By Robert M. Pirsig, Bantam Books (originally William Morrow Apr 1974), 1989, 0-553-27747-2
An incredible non-fictional auto-biographical book. It contains many themes, plots, and ideas. The book takes place during a cross-country trip by a man (the author) and his son (Chris). Pirsig had done time in a mental institution and received involuntary electro-shock “therapy”–which is now illegal. The book bounces between Phaedrus (his former self), the events of the trip, and his current philosophy. It concludes on a positive note, but there is a sad afterword (written 1984).
What’s extremely interesting is that it was initially rejected by 121 editors. Pirsig has something to say and he was extremely determined to get it said. It just tells you something about the book industry in America.
Phaedrus isn’t defined clearly at the beginning. Pirsig uses this to peak the reader’s interest–who is this guy? It was very effective for me. Phaedrus is extremely intelligent, fanatical, and at the end, Pirsig calls him messianic. The author is fighting with his former self until the end. He is searching for him. The trip is about this search. He goes back to the University at which he taught, but the search doesn’t stop there.
Chris was greatly affected by his father’s personality makeover. Although the author is coherent, I think he is cold. Chris continually asks: What are you thinking about? The author doesn’t answer. Chris is himself having mental problems. He gets pains which have no physically detectable causes. He cries often. He is stubborn.
The first part of the book is the travel towards Bozeman, Montana where the University is. They are traveling by motorcycle. With John and Sylvia (their friends) on another. It doesn’t appear that they all know each other well, but that’s sort of irrelevant.
The author fills the time with what he calls Chautauquas. These were traveling tentshows [p7] “intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.” The Chautauqua is intermixed with current events. Each day there is a different theme. All the themes climax towards the end.
Phaedrus is in search of a fundamental philosophy. He is dissatisfied with the standard classic-romantic (object-subject) dualistic model. The Chautauquas develop Phaedrus’ philosophy and the author’s current philosophy. Phaedrus is a generalist (Aristotle) while the author is a detailist (Plato). He explains this clearly at the end, but it is apparent. Motorcycle Maintenance is tool used by Pirsig (the present) to explicate the philosophy of Phaedrus–also explained, but as the philosophy of another person. As I said, it is extremely complex.
The main theme becomes Quality as the creator of both subjects and objects. Phaedrus becomes obsessed by this. The author is just as obsessed, but tempers it. He speaks of craftsmanship and not the driving force of all we know. It is a very effective technique: bouncing between the details of motorcycles and an all encompassing philosophy.
Phaedrus had spent ten years in India studying eastern philosophy, hence the Zen in the title. Pirsig hangs on to Zen thoughts. He doesn’t speak much at all of Judeo-Christian philosophy. Instead of praying, one meditates to find inner-understanding. The way can be found in anything; Pirsig uses motorcycle maintenance where others use Yoga, meditation, hiking (Phaedrus used this, too), etc.
Pirsig meets Phaedrus at the end after a series of long Chautauquas which are broken by fewer and fewer real time events. The technique is excellent; the climax is spectacular. He brings it together without telling the whole story. In fact he leaves out the entire mental hospital stay and all time up until this trip. It is unnecessary, but leaves the reader curious. According to the afterword, he is working on a sequel.
Interesting quotes and passages.
[p24] While at work I was thinking about this same lake of care in the digital computer manuals I was editing. Writing and editing technical manuals is what I do for a living the other eleven months of the year and I knew they were full of errors, ambiguities, omissions and information so completely screwed up you had to read them six times to make any sense out of them. But what stuck me for the first time was the agreement of these manuals with the spectator attitude [of the hack mechanic] I had seen in the shop. These were spectator manuals. It was built into the format of them. Implicit in every line is the idea that “Here is the machine, isolated in time and in space from everything else in the universe. It has no relationship to you, you have no relationship to it, other than to turn certain switches, maintain voltage levels, check for error conditions…” and so on. That’s it. The mechanics in their attitude toward the machine were really taking no different attitude from the manual’s toward the machine, or from the attitude I had when I brought it in there. We were all spectators. And it occurred to me there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all. Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.
[p40] When you’re stuck together like this, I figure small differences in temperament are bound to show up.
