. Inductive and deductive. Inductive inferences begin with actions and then makes conclusions. Deductive inferences starts with general knowledge and makes predictions
  12. David Hume – If all knowledge comes through the senses, does substance exist? Probably not
  13. Kant – some things come from outside experience, are a priori – such as time
  14. If asked what is metal? You would reply it is hard, reflective, cold, etc. but all these things are sensed, are perceptions. There is no substance
  15. Whenever someone is fanatical about something it is because it is in doubt. Nobody goes wild about the sun rising because it is quite sure to happen
  16. When working on anything you must be calm and serene or else you will work your negative feelings into your work
  17. Today’s divorce of art and technology is completely unnatural. They are one and the same
  18. If you look back at the path you’ve taken, a pattern might emerge. You can try to project that pattern forward to see where it might lead you
  19. The narrator gets caught up in trying to define what quality is and when he was a professor he asked his class for help. Nobody had any luck and they determined that quality cannot be defined. However, he argues that something cannot exist if it cannot be defined
  20. Anything whose goal is self-glorification is bound to lead to disaster
  21. By saying that quality cannot be defined he takes it out of the realm of the rational. No more people trying to define what makes art “good”
  22. A thing exists if the world can’t function normally without it. With this, arts, sports and most jobs but would disappear but logic would remain largely unchanged. By this definition quality exists
  23. By holding quality undefined he splits world between Romantic and Classic, artistic and technological
  24. Does quality exist in objects or is it subjective?
  25. Determined that quality is neither mind nor matter. It is its own third group. Quality “gave birth” to mind and matter and is therefore not a trinity but a monism
  26. Quality takes you out of yourself and makes you less subjective. It is at the point of where subject and object meet. Quality is not a thing, it is an event
  27. People see quality differently because they have different sets of analogs – different experiences, memories, filters, etc. If people shared all these things exactly they would see quality the same every time
  28. No pure truths as they cannot possibly apply to every person in every situation. Need to look through life in a broader way – Quality and Truth are in fact one. The ancient Greeks divorced Quality and Truth and this was an artificial divorce which causes a lot of frustration
  29. Believes that quality can tie together religion, art and science like nothing else before it
  30. An egoless mental “stuckness” is a precursor to discovering quality
  31. At the moment of pure quality, subject and object are one in the same
  32. Do not separate yourself from your work, your craft. Instead, become one with it and weave quality into it. This deep caring helps you reach peace of mind
  33. There are three types of quietness – physical, mental and values (no desires) with values being the most difficult to achieve
  34. One of his chautauquas is around gumption and gumption traps. Gumption is enthusiasm and good spirits and a trap is anything which diminishes your enthusiasm or frustrates you somehow. There are both external and internal traps. Internal – value and ego. Value rigidity occurs when you can’t revalue something because of your commitment to precious values.
  35. Values create the objects of the world
  36. Mu questions are extremely important – no definite answer, indeterminate state, not applicable, unasking the question,
  37. Looking at things dualistically is what causes evil – all is one
  38. Aim to make as many quality decisions as this will have a ripple effect and influence others to also make quality decisions
  39. Reason should be subordinate to quality. Should never pursue the reasonable if it is no good
What I got out of it
  1. One of the few books I decided to reread and thought it was equally as amazing. His deep dive into quality is unbeleivable
An interesting summary of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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