books:lila

# Lila

An Inquiry Into Morals
Robert Pirsig 

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In the book Lila, Robert Pirsig attempts to build a metaphysics - “that part of philosophy which deals with the nature and structure of reality” with his notion of quality – “a direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.”

We might ask why do we need a metaphysics at all? Especially when ordinary physics is doing a very thorough job of making the universe confusing without the slightest help from philosophers. But Pirsig’s ideas have as much to do with how we perceive the world (and use that perception to operate) as they do with the structure of the universe itself. His metaphysics is an attempt to describe the cosmos of human experience, not the cosmos of quarks and black holes. As such, it shares a lot with epistemology, and is similarly useful.

So he starts what he calls dynamic quality – the reality, the experience of the world, which we understand without definition, and which can not be entirely defined. But he says as we experience this reality it is sometimes leaving fixed records of where it has been – records he calls static quality. These can become ideas and concepts, articulated or unarticulated. With enough reinforcement these layers of static quality become human culture – rituals, ideologies, beliefs. They may capture a snapshot of where dynamic quality has been, but they can not replicate it.

He quotes William James’s last unfinished work, Some Problems of Philosophy: “‘There must always be a discrepancy between concepts and reality, because the former are static and discontinuous while the latter is dynamic and flowing.’”

Pirsig’s idea about dynamic and static quality is interesting, but like a lot of metaphysics it’s a bit tough to evaluate. Perhaps we can say that it’s the most useful to us as an analogy, or metaphor of how other processes work. Once we understand the pattern we start to see it in all sorts of places. It resembles Charles Sanders Peirce’s ideas about how scientific understanding advances.

Contemporary theories about punctuated equilibrium in evolution describe Darwin’s process as long periods of stasis marked by episodes of dynamic shift. But the mechanism of by which the genetic information of the survivors influencing the entire population remains, and it is at it’s base a system of dynamic change leaving layers of permanent record. Which could also apply to many geologic processes.

And we might say something similar seems to be happening in the economy. As new businesses are created or old ones expand, individuals are proposing new value which is to be added to the national income. But not all of this value survives, only a portion of it becomes solidified and reliable.