ZAMM
Posted: 05 May 2007 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I was recently in a debate science v religion and my nemisis :D used a couple of quotes out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace as examples of the problems with the scientific method and the philosphy of science. Specificly with the issue of "true" geometry.

I pointed out where I thought Pirsig was wrong with his ideas, but curiously enough I could not find any where on the web at philosophy sites where Pirsig or ZAMM where even discussed or mentioned.  The only site I could find was MOQ.org which is a site dedicated to Pirsig’s ideas so not much counter discussions there.

What do you all think of Pirsig and ZAMM?

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Posted: 05 May 2007 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Would love to help, but I haven’t actually read the book ... what is the issue with geometry? That space isn’t euclidean?

The problem with Zen philosophy is that it is often robustly self-contradictory; indeed, it is expressly anti-philosophical. This comes from its roots in Madhyamika Buddhist thought. Madhyamika is nihilistic, using (to my mind often sophistical) arguments against each other, that show that there is no coherent way that things could ever be or be said to exist.

A lot of their approach is easily taken onboard by western post-modernists, as their goals are roughly comparable.

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Posted: 05 May 2007 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I read it when it first came out; it seems to be about thirty years ago.  I don’t recall the specifics, but I didn’t have any problem with what he said so I doubt that he attacked the scientific method.  It may have been that students are first taught plane geometry, that is, a flat two dimensional space.  However, if one considers a sheet of space that consists of, say, a torus (donut), the standard rules don’t always work.  For example, parallel lines never meet when on a flat surface, but on the surface of a donut they will often, but not always, meet. 

Your best bet is to pick up a used paperback copy and skim through it to find the passage.  I’m pretty sure your nemesis is either misquoting, misinterpreting, or giving only a partial quote to bolster his argument.

Occam

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Posted: 05 May 2007 10:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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well the actual debate is over.  I did have the passage and pointed out where Pirsig was wrong in his assumtions.  But my question to this board is have you all read Pirsig’s stuff and if so your comments.

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Posted: 05 May 2007 06:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I just checked my yellowed copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I apparently read it in 1974.  That was when I was working full time as a chemist, had only just heard of Humanism, and while I had taken occasional psychology, economics, etc. courses for the fun of it, I had not yet ever taken a philosophy course.  So I was pretty innocent.  I enjoyed the book and liked his challenges to common thinking. 

If I read it now, I might be much more critical, but I don’t have time to reread books.  I’ve never read any other things by Pirsig.

Occam

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Posted: 06 May 2007 03:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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OK it might help if everyone knew what ZAMM was.  I have no clue what it is.  Yes, I know this much:  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but what does Zen and Motorcycle maintenance have to do with each other?

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 06 May 2007 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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1. Just because your debate opponent used ZAMM snips to argue against the scientific method does not mean Pirsig would (I think it unlikely).

2. ZAMM is not much ado with Zen.

3. If you have specific items in the book you have found are incorrect assumptions please spell them out.

4. Doug and Miriana I sugest you read the book, it is, after all touted as the most popular philosophy book ever written with something more than 5 million copies sold. And it is a quick and easy read.

5. Pirsig was trying to develop a new metaphysics based on values rather than subject object duality, in his works. I also read it long ago and liked it quite a bit. I have not read is more detailed work (the later book), but would like to.

6: Some supporting and info:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_M._Pirsig

Pirsig’s work consists almost entirely of two books. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance sets out Pirsig’s interpretation and definition of “Quality” and “the Good.” It is mostly a first person narrative of a motorcycle trip across North America, undertaken with some friends and his son Chris.

Pirsig’s publisher’s recommendation to his Board ended with “This book is brilliant beyond belief, it is probably a work of genius, and will, I’ll wager, attain classic stature.” In his book review, George Steiner compared Pirsig’s writing to Dostoevsky, Broch, Proust and Bergson, stating that “the assertion itself is valid… the analogies with Moby Dick are patent”[1]. The Times Literary Supplement called it “Profoundly important, Disturbing, Deeply moving, Full of insights, A wonderful book”.

In 1974 Pirsig was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to allow him to write a follow-up, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals (1991), in which he elaborates and focuses a value-based metaphysics, called Metaphysics of Quality, to replace the subject-object view of reality.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_Maintenance:_An_Inquiry_into_Values

Pirsig departs from Eastern thinking by arguing that reason and logic are just as important in seeking understanding. He explains that, despite its title, “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

While Pirsig is not the first philosopher to try to bridge the gap between science and mysticism, with the Metaphysics of Quality he elevates the whole debate to a new level by structuring both paradigms around a single concept: value. In doing so, Pirsig throws new light on issues such as mind and matter, the behavior of particles at the quantum level and the nature of consciousness. At the social level he has much to say about racial tension, the cult of celebrity and mental illness.

