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📚 Book: Zen: The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig; Read: 2018; Topics: what is quality, science, life and chaos

This book thought me that as an entity within a system, there are certain answers that cannot be found within the system, and  thus questions need to be asked outside the system, which creates the necessary opportunity to question the system itself.

The book centres around a quest to understand the concept of "Quality". It positions quality outside the commonly accepted rational and quantitave ways of understanding, and thus challenges the reader's ways to understand and percieve the world. In particular, the author makes the argument that while an individual can distinguish the good and the bad, Quality is neither subjective or objective. Flipping the paradigm of rationalizing Quality as either objective or subjective, Quality itself is what guides the objective or subjective understanding.

What I liked about this view is that it challenges the categorization of science vs art vs religion, and opens the door to a new understanding (and human existence) that is outside the boundaries dictated by science or art or religion.


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A good summary by LitCharts:

“He showed a way by which reason may be expanded to include elements that have previously been unassimilable and thus have been considered irrational. I think it’s the overwhelming presence of these irrational elements crying for assimilation that creates the present bad quality, the chaotic, disconnected spirit of the twentieth century.”

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Tangent thought related to Sagmeister’s book on beauty: good design is beautiful, beautiful has intention, intention is quality? Beauty is caring, quality is caring; beauty and quality are hard; beauty and quality are a process. Beauty and quality transcend process and result, and are a whole in of their own.

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I heard about the book for a while, bought it and let it sit for a few years. When I started reading "Thinking in Systems", the first page quoted this book, and so I knew it was time to read it.

If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves. ... There's so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.