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Required Text

Amazon logo Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York, NY: William Morrow and Co., 1974. ISBN: 0688171664. (ZAAMM)

Related Resources

Some interesting information on Pirsig and the Chatauqua movement.

There is a useful guidebook to ZAAMM:
Amazon logo DiSanto, Robert L., and Thomas J. Steele. Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motocycle Maintenance. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, 1990. ISBN: 0688060692.

1 Introduction and Overview: Why Study "Feelings?"

Conduct and Administration of Subject
2 ZAAMM Part I

Human Systems: Levels and Aspects of Organization and Development

Affective Aspects in Human Systems from Cells to Societies

Insofar as possible, please follow the indicated order of activities. Also, everyone is to do solo homework - reading and writing assignments before meeting together as a study group.


And now we embark (in a way that is "virtual" in a textually mediated mental movie sense) with Robert Pirsig's nameless narrator on what is - on one level - a literal account of a cross-country motorcycle trip. But this is no ordinary travelogue. Before long we also meet up with the narrator"s (author's?) mysterious and ghostlike former self and alter ego, and are thus led through an "Inquiry into Values"

And now we embark (in a way that is "virtual" in a textually mediated mental movie sense) with Robert Pirsig's nameless narrator, his son Chris, and a couple of friends, the Sutherlands on what is - on one level - a literal account of a cross-country motorcycle trip. But this is no ordinary travelogue. There be ghosts! And, before long we also meet up with the narrator's (the author's autobiographer's?) mysterious and ghostlike former self and episodically alter ego, "Phaedrus" while the author deftly leads us through what he will teach us to see as the "high country of the mind." Using the machine as a metaphor for our "selves" we encounter many and varied (some very much down to earth and concrete, and some extremely philosophically esoteric and altogether intellectually abstract) things and events on this part of our own "inquiry into values"

Try to get as much of the reading as possible done before your first study group meeting; without fail be sure to complete the assignment before next class meeting. We expect all group members to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned portion of the text. (Note: We will be reading Parts I, II, III, and IV of ZAAMM in four successive weekly installments between now and session 6.).

Syllabus, Preliminary Information Form and Benchmark Questionaire (PDF), Timesheet (PDF)

Adler, Mortimer J. "How to Read a Difficult Book." Center for Applied Philosophy: The Radical Academy, n.d. [You are about to begin reading a difficult book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.]

ZAAMM. Part I, chapters 1-7, pp. 1-93.

Some questions to think about as you read (PDF)

Learning Means Changing - Perceiving and Responding Appropriately

Memory: Preserving and Applying the Lessons of Experience

Relations Involving both Stability and Change

What Is the Aim? To Maintain Prevailing Conditions? To Promote Change?

Evaluating Behavior. What Is Good? What Is Not Good?

Moral Reasoning and Ethical Decision-making

Keep going. Prepare for some rough passages through here! Hard problems will be raised; tough questions will be asked; go slow, but keep going!
a) What is a motorcycle?
b) What is a system?
c) What is the scientific method?
d) At the start of this section of the book the Chautauqua picks up on some earlier remarks about "the machine" and proceeds through a component systems analysis (what is that?) and a discussion of the scientific method. This leads back into the history of the development of scientific ideas. The section ends with a passage in which Pirsig has his narrator recall an episode from Phaedrus' past in which we find his former persona (and alter ego, the youthful university instructor he would have us believe he once was) pondering a puzzling remark that has just been made to him by a senior academic colleague. This leads him to put the question to his students and leads us directly to our own confrontation with the book's ultimate question: "What the hell is Quality? What is it?"

The answer that Pirsig puts in the words of his narrator and alter ego - is the very same one that Plato caused to come out of the mouth of the fabled Socrates - namely that truth and beauty are human social constructs; and that we recognize "quality" through an cognitively unknowable, inscrutable, unconscious and indescribable affect-laden mental/behavioral process of evaluation. The compellingness of the validity (psychological reality) of this process is comparable to that of Descartes' "cogito ergo sum."

In sum, the psychological reality of the fact of our affective experience is unquestionable. Accordingly, the importance of (e.g. "values") deserves to be acknowledged and inquired into -- notwithstanding its ultimately incomprehensible and indescribable character. Of course, it is precisely within the limits imposed by this affective process that we are able to rely upon ourselves in endeavoring to comprehend the world and its contents including ourselves. And it is thus the process of comprehension itself that we are aiming to explore in this class in a scientifically credible, pedagogically sound and educationally effective way.

Keep these concepts and pertinent questions that they raise (and your answers to them) "in mind" as you prepare to participate in and reflect upon the upcoming MFA Field Trip.

ZAAMM. Part II, chapters 8-15, pp. 97-184.

"Things of Beauty and Beholder's Eyes": A Field Trip in Search of Quality at the MFA


Why do you think the narrator refused to complete the trek up the mountain despite Chris's disappointment that they wouldn't be reaching the top? Is the threat of a rockslide real? Is he afraid to "meet" Phaedrus? Is he making a statement about ego relative to Zen philosophy? What is happening in the Chautauqua at this point in the book? Looking back on the parts you've already read, can you identify any other such correspondences between the contents of the Chautauqua, the description of the environment, and the characters' interactions?