[p87] To speak of certain government and establishment institutions as “the system” is to speak correctly, since these organizations are founded upon the same structural conceptual relationships as a motorcycle. They are sustained by structural relationships even when they have lost all other meaning and purpose. People arrive at a factory and perform a totally meaningless task from eight to five without question because the structure demands that it be that way. There’s no villain, no “mean guy” who wants them to live meaningless lives, it’s just that the structure, the system demands it and no one is willing to take on the formidable task of changing the structure just because it is meaningless.
[p88] If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.
[p93] When I think of formal scientific method an image sometimes comes to mind of an enormous juggernaut, a huge bulldozer–slow, tedious, lumbering, laborious, but invincible. It takes twice as long, five times as long, maybe a dozen times as long as informal mechanic’s techniques, but you know in the end you’re going to get it. There’s no fault isolation problem in motorcycle maintenance that can stand up to it. When you’ve hit a really tough one, tried everything, racked your brain and nothing works, and you know that this time Nature has really decided to be difficult you say, “Ok, Nature, that’s the end of the nice guy,” and you crank up the formal scientific method.
NOTE: He goes on to explain a bit of how to set up a lab book and experiment.
[p100] [Phaedrus] coined a law intended to have the humor of Parkinson’s law that “The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite.”
About this Einstein had said, “Evolution has shown that at any given moment out of all conceivable constructions a single one has always proved itself absolutely superior to the rest,” and let it go at that. But to Phaedrus that was an incredibly weak answer. The phrase “at any given moment” really shook him. Did Einstein really mean to state that truth was a function of time? To state that would annihilate the most basic presumption of all science!
[p134] You’re never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.
[p147] In any industrial situation a machine that isn’t checked out is a ‘down’ machine and can’t be sued even though it may work perfectly.
[pirsig says,] “What’s really angering about instructions of this sort is that they imply there’s only one way to put this rotisserie together–their way. And the presumption wipes out all the creativity. Actually there are hundreds of ways to put the rotisserie together and when they make you follow just one way without showing you the overall problem the instructions become hard to follow in such a way as not to make mistakes.”…
“But they’re from the factory,” John says.
“I’m from the factory too,” I say, “and I _know” haw instructions like this are put together. You go out on the assembly line with a tape recorder and the foreman sends you to talk to the guy he needs the least, the biggest goof-off he’s got, and whatever he tells you–that’s the instructions.[…]”
[p153] [Pirsig says,] “The trouble is that essays always have to sound like God talking for eternity, and that isn’t the way it ever is. People should see that it’s never anything other than just one person talking from one place in time and space and circumstance. It’s never been anything else, ever, but you can’t get that across in an essay.”
[p163] Quality … you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. […] What the hell is Quality? [”]
[p187] Up to now Phaedrus had been compelled by the academic system to say what he wanted, even though he knew that this forced students to conform to artificial forms that destroyed their own creativity. […]
Now that that was over with. By reversing a basic rule that all things which are to be taught must first be defined, he had found a way out of all this. He was pointing to no principle, no rule of good writing, no theory–but he was pointing to something, nevertheless, that was very real, whose reality they couldn’t deny. The vacuum that had been created by the withholding of grades was suddenly filled with the positive goal of Quality, and the whole thing fit together. Students, astonished, came by his office and said, “I used to just hate English. Now I spend more time on it than anything else.” Not just one or two. Many. The whole Quality concept was beautiful. It worked . It was that mysterious, individual, internal goal of each creative person, on the blackboard at last.
[p189] It made the kids at camp much more enthusiastic and cooperative when they had he ego goals to fulfill, I’m sure, but ultimately that kind of motivation is destructive. Any effort that has self-glorification has its final endpoint is bound and in disaster.[…]
To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because the it will be “here.” What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.
[p193] I was talking about the first wave of crystallization outside of rhetoric that resulted from Phaedrus’ refusal to define Quality. He had to answer the questions, If you can’t define it, what makes you think it exists?
His answer was an old one belonging to a philosophic school that called itself realism. “A thing exists,” he said, “if a world without it can’t function normally. If we can show that a world without Quality functions abnormally, then we have shown that Quality exists, whether it’s defined or not.” He thereupon proceeded to subtract Quality from a description of the world as we know it.
[…] If you can’t distinguish between good and bad in the arts they disappear. There’s no point in hanging a painting on the wall when the bare wall looks just as good. [And so on…]
[p224] [Phaedrus answering his colleagues at his school on the question of Quality.] “Any philosophic explanation of Quality is going to be both false and true precisely because it is a philosophic explanation. The process of philosophic explanation is an analytic process, a process of breaking something down into subjects and predicates. What I mean (and everybody else means) by the word quality cannot be broken down into subjects and predicates. This is not because Quality is so mysterious but because Quality is so simple, immediate and direct.
