Sodra, Ek het 'n paar bedenkinge oor my gesonde verstand. Na alles, As jy jouself bevraagteken die egtheid van die werklikheid, jy hoef te wonder — is dit die werklikheid wat onwerklik, of jou gesonde verstand?
Toe ek my kommer met hierdie filosofies geneig vriend van my, het sy my gerusgestel, “Gesonde verstand is oorskat.” Na die lees Zen en die kuns van die motor Onderhoud, Ek dink sy is reg. Miskien het sy nie ver genoeg gaan — mag wees waansin is weg onderskatte.
Zen en die kuns van die motor Onderhoud definieer waansin as die proses van 'n sterker buite mythos; mythos synde die somtotaal van ons gesamentlike kennis oorgedra deur die geslagte, die “gesonde verstand” wat voorafgaan logika. As die werklikheid is nie gesonde verstand, wat? En die onsekerheid oor die egtheid van die werklikheid, byna per definisie, is versterk buite die grense van mythos. So dit pas; my bekommernisse was inderdaad gegrond is.
Maar 'n goeie passing is geen waarborg van die “korrektheid” van 'n hipotese, as Zen en die kuns van die motor Onderhoud leer ons. Genoeg tyd gegee, ons kan kom altyd met 'n hipotese wat pas ons waarnemings. Die proses van hipotesestelling van waarnemings en ervarings is soos om te probeer om die aard van 'n voorwerp uit die skaduwee dit projekte te raai. En 'n projeksie is presies wat ons realiteit is — 'n projeksie van 'n onbekende vorme en prosesse in ons sensoriese en kognitiewe ruimte, in ons mythos en logos. Maar hier, I may be pushing my own agenda rather than the theme of the book. Maar dit beteken pas, dit nie doen nie? Dit is hoekom ek myself gemompel “Presies!” oor en oor tydens my drie lees van die boek, en die rede waarom ek sal dit lees baie meer kere in die toekoms. Kom ons herinner onsself weer, 'n goeie passing sê niks oor die korrektheid van 'n hipotese.
One such reasonable hypothesis of ours is about continuity We all assume the continuity of our personality or selfhood, which is a bit strange. I know that I am the same person I was twenty years ago — older certainly, wiser perhaps, but still the same person. But from science, I also know for a fact that every cell, every atom and every little fundamental particle in my body now is different from what constituted my body then. The potassium in the banana I ate two weeks ago is, for instance, what may be controlling the neuronal firing behind the thought process helping me write this essay. But it is still me, not the banana. We all assume this continuity because it fits.
Losing this continuity of personality is a scary thought. How scary it is is what Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance tells you. As usual, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
In order to write a decent review of this book, it is necessary to summarize the “story” (which is believed to be based on the author’s life). Like most great works of literature, the story flows inwards and outwards. Outwardly, it is a story of a father and son (Pirsig and Chris) across the vast open spaces of America on a motorbike. Inwardly, it is a spiritual journey of self-discovery and surprising realizations. At an even deeper level, it is a journey towards possible enlightenment rediscovered.
The story begins with Pirsig and Chris riding with John and Sylvia. Right at the first unpretentious sentence, “I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning,” it hit me that this was no ordinary book — the story is happening in the present tense. It is here and now — the underlying Zen-ness flows from the first short opening line and never stops.
The story slowly develops into the alienation between Chris and his father. The “father” comes across as a “selfish bastard,” as one of my friends observed.
The explanation for this disconnect between the father and the son soon follows. The narrator is not the father. He has the father’s body all right, but the real father had his personality erased through involuntary shock treatments. The doctor had reassured him that he had a new personality — not that he was a new personality.
The subtle difference makes ample sense once we realize that “he” and his “personality” are not two. And, to those of us how believe in the continuity of things like self-hood, it is a very scary statement. Personality is not something you have and wear, like a suit or a dress; it is what you are. If it can change, and you can get a new one, what does it say about what you think you are?
In Pirsig’s case, the annihilation of the old personality was not perfect. Besides, Chris was tagging along waiting for that personality to wake up. But awakening a personality is very different from waking a person up. It means waking up all the associated thoughts and ideas, insights and enlightenment. And wake up it does in this story — Phaedrus is back by the time we reach the last pages of the book.
What makes this book such a resounding success, (not merely in the market, but as an intellectual endeavor) are the notions and insights from Phaedrus that Pirsig manages to elicit. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is nothing short of a new way of looking at reality. It is a battle for the minds, yours and mine, and those yet to come.
Such a battle was waged and won ages ago, and the victors were not gracious and noble enough to let the defeated worldview survive. They used a deadly dialectical knife and sliced up our worldview into an unwieldy duality. The right schism, according to Phaedrus and/or Pirsig, would have been a trinity.
The trinity managed to survive, albeit feebly, as a vanquished hero, timid and self-effacing. We see it in the Bible, for instance, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We see it Hinduism, as its three main gods, and in Vedanta, a line of thought I am more at home with, as Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram — the Truth, ???, the Beauty. The reason why I don’t know what exactly Shivam means indicates how the battle for the future minds was won by the dualists.
It matters little that the experts in Vedanta and the Indian philosophical schools may know precisely what Shivam signifies. I for one, and the countless millions like me, will never know it with the clarity with which we know the other two terms — Sundaram and Satyam, beauty and truth, Maya and Brahman, aesthetics and metaphysics, mind and matter. The dualists have so completely annihilated the third entity that it does not even make sense now to ask what it is. They have won.
Phaedrus did ask the question, and found the answer to be Quality — something that sits in between mind and matter, between a romantic and a classical understanding of the world. Something that we have to and do experience before our intellect has a chance to process and analyze it. Zen.
However, in doing so, Phaedrus steps outside our mythos, and is hence insane.
If insanity is Zen, then my old friend was right. Sanity is way overrated.
Photo by MonsieurLui