Discover more from Richard Emerson's Substack
Pirsig, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Sacred
We’re half way through the cult-philosophy-classic novel “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig now, and it’s a fascinating read, especially through the lens of the brain hemispheres and the work and research of Iain McGilchrist.
The main character in the book recounts much of his earlier life story and how there is a constant tension between the “classic” and “romantic” ways of apprehending and experiencing the world, largely corresponding to the old cultures of sciences and the humanities in the Universities.
But what makes it especially fascinating is how Pirsig by intuition and introspection also discovers the battle between his own hemispheres, and increasingly understands the natures of the two. And then we see how his aspiration becomes to try to create a balance and unification of the two worlds.
Being on page 220, Pirsig is starting to find his way into the right hemisphere by relating to concepts that can be shown to exist, but cannot be clearly defined, focussing on the word “Quality”. And in some ways this beautifully parallels so many sacred traditions where the Divine cannot be named without diminishing it. What is experienced and understood intuitively, spiritually and emotionally with the RH, cannot be grasped by the words and language of the left hemisphere, without changing it into a linguistic representation, which is something else. And arguably the way to unite and unify the worlds will go through the RH, but necessitates to some extent a relation to something Sacred, the ineffable Beyond, or at least an openness to the Mystery of existence or something Divine.
In ancient wisdom the key to true enlightenment comes through intellectual humility, as a starting point for new learning and for receiving deeper insights. And then the process of unifying could gradually start melding together the two worlds of the hemispheres and create a new whole, in something that might at times resemble the nature, of a new rebirth.