[p225] “The easiest intellectual analogue of pure Quality that people in our environment can understand is that ‘Quality is the response of an organism to its environment’ [Pirsig’s brackets: he used this example because his chief questioners seemed to see things in terms of stimulus-response behavior theory]. An amoeba, placed on a plate of water with a drip of dilute sulfuric acid placed nearby, will pull away from the acid(I think). If it could speak the amoeba, without knowing anything about sulfuric acid, could say, ‘This environment has poor quality.’[…]
“In our highly complex organic state we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality. We throw anyone who does not accept these analogues into an insane asylum. But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it.
“Now, to take that which has caused us to create the world, and include it within the world we have created, is clearly impossible.
NOTE: this is an ancient line of reasoning.
That is why Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself.”
I remember this fragment more vividly than any of the others, possibly because it is the most important of all. When he wrote it he felt momentary fright and was about to strike out the words “All of it. Every last bit of it.” Madness there. I think he saw it. But he couldn’t see any logical reason to strike these words out and it was too late now for faintheartedness. He ignored his warning and let the words stand. […]
[p226] He began to see that he had shifted away from his original stand. He was no longer talking about a metaphysical trinity but an absolute monism. Quality was the source and substance of everything.
[He discusses Hegel’s Absolute Mind, but rejects the parallel. He then struggles with Quality as a metaphysical entity or mystical entity. The focus of the original relationship is subject-object.]
Then, on impulse, Phaedrus went over to his bookshelf and picked out […] the 2,4000-year-old Tao_Te_Ching of Lao Tzu. […] He began to read and interpret it at the same time. He read:
“The quality that can be defined is not the Absolute Quality.”
That was what he had said.
[More Tao_Te_Ching verse/interpretation.]
[p233] It always seemed incredible to me, and still does, I guess, that Phaedrus should have traveled along a line of thought that had never been traveled before. […] So I spent more than a year reading […]
Eventually I came to Poincar'e. Here again there was little duplication but another kind of phenomenon. Phaedrus follows a long and tortuous path into the highest abstractions, seems about to come down and then stops. Poincar'e starts with the most basic scientific verities, works up to the same abstractions and then stops. Both trails stop _right_at_each_other’s_end! There is perfect continuity between them. When you live in the shadow of insanity, the appearance of another mind that think and talks as yours does is something close to a blessed event.
[p241] What guarantees the objectivity of the world in which we live is that this world is common to us with other thinking beings. Through the communications that we have with other men we receive from them ready-made harmonious reasonings. We know that these reasonings do not come from us and at the same time we recognize in them, because_of_their_harmony, the work of reasonable beings like ourselves. And as these reasonings appear to fit the world of our sensations, we think we may infer that these reasonable beings have seen the same thing as we; thus it is that we know we haven’t been dreaming. It is this harmony, this quality if you will, that is the sole basis for the only reality we can ever know.
Poincar'e’s contemporaries refused to acknowledge that facts are preselected because they thought that to do so would destroy the validity of scientific method. They presumed that “preselected facts” meant that truth is “whatever you like” and called his ideas conventionalism. They vigorously ignored the truth that their own “principle of objectivity” is not itself an observable fact–and therefore by their own criteria should be put in a state of suspended animation.
[p250] [Pirsig wants to show negative aspects of traditional maintenance.] The first is stuckness, a mental stuckness that accompanies the physical stuckness of whatever it is you’re working on. […] A screw sticks, for example, on a side cover assembly. You check the manual[…]
If you’re experienced you’d probably apply a penetrating liquid and an impact driver at this point. But suppose you’re inexperienced and you attach a self-locking plier wrench to the shank of your screwdriver and really twist it hard, a procedure you’ve had success with in the past, but which this time succeeds only in tearing the slot of the screw.
[p251] Your mind was already thinking ahead to what you would do when the cover plate was off, and so it takes a little time to realize that this irritating minor annoyance of a torn screw slot isn’t just irritating and minor. You’re stuck. Stopped. Terminated. […]
This isn’t a rare scene in science or technology. This is the commonest scene of all. [… This] is the worst of all moments, so bad that you have avoided even thinking about it before you come to it.
