Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : An Inquiry Into Values (Mass Market Paperback)
by Robert M. Pirsig
Synopsis: An autobiographical story of a man and his 13-year old son take a cross country motorcycle trip across the Midwest. Along the way he reflects deeply on philosophy, Zen, the struggle between art and technology and the nature of reality.
Summary: This is one of the most famous popular philosophy books out there. The sparse story line is merely a way for the author to reflect on his ideas. The narrator, Pirsig, tells us how he suffered a psychotic break earlier in his life. His persona before the break he calls “Phaderus”, supposedly meaning “wolf” in Greek.
Throughout the story, the narrator goes into long ruminations, what he calls Chataquas about various topics. He talks about how he is really into maintaining his bike, but his friends who ride motorcycles, are not. They don’t like thinking about the systems and technology behind it. Eventually this discussion leads to the ideas of romantic versus classic views of the world and objective versus subjective thinking. The narrator tells us how Phaderus grappled with this huge ideas, eventually combining Eastern and Western philosophies.
It stems from the idea of Quality. What is it? How do you define Quality? You know its there, but you can’t say what it is. The reason this is, according to the narrator that Quality is pre-intellectual. It is not that objects produce or inherently have Quality. It is that we perceive Quality, and that produces our ideas of the objects. A rather complicated and deep discussion of this follows.
He also talks about other topics such as stuckness, gumption, peace of mind, and the lack of caring in this world. Caring is what produces Quality.
Takeaway: Subjectivity and objectivity are two faces of the same coin. In order to produce Quality, you must care about what you are doing and have gumption.