MFA Fieldtrip Guide and Workbook

One of the main aims of the fieldtrip is to provide everyone in the class with a chance to share the experience of hands-on involvement in a reasonably well-bounded, timelimited, value-laden exercise. Toward this end, we embark on an expedition to an institution that serves, in effect, as a repository of objects ostensibly exemplifying "quality in the fine arts."

There, we will follow a tightly timed, roughly chronologically organized itinerary. In a relatively very short time, a significant fraction of the museum's many galleries will be traversed as you endeavor to locate, to examine (however many) objects, and to record and explain the cognitive and affective reactions (if any) engendered in you by the resulting encounter.

NOTE: the objects selected for this purpose comprise a minuscule subset of the several millions of objects of various kinds in the MFA collection. Please make every effort to carefully read the MFA Fieldtrip Guide and Workbook before the Field Trip. Be prepared to adhere, as closely as possible to the methods of procedure described in the Guide. To facilitate our follow-up, it would be most helpful for students who have access to a digital camera to bring it with them to the museum. For further details see the MFA Guide.

ZAAMM. Part III, chapters 16-26, pp. 187-326.

MFA Fieldtrip Guide and Workbook including the MFA Reaction Form

MFA Field Trip Follow-up: Evaluating the Experience
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is at once the story of a motorcycle journey across the country; a meditation on values and the concept of Quality; and an allegorical tale of a man coming to terms with his past. No doubt it can be described in many other ways as well. What is your definition of it? ZAAMM. Part IV, chapters 27-32, pp. 329-412.

Some further questions to think about (PDF)
6 Wrapping up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAAMM)

What is Quality in Education?
We are continuing from the previous class (#5) to read Part IV; you can revisit the notes about this last part of ZAAMM. ZAAMM. Part IV, chapters 27-32, pp. 329-412.

Amazon logo Smith, Page. "Mapping the Desert," and "Teaching." Chapters 1 and 4 in Killing the spirit: higher education in America. New York, NY: Viking, 1990, pp. 1-21 and 199-222. ISBN: 0670828173. (Excerpts)
7 Problématique du changement: "Paradigms Lost and Regained"

What Is a "Scientific Revolution?"

Changing Beliefs, Values and Practices in Science and Society

Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

It was our former MIT colleague, the late Thomas S. Kuhn who is generally credited with first using the word "paradigm" (from an Ancient Greek word meaning bothpattern and exemplar) to denote a core set of beliefs, values and practices prevailing within scientific communities at particular points in their organization and development. This core set is conceptually and materially composite, mentally and behaviorally compound, and neurobiologically, psychologically and socioculturally complex, and all the members of a scientific community are perforce expected to subscribe to it.

Both an historian and a philosopher of science, Kuhn saw the scientific enterprise as a process evolving through successive cycles in which experiments/observations predicated on those core beliefs, values and practices begin to generate findings that simply do not fit within the prevailing conceptual and material framework (paradigm). This disparity leads, in turn to a moment or period of "crisis" in which the anomalies come to be taken seriously and participants cast about for an alternative to the prevailing framework.

This is not uncommonly a bitterly contested process. For our purposes, however, an important point to consider is whether and in which respects scientific paradigms (which are themselves human social products) exhibit cognitive, affective and expressive modes of organization and development having their counterparts in the organization and development of other human systems at neurobiological, psychological and sociocultural levels. By now it should not surprise you to learn that the answer to be arrived at generally is affirmative.

C. P. Snow on "the two cultures"

Almost two decades before Pirsig's book appeared (1974) the British scientist and academic administrator, C. P. Snow famously introduced an obvious precursor and counterpart to Pirsig's "classical" and "romantic" perspectives. The notion that the paradigm prevailing in our own society, in its education system and its intellectual life, is seriously flawed is demonstrated, according to Snow, by the associated splitting and fragmentation of experience, sensibilities, paradigms and cultures. Plainly Pirsig's opposed "classical" and "romantic" perspectives thus owe a debt to Snow's view of the split between the arts or humanities on one hand, and the sciences on the other. And the public debate is still raging in the media (and to some extent in the academy) today.

For those of you who wish to pursue the matter further, please be advised that there is a recent reissue of Snow's "The Two Cultures" and a successor piece, "A Second Look" (in which Snow responded to the controversy four years later). The introduction by Stefan Collini, does a good job of charting the history and context of the debate, its implications and its afterlife. The importance of science and technology in policy run largely by non-scientists, the future for education and research, and the problem of fragmentation threatening hopes for a common culture are just some of the subjects discussed. 'Probably the most important statement on the role of science in society yet available.' - Discovery; 'One cannot fail to take Snow seriously or to recognise his commitment to the cause of peace, intelligent action and human betterment.' Scientific American; 'Obvious authority and moral intelligence.' The New Yorker 'Effective because of its obvious generosity of mind and basic sanity.' The Sunday Times.