The book’s no good to you now. Neither is scientific reason. You don’t need any scientific experiments to find out what’s wrong. […] What you need is an hypothesis for how you’re going to get that slotless screw out of there and scientific method doesn’t provide any of these hypotheses. It operates only after they’re around.
This is the zero moment of consciousness. […] It’s a miserable experience emotionally. […]
It’s normal at this point for the fear-anger syndrome to take over and make you want to hammer on that side plate with a chisel, to pound it off with a sledge if necessary. […]
What you’re up against is the great unknown, the void of all Western thought. You need some ideas, some hypotheses. Traditional scientific method, unfortunately has never quite gotten around to saying exactly where to pick up more of these hypotheses. […]
[p252] We have been looking at that screw “objectively.” […] [What] we like or don’t like about that screw has nothing to do with our correct thinking. […] We should keep our mind a blank tablet […] then reason disinterestedly[.]
But when we [think] we begin to see this whole idea of disinterested observation is silly. Where are those facts? What are we going to observe disinterestedly? […] The speedometer? The sissy bar? As Poincar'e would have said, there are an infinite number of facts about the motorcycle, and the right ones don’t dance up and introduce themselves. […] [p253] We’re going to have to in there looking for them or we’re going to be here a very long time. Forever. As Poincar'e pointed out, there must be a subliminal choice of what facts we observe.
The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! This is an ability about which formal traditional scientific method has nothing to say. […] I think it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn’t destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice. […]
By returning our attention to Quality it is hoped that we can get technological work out of the noncaring subject-object dualism and back into craftsmanlike self-involved reality again, which will reveal to us the facts we need when we are stuck.
[p255] One doesn’t cling to old sticky ideas because one has an immediate rational basis for rejecting them. Reality isn’t static any more. […] With Quality as a central undefined term, reality is, in its essential nature, not static but dynamic. And when you really understand dynamic reality you never get stuck. It has forms but the forms are capable of change.
[p263] […] stylized food in stylized kitchens in stylized house. Plastic stylized toys for stylized children, who at Christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents. You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in awhile. It’s the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don’t know where to start because no has ever told them there’s such a think as Quality in this world and it’s real, not style. Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree must start.
[p264] Peace of mind isn’t at all superficial to technical work. It’s the whole thing. That which produces it is good work and that which destroys it is bad work. The specs, the measuring instruments, the quality control, the final check-out, these are all means toward the end of satisfying the peace of mind of those responsible for the work. What really counts in the end is their peace of mind, nothing else. The reason for this is that peace of mind is a prerequisite for a perception of that Quality which is beyond romantic Quality and classic Quality and which unites the two, and which must accompany the work as it proceeds. The way to see what looks good and understand the reasons it looks good, and to_be_at_one_with_this_goodness as the work proceeds, is to cultivate an inner quietness, a peace of mind so that goodness can shine through.
[p267] Programs of a political nature are important end_products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.
[p272] I like the word “gumption” because it’s so homely and so forlorn and so out of style it looks as if it needs a friend and isn’t likely to reject anyone who comes along. […] I like it also because it describes exactly what happens to someone who connects with Quality. He gets filled with gumption.
The Greeks called it enthousiasmos, the root of “enthusiasm,” which means literally “filled with theos,” or God, or Quality.[…]
A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. […]
[p273] The gumption filling-process process occurs when one is quiet long enough to see and hear and feel the real universe not just one’s own stale opinions about it. […]
If you’re going to repair a motorcycle, an adequate supply of gumption is the first and most important tool.
[p274] [A] detail that no shop manual goes into but that is common to all machines and can be given here. This is the detail of the Quality relationship, the gumption relationship, between the machine and the mechanic, which is just as intricate as the machine itself. Throughout the process of fixing the machine things always come up, low-quality things, from a dusted knuckle to an accidentally ruined “irreplaceable” assembly. These drain off gumption, destroy enthusiasm and leave you so discouraged you want to forget the whole business. I call these things “gumption traps.” […]
Gumptionology_101-An_examination_of_affective,_cognitive,_and psychomotor_blocks_in_the_perception_of_Quality_relationships-3 cr[edits]_VII,_MWF. I’d like to see that in a college catalog somewhere. […]
[p275] As one might guess from a definition as broad as this, the field is enormous and only a beginning sketch can be attempted here. [… There] are two main types of gumption traps. The first type are those in which you’re thrown off the Quality track by conditions that arise from external circumstances, and I call these “setbacks.” The second type are traps in which you’re thrown off the Quality track by conditions that are primarily within yourself. […] I’ll take up […] setbacks first.
