Pirsig and Puzzle Pieces


I continue with Pirsig who outlines another aspect of Truth, or Quality. He says that Quality and Care are internal and external aspects of the same thing. You demonstrate your understanding of quality by caring about it. Though I have never read him, Pirsig brings in Poincare’s work to explain it. He says that the contradictions in mathematical theories at all, but different forms of measurement to explain the same concepts, like the metric and imperial systems, or the Mercator and Gall-Peter and Hobo-Dyer projections of world maps.

We choose ways of understanding the facts which are more advantageous, or rather fit into the harmony of other concepts. If we had infinite time, we could sit there and explore all the evidence and facts, but we are finite beings, so we must invest ourselves (i.e. care) about certain facts over others. We are selective with our facts, in the same way when we put a puzzle together. Only in the case of the universe, we are talking about an extremely giant puzzle or a set of giant puzzles with the pieces all scattered. We only choose pieces that fit, that seem to go with colours and shapes (i.e. past experience) of knowledge seekers before us.

This does not mean our facts are subjective because we are choosing certain facts to suit our own purpose. Since Quality and Care precede and cause creativity and logic, our minds have an a priori way of organizing facts that conform to our sense of quality and care.

Pirsig is also astute in noting that the “moment of care” or the moment of crystallization of certain concepts occurs at odd times. If we were purely rational beings, we would be like computers, constantly taking in information and comparing it against known data. The flash of inspiration, or crystallization moment, occurs when we have all the necessary and advantageous facts and then something triggers our understanding to figure out the missing piece or solution.

It’s also interesting to see this element of “care” introduced. It is not a synonym for emotion at all! The closest description I can give to it, even as something undefinable in the first place according to Pirsig, is the sense of satisfaction that an individual has when he has accomplished something or learned something. Like the author’s learning and investment in troubleshooting motorcycle machinery problems.

For him, technophobia or fear of technology comes from our absence of care. We don’t understand how it works and therefore, do not feel invested in its maintenance. People who dislike philosophy dislike it for the simple reason that it is too complex and therefore, they are disinclined to pursue it. They don’t have the patience or zen to think about the meaning of life or the existence of God even though they are very important questions given man’s mortality. Or they have seen what happens to philosophers who pursue those questions and see that they have made little progress thus far or been driven to madness. Or their personal experience with religion has somehow disappointed them.

I wonder if care can be equated with morality, but it seems more of an empirical construction than an a priori one. It is the difference between good and bad and right and wrong. Perhaps there is a third aspect to join Quality and Care. Perhaps Quality and Care will produce the third which precedes the romantic and classical split.

I suppose the next part of the book may try to explain these things. What exactly triggers crystallization remains a mystery to me, though Pirsig seems to have just left it at “care” at this point in the book. That is, we are invested in certain facts and we are bent on finding a solution to make the whole machinery of thought work. Or maybe he will tackle morality, which seems to plague 20th century philosophers and is the third branch of philosophy (it is known as Ethics). He has already covered epistemology and metaphysics. Whatever the following chapters harbor (and there are few left!), I am eager to see what else I can learn and apply to my own understanding of Truth.

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