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Posted: 06 May 2007 05:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Here is the quote that was used with a link to ZAMM:

“>>I always find it curious why you bring out geometry as some sort of argument? Are you really that illitirate in mathamatics?

Because there are at least 3 “true” versions of geometry, each of which is internally consistent but which contradict each other.

Here’s the foundation of my “illiteracy:”

QUOTE
During Poincar╗‘s lifetime, an alarmingly deep crisis in the foundations of the exact sciences had begun. For years scientific truth had been beyond the possibility of a doubt; the logic of science was infallible, and if the scientists were sometimes mistaken, this was assumed to be only from their mistaking its rules. The great questions had all been answered. The mission of science was now simply to refine these answers to greater and greater accuracy. True, there were still unexplained phenomena such as radioactivity, transmission of light through the “ether,” and the peculiar relationship of magnetic to electric forces; but these, if past trends were any indication, had eventually to fall. It was hardly guessed by anyone that within a few decades there would be no more absolute space, absolute time, absolute substance or even absolute magnitude; that classical physics, the scientific rock of ages, would become “approximate”; that the soberest and most respected of astronomers would be telling mankind that if it looked long enough through a telescope powerful enough, what it would see was the back of its own head!

The basis of the foundation-shattering Theory of Relativity was as yet understood only by very few, of whom Poincar╗, as the most eminent mathematician of his time, was one.

In his Foundations of Science Poincar╗ explained that the antecedents of the crisis in the foundations of science were very old. It had long been sought in vain, he said, to demonstrate the axiom known as Euclid’s fifth postulate and this search was the start of the crisis. Euclid’s postulate of parallels, which states that through a given point there’s not more than one parallel line to a given straight line, we usually learn in tenth-grade geometry. It is one of the basic building blocks out of which the entire mathematics of geometry is constructed.

All the other axioms seemed so obvious as to be unquestionable, but this one did not. Yet you couldn’t get rid of it without destroying huge portions of the mathematics, and no one seemed able to reduce it to anything more elementary. What vast effort had been wasted in that chimeric hope was truly unimaginable, Poincar╗ said.

Finally, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and almost at the same time, a Hungarian and a Russian…Bolyai and Lobachevski…established irrefutably that a proof of Euclid’s fifth postulate is impossible. They did this by reasoning that if there were any way to reduce Euclid’s postulate to other, surer axioms, another effect would also be noticeable: a reversal of Euclid’s postulate would create logical contradictions in the geometry. So they reversed Euclid’s postulate.

Lobachevski assumes at the start that through a given point can be drawn two parallels to a given straight. And he retains besides all Euclid’s other axioms. From these hypotheses he deduces a series of theorems among which it’s impossible to find any contradiction, and he constructs a geometry whose faultless logic is inferior in nothing to that of the Euclidian geometry.

Thus by his failure to find any contradictions he proves that the fifth postulate is irreducible to simpler axioms.

It wasn’t the proof that was alarming. It was its rational byproduct that soon overshadowed it and almost everything else in the field of mathematics. Mathematics, the cornerstone of scientific certainty, was suddenly uncertain.

We now had two contradictory visions of unshakable scientific truth, true for all men of all ages, regardless of their individual preferences.

This was the basis of the profound crisis that shattered the scientific complacency of the Gilded Age. How do we know which one of these geometries is right? If there is no basis for distinguishing between them, then you have a total mathematics which admits logical contradictions. But a mathematics that admits internal logical contradictions is no mathematics at all. The ultimate effect of the non-Euclidian geometries becomes nothing more than a magician’s mumbo jumbo in which belief is sustained purely by faith!

And of course once that door was opened one could hardly expect the number of contradictory systems of unshakable scientific truth to be limited to two. A German named Riemann appeared with another unshakable system of geometry which throws overboard not only Euclid’s postulate, but also the first axiom, which states that only one straight line can pass through two points. Again there is no internal contradiction, only an inconsistency with both Lobachevskian and Euclidian geometries.

According to the Theory of Relativity, Riemann geometry best describes the world we live in.
END QUOTE
Pirsig
http://www.virtualschool.edu/mon/Quality/PirsigZen/part3.html

From what I’ve read of Pirsig, he seems to make a statement, without argument and then builds a philosophical point around it.  He once claimed gravity didn’t exsist until Newton discovered it.

