Saturday, February 23, 2008

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig: a book recommended to my first by a good friend, and then by a professor for an independent study class. I figured, two recommendations, this book is probably one that I should pick up.

To tell you the truth, I thought I was going to be more into this book. It's a pseudo-memoir where a man travels across the country with his son on his motorcycle as he runs into various people. Sounds interesting. But, he spends most of his narrative on rationality, technology, logic, reasoning, scientific methods, and of course, motorcycle maintenance. I thought motorcycle maintenance was going to be a metaphor. I didn't think he'd actually piece apart the motorcycle for me, as he does.

I keep reading the book because, every so often, these deeply philosophical words of knowledge speak through the narrative, and then I catch my breath of fresh air. I clutch on to his moments where he lives in the "present" of the book and when he talks deeply about life. Other times, he professes random bursts of knowledge, like the philosopher Phaedrus. Interesting, I know it all ties together, but it's not really keeping my attention. In my opinion, it doesn't really flow or make much sense. It's untraditional, as I bet he wants it to be, and I don't even mind untraditional, but I just feel more lost in it than enjoyable. But, I continue reading because I hate giving up on books (or things for that matter, in general), and I have optimism that maybe something else will happen to catch my attention.

He's a smart guy though, and I enjoy the book from time to time. I would recommend this book to someone, as long as they are interested in more mechanical ways of thinking and technicalities that wouldn't bore them too easily.

I will just insert a few quotations here below from Parts I and II. Feel free to comment on anything.

"We're in such a hurry most of the time we never get a chance to talk. The result is an endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it's all gone" (7).

"You always suppress momentary anger at something you deeply and permanently hate" (14).

"When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things" (25).

"The world has no existence whatsoever outside the human imagination" (31).

"Some things you miss because they're so tiny you overlook them. But some things you don't see because they're so huge" (48).

"When analytic thought is applied to experience, something is always killed in the proess. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain's experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed. But what is less noticed in the arts--something is always created too. And instead of just dwelling on what is killed it's important also to see what's created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is niether good nor bad, but just is" (70-71).

"What is the truth and how do you know when you have it? ...How do we really know anything? Is there an 'I,' a 'soul,' which knows, or is this soul merely cells coordinating senses? ...Is reality basically changing, or is it fixed and permanent? ...When it's said that something means something, what's meant by that?" (112).

"You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in" (134).

"Look where you're going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you've been and a pattern seems to emerge. And you can project forward from that pattern, then sometimes you can come up with something" (149).

And I want to leave you with this puzzle to think about:

"Suppose a child is born devoid of all senses; he has no sight, no hearing, no touch, no smell, no taste--nothing. There's no way whatsoever for him to receive any sensations from the outside world. And suppose this child is fed intravenously and otherwise attended to and kept alive for eighteen years in this state of existence. The question is then asked: Does this eighteen-year-old person have a thought in his head? If so, where does it come from? How does he get it?" (115).

What do you think?

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