[…] After days of work you finally have it all together except for: What’s this? A_connecting-rod_bearing_liner?! […] You can almost hear the gumption escaping. Psssssssssssss.
There’s nothing you can do but go back and take it all apart again…after a rest period of up to a month that allows you to get used to the idea. […]
It should be inserted parenthetically that there’s a school of mechanical thought which says I shouldn’t be getting into a complex assembly I don’t know anything about. I should have training or leave the job to a specialist. That’s a self-serving school of mechanical eliteness I’d like to see wiped out. That was a “specialist” who broke the fins on this machine. I’ve edited manuals written to train specialists for IBM, and what they know when they’re don isn’t that great. You’re at a disadvantage the first time around and it may cost you a little more because of parts you accidentally damage, and it will almost undoubtedly take a lot more time, but the next time around you’re way ahead of the specialist. You, with gumption, have learned the assembly the hard way and you’ve a whole set of good feelings about it that he’s unlikely to have.
[p277] The intermittent failure setback is next. In this the thing that is wrong becomes right all of a sudden just as you start to fix it. […They] become gumption traps when they fool you into thinking you’ve really got the machine fixed.
[p278] [The next] most common external gumption trap is the parts setback. Here a person who does his own work can get depressed in a number of ways. […] Dealers like to keep inventories small. […]
The pricing on parts is the second part of this gumption trap. It’s a well-known industrial policy to price the original equipment competitively, because the customer can always go somewhere else, but on parts to overprice and clean up. The price of a part is not only jacked up way beyond its new price; you get a special price because you’re not a commercial mechanic.
NOTE: nice word choice; he didn’t use professional. Too bad he doesn’t see the sexism in his writing, too.
One more hurdle yet. The part may not fit. […]
But it’s always a major gumption trap to get all the way home and discover that a new part won’t work.
[He goes on to describe getting to know your parts dealers, look for price cutters, bring the part to the dealer (+ evaluation tools), and finally machine your own parts.]
[p279] Time now to consider some of the internal gumption traps[. Three main types are:] those that block affective understanding, called “value traps”; those that block cognitive understanding, called “truth traps”; and those that block psychomotor behavior, called “muscle traps.” The value traps are by far the largest and the most dangerous group.
Of the value traps, the most widespread and pernicious is value rigidity. This is an inability to revalue [p280] what one sees because of a commitment to previous values. In motorcycle maintenance, you must rediscover what you do as you go. Rigid values makes this impossible. […]
The facts are there but you don’t see them. […]
What you have to do, […] is slow down–you’re going to have to slow down anyway whether you want to or not–but slow down deliberately and go over ground that you’ve been over before to see if the things you thought were important were really important and to…well…just stare at the machine. […]
[p281] [The] most striking example of value rigidity […] is the old South Indian Monkey Trap, which depends on value rigidity for its effectiveness. The trap consists of a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the [p282] monkey’s hand can go in, but too small for his fist with the rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped–by nothing more than his own value rigidity. He can’t revalue the rice. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable than capture with it. […]
[p283] The next one is important. It’s the internal gumption trap of ego. Ego isn’t entirely separate from value rigidity but one of the many causes of it.
If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened. Your ego isolates you from the Quality reality. When the facts show that you’ve just goofed, you’re not as likely to admit it. When false information makes you look good, you’re likely to believe it.
[p284] Anxiety, the next gumption trap, is sort of opposite of ego. You’re sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all. Often this, rather than “laziness,” is the real reason you find it hard to get started.
[…] The best way to break this [trap], I think, is to work out your anxieties on paper. Read every book and magazine on the subject. […]
When beginning a repair job you can list everything you’re going to do on little slips of paper which you then organize into proper sequence. You discover that you organize and then reorganize the sequence again and again as more and more ideas come to you. The time spent this way usually more than pays for itself in time saved on the machine and prevents you from doing fidgety things that create problems later on.
You can reduce your anxiety somewhat by facing the fact that there isn’t a mechanic alive that doesn’t louse up a job once in a while.
[p285] Boredom is the next gumption trap that comes to mind. This the opposite of anxiety and commonly goes with ego problems. Boredom means you’re off the Quality track, you’re not seeing things freshly, you’ve lost your “beginner’s mind” and your motorcycle is in great danger. Boredom means your gumption supply is low and must be replenished before anything else is done.