Amazon logo Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN: 0226458083. (Original publication date: 1962) (Excerpts)

Amazon logo Snow, C. P. The Two Cultures. Introduction by Stefan Collini. Canto ed. London, UK; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN: 0521457300. (Original publication date: 1956)

Human Systems (PDF)
8 The Neuropsychology of Affect

The Emotional Brain
Amazon logo Damasio, Antonio. "Enter Feelings," "Of Appetites and Emotions," and "Feelings." Chapters 1, 2 and 3 in Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. 1st ed. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2003, pp. 1-8, 25-80, and 81-133. ISBN: 0151005575. (Excerpts)

Amazon logo Oatley, Keith, and Jenkins, Jennifer M. "Brain Mechanisms of Emotion." Chapter 5 in Understanding Emotions. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996, pp. 133-159. ISBN: 1557864950.

Viewing Assignment

"The Powers of Ten" (© Charles & Ray Eames and Pyramid Media). To view "The Powers of Ten", please visit Worlds: The Universe Within. (Videotape - viewing time 8 mins.)
9 The Science of Violence and Vice Versa? Here, we're asking you to go through a lot of material. Everyone should read the first two articles. Groups feeling overwhelmed by the volume of the assigned readings should feel free to jigsaw the other two articles (9-3 and 9-4) among themselves. Amazon logo Mark, Vernon H., and Frank R. Ervin. Violence and the Brain. 1st ed. New York, NY: Medical Dept., Harper & Row, 1970. ISBN: 0061416983. (Excerpts)

Amazon logo Chorover, S. L. "The Pacification of the Brain: From Phrenology to Psychosurgery." In Current Controversies in Neurosurgery. Edited by T. P. Morley. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 1976. ISBN: 0721665578.

———. "Physician vs. Researcher: Values in Conflict?" Wellesley 4 (1979): 21-27.

Amazon logo ——— "Violence: A Localizable Problem?" In The Psychosurgery Debate: Scientific, Ethical and Legal Perspectives. Edited by Elliot S. Valenstein. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman, 1980. ISBN: 0716711575.
10 Ethics of Science Amazon logo Frayn, Michael. Copenhagen. New York, NY: Anchor Books, 2000. ISBN: 0385720793. ((A play): text and Postscript)

Viewing Assignment

Copenhagen, BBC television adaptation of Michael Frayn's play, adapted and directed by Howard Davies.
(Viewing time 117 mins.)

Copenhagen Timeline to Copenhagen (PDF)
11 Environmental Values: What is "Sustainability?"

Environmental Values: What Does it Have to do with Affect?
Amazon logo Orr, David W. "The Problem of Sustainability." Chapter 1 in Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. ISBN: 0791408744. (Excerpt)

Chorover, S. L. Homework - An Environmental Literacy Primer. Cambridge, MA: Collaborative Learning Systems, 1995, pp. 36-39, sections 1 and 2 from the hardcopy (WORKBOOK) portion of an "electronic book" project intended to promote "sustainability" in a time of human/ecological crisis. (HomeWork: An Environmental Literacy Primer ©1995 Stephan L. Chorover/MIT)

Amazon logo Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2002. ISBN: 1572734345. (Excerpts) (Originally published: 1980)

Amazon logo The Foreword; Preface; Year In Review, Chapter 1 (The State Of Consumption Today), and Chapter 8 (Rethinking A Good Life). In Worldwatch Institute: State of the World 2004. Special Focus: The Consumer Society. Worldwatch Institute, January 2004. ISBN: 0393325393. (Excerpts)
12 Is "A New Way of Thinking" Conceivable?

Is a Paradigm Shift Necessary? Desirable? Possible?
Amazon logo Melucci, and Chorover. "Knowledge and Wonder: Beyond the Crisis of Modern Science?" In Overcoming the Language Barrier: Problems of Interdisciplinary Dialogue: proceedings of an international roundtable meeting, sponsored by the Center for Frontier Sciences at Temple University May 14-17, 1997. Edited by Robert G. Flower, T. F. Gordon, N. Kolenda, and L. Souder. Philadelphia, PA: Center for Frontier Sciences, Temple University, c1998, pp.76-90. ISBN: 0963327216.

Amazon logo Chorover. "Paradigms Lost and Regained: Changing Beliefs, Values and Practices in Neuropsychology." In Theories of the Evolution of Knowing. Edited by Gary Greenberg and Ethel Tobach. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum, 1990, pp. 87-106. ISBN: 0805807551.

Chorover, S. L. "Comparing and Contrasting Scientific Paradigms."In Homework -- An Environmental Literacy Primer. Cambridge, MA: Collaborative Learning Systems, 1995, pp. 36-39, table from the hardcopy (WORKBOOK) portion of an "electronic book" project intended to promote "sustainability" in a time of human/ecological crisis. (HomeWork: An Environmental Literacy Primer ©1995 Stephan L. Chorover/MIT.)
13 Term Project/Paper Presentations

Closure Discussion