Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

29 Mar 2016

Category: book

Tags: book, great, life, nonfiction

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is not at all what I thought it was going to be. I had envisioned a book that had some general wisdom veiled in motorcycle maintenance metaphors, I was not expecting a full blown philosophy book. For much of my life, I have been in the Aristotelian camp, but lately I have been broadening my thought process because of a few points of life that still confuse me. This book opened new doors that I did not know existed so it took me longer to read and ponder, but I am quite glad I got around to reading this.

When I read paper books, I have never marked or highlighted them, I prefer to keep my books spotless. One nice thing about the Kindle is that I can highlight parts of the books I am reading without actually altering the book. I highlighted more passages in this book than I think any other I have read on my Kindle before. Putting those here I think is the best way to give an insight into what I found meaningful in this book and also give a flavor to what this book is actually about.

Some quotes I have comments about which are below the quote, some I just let stand on their own.

The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.

I thought this was quite true, sometimes you are so headdown in a problem that you refuse to see the solution in front of you.

Some things you miss because they're so tiny you overlook them. But some things you don't see because they're so huge.

What makes it hard to see is that where once [rationality] was used to get away from it all, the escape has been so successful that now it is the "it all" that the romantics are trying to escape. What makes his world so hard to see clearly is not its strangeness but its usualness. Familiarity can blind you too.

This maybe only makes sense in context, but basically the world was once devoid of rationality and so people used rationality to explain the unknown, but we are not in a place where rationality is so pervasive that people try to rebel against it without knowing that is what they are doing.

when you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he's insane, which is not to see him at all.

If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government.

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow.

I thought this was an eye opening way of looking at things. When you hear someone shouting to the mountain tops about something, it is usually because they are also working on convincing themselves.

people are asking if we must always suffer spiritually and esthetically in order to satisfy material needs.

"No one ever travels so high as he who knows not where he is going"

When you live in the shadow of insanity, the appearance of another mind that thinks and talks as yours does is something close to a blessed event.

Our concepts of space and time are also definitions, selected on the basis of their convenience in handling the facts.

Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding. An egoless acceptance of stuckness is a key to an understanding of all Quality

This is one of the main points of the book and something I found quite useful.

At the moment of pure quality, subject and object are identical. This is the tat tvam asi truth of the Upanishads, but it's also reflected in modern street argot. "Getting with it," "digging it," "grooving on it" are all slang reflections of this identity. It is this identity that is the basis of craftmanship in all the technical arts. And it is this identity that moden, dualistically conceived technology lacks. The creator of it feels no particular sense of identity with it. The owner of it feels no particular sense of identity with it. The user of it feels no particular sense of identity with it. Hence, by Phaedrus' definition, it has no Quality.

This is even more close to being the main point of the book.

a real understanding of what technology is--not an exploitation of nature, but a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both.

accurate basic description of modern American technology: stylized cars and stlized outboard motors and stylized typewriters and stylized clothes. Stylized refrigerators filled with stylized food in stylized kitchens in stylized houses. Plastic stylized toys for stylized children, who at Christmas and birthdays are in style with their stylish parents. You have to be awfully stylish yourself not to get sick of it once in a while. It's the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit by people who, though stylish, don't know where to start because no one has ever told them there's such a thing as Quality in this world and it's real, not style.

This felt right and reminded me a bit of Fight Club.

When one isn't dominated by feelings of separateness from what he's working on, then one can be said to "care" about what he's doing. That is what caring really is, a feeling of identification with what one's doing. When one has this feeling then he also sees the inverse side of caring. Quality itself.

a gumption trap, consequently, can be defined as anything that causes one to lose sight of Quality, and thus lose one's enthusiasm for what one is doing.

If you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened. Your ego isolates you from the Quality reality. When the facts show that you've just goofed, you're not as likely to admit it.

I was going to say that the machine doesn't respond to your personality, but it does respond to your personality. It's just that the personality that it responds to is your real personality, the one that genuinely feels and reasons and acts, rather than any false, blown-up personality images your ego may conjure up.

I have heard there are two kinds of welders: production welders, who don't like tricky setups and enjoy doing the same thing over and over again; and maintenance welders, who hate it when they have to do the same job twice. The advice was that if you hire a welder make sure which kind he is, because they're not interchangeable.

I found this pretty interesting because if you replace welder with software engineer or any number of other jobs then this remains a very true statement. I am aware of it in the tech industry as I have talked to a few people who essentially say exactly one or the other of these statements about themselves.

If you're a sloppy thinker the six days of the week you aren't working on your machine, what trap avoidances, what gimmicks, can make you all of a sudden sharp on the seventh? It all goes together.

the biggest gumption trap of all. The funeral procession! The one everybody's in, this hyped-up, fuck-you, supermodern, ego style of life that thinks it owns this country.

There are endless examples of how mythos differences direct behavior differences and they're all fascinating.

It's paradoxical that where people are the most closely crowded, in the big coastal cities in the East and West, the loneliness is the greatest.

the real evil isn't the objects of technology but the tendency of technology to isolate people into lonely attitudes of objectivity. It's the objectivity, the dualistic way of looking at things underlying technology, that produces the evil.

"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism," Kitto comments, "is not a sense of duty as we understand it--duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek areté, 'excellence'...we shall have much to say about areté. It runs through Greek life."

Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching! Not ethical relativism. Not pristine "virtue." But areté. Excellence. Dharma! Before the Church of Reason. Before substance. Before form. Before mind and matter. Before dialectic itself. Quality had been absolute.

Overall this book had a lot of quoteable parts and a lot of interesting perspectives on how to look at different aspects of life. It made me think differently and that is probably the highest praise I can give a book. I highly recommend the book even if you take a different view on what he is saying as it gives you something to think about in a uniquely styled book.

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