When you are bored, stop! Go to a show. Turn on the TV. Call it a day. Do anything but work on that machine. If you don’t stop, the next thing that happens is the Big Mistake, and then all the boredom plus the Big Mistake combine together in the one Sunday punch to knock all the gumption out of you and you are really stopped.
My favorite cure for boredom is sleep. […] My next favorite is coffee.
[p286] Impatience is close to boredom but always results from one cause: an underestimation of the amount of time the job will take. […]
Impatience is best handled by allowing an indefinite time for the job, particularly new jobs that require unfamiliar techniques; by doubling the allotted time when circumstances force time planning; and by scaling down the scope of what you want to do. […]
My favorite scaling-down exercise is cleaning up nuts and bolts and studs and tapped holes.[…] Another one is cleaning up tools that have been used and not put away and are cluttering up the place. This is a good one because one of the first warning signs of impatience is frustration at not being able to lay your hand on the tool you need right away. If you stop and put tools away neatly you will both find the tool and [p287] also scale down your impatience without wasting time or endangering the work.
The end of value traps, but you’re bound to discover more.
[p288] Truth traps are concerned with data that are apprehended and are within the boxcars of the train. For the most part these data are handled by conventional dualistic logic and [scientific method.] But there’s one trap that isn’t–the truth trap of yes-no logic. […]
Because we’re unaccustomed to it, we don’t usually see that there’s a third possible logical term equal to yes and no which is capable of expanding our understanding in an unrecognized direction. We don’t even have a term for it, so I’ll have to use the Japanese _mu”.
Mu means “no thing.” Like “Quality it points outside the process of dualistic discrimination. Mu simply says, “No class; not one, not zero, not yes, not no.” It states that the context of the questions is such that a yes or no answer is in error and should not be given. “Unmask the question” is what it says.
Mu becomes appropriate when the context of the question becomes too small for the truth of the answer. When the Zen monk Joshu was asked whether a dog had a Buddha nature he said “Mu,” meaning that if he answered either way he was answering incorrectly. The Buddha nature cannot be captured by yes or no questions.
That mu exists in the natural world investigated by science is evident. […]For example, it’s stated over and over again that computer circuits exhibit only two states, a voltage for “one” and a voltage for “zero.” […] Try to find a voltage representing one or zero when the power is off! […]
The mu answer is an important one. It’s told the scientist that the context of his [p290] question is too small for nature’s answer and that he must enlarge the context of the question. That is a very important answer! […]
Time to switch to [p291] psychomotor traps. […] Here by far the most frustrating gumption trap is inadequate tools.
[…]Buy good tools as you can afford them and you’ll never regret it. […]
[Bad] surroundings are a major gumption trap. Pay attention to adequate lighting. […] If you’re too cold, for example, you’ll hurry and probably make mistakes. If you’re too hot your anger threshold gets much lower. Avoid out-of-position work when possible. […]
There’s one [trap], muscular insensitivity, which accounts for some real damage. It results in part from lack of kinesthesia, a failure to realize that although the externals of a cycle are rugged, inside the engine are delicate precision parts which can be easily damaged by muscular insensitivity. There’s what’s called “mechanic’s feel,” which is very obvious to those who know what it is, but hard to describe to those who don’t; and when you see someone working on a machine who doesn’t have it, you tend to suffer with the machine.
[p292] It’s the way you live that predisposes you to avoid the traps and see the [p293] right facts. You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally. […] The making of a painting or the fixing of a motorcycle isn’t separate from your existence. If you’re a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren’t working on your machine, what trap avoidances, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together.
But if you’re a sloppy thinking six days a week and you really try to be sharp on the seventh, then maybe the next six days aren’t going to be quite as sloppy as the preceding six. What I’m trying to come up with on these gumption traps, I guess, is shortcuts to living right.
The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be “out there” and the person that appears to be “in here” are not two separate things. They grow toward Quality or fall away from Quality together.
[p323] My personal feeling is that this any further improvement of the world will be done: by individuals making Quality decisions and that’s all. […] We’ve had that individual Quality in the past, exploited it as a natural resource without knowing it, now it’s just about depleted. Everyone’s just about out of gumption. And I think it’s about time to return to the rebuilding of this American resource–individual worth.