Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of my all-time favorite books. I've recently revisited it and decided to start reading its sequel, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. It's been an interesting journey.
I found myself almost completely agreeing with the ideas expressed in Zen, so I expected Lila to be a confirmation of those ideas and something that would be an easy read for me. That turned out to be completely not true. I had trouble reading past the first half of the first part of the book because I simply didn't like what the author was writing. The book seemed to casually put science and scientific development in a subservient position to the book's 'grand theory of everything', and that kind of offended me. The previous book was very clear about the things it presented, and it presented no conflicts with the existing ideas I had. But Lila needed a bit of mental adjustment on my part before I was able to read on. Later on in the book I realized the issue is not as extreme as I described it here in this blogpost, but the way it's written does pose a bit of a hurdle to overcome.
The metaphysics of quality is hard to accept. The subdivision into four kinds of static quality and one dynamic quality seems arbitrary to me still, even after having read one and a half books. I find the subdivision very useful, and can find real-life examples in my life that make (more?) sense when put into these categories. But even Pirsig himself mentions that his theory is another way of looking at the world, not necessarily the way. As with all theories, if it's a proper theory it should be able to make predictions about future situations accurately if it's to hold up. I don't quite yet see how it'll be able to do that for me personally, or how it will benefit me.
The theory does provide some lovely explanations about my own life. I can think about people and experiences in terms of quality and it makes sense. I know someone who always watches incredibly bad movies that I can't watch without cringing, yet this person does not notice at all. Yet despite that lack of static quality this person does have an immense amount of dynamic quality, which is I think what draws other people to them. It's nice to be able to give this trait a name, and I think this name satisfies the properties better than any other word I could've come up with.
Traveling can be phrased in words of the theory as well. Particularly my cycling trips: when I first started doing cycling trips, everything was new. Every day was a new experience, with nothing planned and I never knew what would happen that day. It was absolutely at the cutting edge of experience. Pure, dynamic, quality. As time went by though, that dynamic quality turned into a pattern. I learned what I liked about the trip and optimized for that. I circumvented the stumbling blocks and became better at doing cycling trips, but at the same time the novelty was gone. I knew the country, I knew the routine, I had a pretty good of all the possible events that could occur to me on any given day. Dynamic quality had turned into static quality. It is by no means a bad thing, but it's also something that's no longer evolving. It's a comfortable, fixed pattern. But it's not the same as dynamic quality. To get that feeling back I will need to find my beginner's mind again. I think I will have to visit a new country, or countries, to rediscover dynamic quality on cycling trips.
Girlfriend trips can be phrased in this terminology as well. Whenever I'm traveling together with my girlfriend it feels like she acts as a tether, or an anchor, to the static quality that binds us together. The things we both like, the things we both want to experience are the common factor between us, and it tends not to vary even when we are traveling. It's the thing that binds us together, which, although it evolves, it evolves slowly, so I would call those values static. For me this means that when she and I are traveling together, I feel very much at rest and at peace, comfortable in my static quality. I think it's more difficult to discover dynamic quality that can be enjoyed as a pair, but when you do, that experience is all the more intense.
For example, yesterday we arrived at a new place and had to go out for food in the evening. It was getting dark and it was Sunday, so not many places were open and we were in an unfamiliar environment. The situation was something that I found quite enjoyable, since everything felt new and dynamic. I'm not sure my girlfriend was in the same mindset as me though, because it's very easy to get hung up on the static quality patterns that we're used to.
But sometimes, when the moment is right, we find ourselves in a situation that maximizes dynamic quality in a way that pleases both of us, like when we saw the eagle rays when diving. Swimming under water against the current was something neither of us were used to, and the environment there was sufficiently different from a regular dive that it forced us to recognize the dynamic quality of the situation. Because we share the same static values that brought us into that situation I think we were both able to enjoy the dynamic quality of it in the same way. That's what made it powerful.
I'm not quite finished with the second book. Perhaps it'll turn everything on its head in the end and what I just wrote might make no sense. But it feels like a good addition to my mental world image. Let's see if it'll hold up over time and experience.