Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

From Robert M. Pirsig’s wonderful 1974 book, the most read book on philosophy ever, this quote on how Aristotle, who had little respect for the great Sophists, started us on our sad path to alienation from the natural world, via the awesome engine of technology:

And the bones of the Sophists long ago turned to dust and what they said turned to dust with them and the dust was buried under the rubble of declining Athens through its fall and Macedonia through its decline and fall. Through the decline and death of ancient Rome and Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire and the modern states – buried so deep and with such ceremoniousness and such unction that only a madman centuries later could discover the clues needed to uncover them, and see with horror what had been done….

Pirsig, born in 1928, is still alive. Listening to this CBC podcast led me, belatedly, to him. His book is about how he challenged the university system on its perverted rationality in a single-minded, fanatical battle that drove him into isolation from his work and family. He was eventually committed to a mental institution where he was subjected to severe electroshock “therapy.” He eventually faked his “reform” in order to be released from the institution and later, in 1968, took a motorcycle trip with his teenage son, Chris, and two of his adult friends. The therapy had destroyed many of his memories. Calling his former, insane, self Phaedrus, he rebuilt Phaedrus’ thinking through these and other fragments: his notes, the memories of former friends and colleagues and his interaction on this trip with his alienated, troubled son, Chris.  He also read and reread philosophers, Greek mythology and history in the rebuilding process. This book is helping me in many ways. It adds new dimension and personal insight into how we got into the dangerous political/technological/moral/philosophical place in which we now, tenuously, live. It offers a process by which we just might get out of it. It helps to clarify, support, grow and even, perhaps, mellow my thinking on human issues and philosophical perspective. It may turn out to be the most important book I have ever read. I don’t think I’m giving too much away in giving you one more, very short, quote:

The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.

Below is a concept diagram that I have done that is my way of working on understanding and remembering Pirsig’s book. I have written many more notes. Simply reading something like this book doesn’t work for me.

A concept diagram to help my understanding
A concept diagram to help my understanding

My Sister’s Journey With Dr. “Z”

My sister, Anne, has gone through seven eye surgeries in the past 14 months, maintaining her sense of humour throughout. Eventually Anne began a history of her experiences. I suggested her story needs to be passed on, and she agreed.

Here is her incredible story in her own, very funny, upbeat words:

My Journey With Dr. “Z”

I would like to prelude my story by introducing myself. My name is Anne and I am a 66 year old woman who has struggled with severe myopia most of my life. You might ask why, in this day and age, did I just not receive corrective laser surgery as many have. I was told that, in order for this procedure to be a success, so many layers would need to be removed from my cornea that it would become dangerously thin. No one would do it.

Because of my extreme nearsightedness, I am particularly prone to developing an abundance of floaters. Floaters are black or mucous-like squiggly forms that swim around in my vitreous fluid and compromise my vision. At my age, all of my original floaters have now had grandchildren.

I also have an astigmatism: an imperfection in the curvature of my cornea; it affects the light that reflects into my eye, making my vision blurry without a corrective lens.

Finally I developed cataracts, but they were surely to be my saviour, as the surgery necessary to help my myopia could now be done and would be covered by the government. Despite all of my problems I was still confident that the cataract surgery would be straightforward.

My nearsightedness, which was almost a minus 15 prior to my first surgery, (minus 20 diopters is legally blind) has always been a challenge for me. For example, years ago I thought I was trying to coax a cat to come to me only to realize, as I got closer, that it was simply just rust on a mail box. Continue reading “My Sister’s Journey With Dr. “Z””