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Posted: 06 May 2007 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Hmmm I read that as him making statements about the hubris of scientists not about the scientific method. The hubris is well documented, and sadly all too common. In the time period Pirsig is discussing the science community was having a bit of a time of thinking it could reach absolute (as opposed to approximate) truths. This idea that all to be know was know is a common critique and theme up until the Einstein revolution. I have read often that many in the various fields at that time thought they had things just about all sewed up and boldly stated so. 

I also don’t see how the person you are debating and your topic of debate can be a critique of Pirsigs work with the information you have provided. It may be that the person you were debating was trying to misuse this quote to argue that the scientific method is flawed, but I don not see how Pirsig was doing the same.

From memory Pirsig does critique modern western philosophy particularly how entrenched the aristotelian duality is in academia, and how eastern philosophy which approaches things from an entirely different direction has something to add to the mix. But I don’t believe Pirsig ever once in ZAMM derided empiricism, while he did during his discussion of general philosophy discuss the philosophical problems of empiricism. As I recall he even goes to great deal in explaining the basic concepts of empirical evidence in discussing how to find and repair faults in the bike. So it seems to me that in terms of natural reality he agrees that empiricism is a very useful tool.

Now again you make a claim about him saying what appears to be crazy talk (gravity), but you give no direct quote or proper context.

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Posted: 06 May 2007 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Here is a link to Glenn Bradfords site discussing faults with Pirsig.  Glenn for all I can tell is an ex-MOQ.org (Methaphisics of Quality) member and from what I have been able to gather he was banned from the site for the sin of disagreeing with Pirsig’s (MOQ) philosophy.

http://home.comcast.net/~moq/gravity.html

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Posted: 06 May 2007 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“cgallaga”]4. Doug and Miriana I sugest you read the book, it is, after all touted as the most popular philosophy book ever written with something more than 5 million copies sold. And it is a quick and easy read.

OY! I already have a list of books for my summer reading.  It’s a long one.  :(  Oh well.  What’s one more?  I’m not a motorcycle fan though.

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Mriana
“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 06 May 2007 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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[quote author=“Carbon based”]HGlenn for all I can tell is an ex-MOQ.org (Methaphisics of Quality) member and from what I have been able to gather he was banned from the site for the sin of disagreeing with Pirsig’s (MOQ) philosophy.

Again let us be honest here. The MOQ.org is not run by pirsig but is a fan site. It even says so on their site.

ETA: And people have been banned here who were posting strong disagreement with CFI, so why should MOQ be any better/different?

I’m really not a ZAMM apologist, but it seems like you are intent on making a case without doing much work. I am a fan of honesty in this sort of thing. I don’t think the rational community can combat woo (within or out) without honest and diligent work, and a completely open mind to the very real possibility that we are wrong (that, by the way, is an inherent part of the scientific method).

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Posted: 06 May 2007 02:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Well, now that I’ve dug the book, I’ll make the effort to reread it.  I recall that he mentioned that he asked his class to write an essay defining quality, and they couldn’t.  It seemed like a worthwhile challenge so I took some time and wrote a paper defining quality.  Unfortunately, that was even before my old Apple II so I have no file or recollection of what I wrote.  [But I thought it was pretty good.  LOL )


Occam

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Posted: 06 May 2007 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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[quote author=“Carbon based”]Here is a link to Glenn Bradfords site discussing faults with Pirsig. 

Just skimming to where this article starts its critique…a few paragraphs earlier (actually you have to start at least at page 38 where he talks about not believing in ghosts, and if I remember correctly he tells this in a strange style or stories within stories so you probably have to be very careful of not taking things out of context when you start to break it up) are vitally important in understanding what Pirsig is discussing. He is discussing the human constructs, the mental constructs of gravity, not the empirical results but our human formula for explaining what we experience. It is that that gravity that he rightly says did not exist before newton invented it.

It’s quite funny actually that the few paragraphs before the ones your link quoted talk very specifically about context, and the author of the critique cut just so as to remove important context from the discussion of Newtonian gravity.

It is also fun to note that Newtonian laws of gravity have been proven inaccurate and that the new understandings which have supplanted them, are also failing to make sense in certain areas, which is now bringing forth various efforts at a theory of everything.

At any rate. It seems clear to me that in this particular chapter Pirsig is discussing our models of gravity, the human construct of gravity, not the effect (or observed fact) in nature, but what we call it and how we describe it.

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