LS 4 levels and 3 interfaces

Jonathan B. Marder (
Mon, 3 Aug 1998 16:13:32 +0100

Hi Squad,

Clark wrote:
>Maggie, please don't write off Pirsig just when you are beginning to
>the questions that may lead to our greater enlightenment.
>I think Pirsig was wrestling with a concept that was clear to him, but
>remember, he had one shot to get his ideas across. He did not have
>anyone else to argue with as we do. ...

While I agree with the road Pirsig has chosen, I think his first steps
along it have been faltering. Complexity theory (levels of organisation)
is a good choice, but I don't see any special insight that Pirsig has
revealed. Perhaps this will come out of discussion on the LS.

Somewhere else in Lila, Pirsig states explicitly that inorganic and
biological levels correspond to the "Objects" of SOM, while the social
and intellectual correspond to the Subject. I was disappointed to see
that from Pirsig.

I took another look at Chapter 23 of Lila and found where Pirsig talks
about 5 levels of moral conflict which he gives as:-
1. Chaos vs. Inorganic patterns
2. Inorganic vs. Biological
3. Biological vs. Social
4. Social vs. Intellectual
5. static vs. Dynamic

I wish I had seen this earlier. Is "chaos" another level? Does it have
any patterns of value (surely not!)? What is it doing here? (I also
noticed that in discussing static vs. Dynamic, Pirsig usually
capitalises the *D* of Dynamic but not the *s* of static).

If we are going to talk about the *4* levels, we must discuss the 3
interfaces which define them (and ignore Pirsig's chaos, whatever that

I think virtually everybody has a clear idea of the distinction between
inorganic vs. biological (living vs. non-living). Aristotle also noticed
it. Yet, it's very hard to define the difference. Aristotle didn't know
about viruses and prions. How would he have regarded them? It's like
trying to delineate between desert and forest. Everyone knows the
difference, but there's no clear boundary between them (1-0 for
fuzziness). Darwinian evolution is all about quality of ORGANisation (10
out of 10 for that one Bo) within the biological level, but scientists
interested in the origin of life use similar principals of molecular
evolution (in the inorganic level). There is no credible theory of
sudden "creation" of life - rather all theories are based on EVOLUTION -
gradual change from inorganic to biological (2-0 for fuzziness).

It's much harder to find a basis for biological vs. social, but an
evolutionary approach would give a similar fuzzy boundary. Let's suppose
two evenly matched lions are fighting over some food. To resolve the
conflict biologically, their fight might threaten the survival of both,
but in practice, the conflict is resolved by "social rules" long before.
**Social rules provide a means for resolution of conflicts which arise
within the biological level.**
We can dress this up as social custom, mediate the conflict in a court
of law, but the principal is the same.
Evolution of social behaviour is very much part of Darwinism. Its
justification is to enhance protection of the individual as part of a
group. Let's say a group of apes are threatened by a leopard. Each ape
individually could take its best chance and try to escape. The majority
will escape, especially the strongest and fastest, but surely the
weakest will end up in the leopard's jaws. However, if the strongest
members of the group stay and fight, not only can the weaker members
escape, but also the defenders have a good chance of survival. Remember,
the weak members are not necessarily inferior, but include the young -
the future of the species.
Thus I find it hard to regard Society as anything other than an
extension of the biological level, and can't draw a clear boundary (3-0
for fuzziness).

Now what about the intellectual? To me, this is the only level which
Pirsig clearly distinguishes. When he talks about the novel in computer
memory, he is talking about an abstraction which doesn't properly exist
between the other levels. But there is another difference - whereas
Darwinian-type "natural selection" can provide a means for resolving
competing tendencies at the lower levels, the Intellect provides a means
of "selection by design". People don't randomly open businesses to see
what survives best. They first do market research. Architects,
engineers, physicians and teachers all PLAN their activities, even when
they use ideas which have never been tried before.

Thus, following from a discussion which began in the sci.philosophy.meta
newsgroup. I see the inorganic-biological-social levels as a continuum
(with distinct properties at the centre of each level), but the
intellect as being removed by abstraction (at last, one point for
non-fuzziness). However, I must admit that intellect must have EVOLVED
gradually, though I have yet to reconcile how abstraction can ever be
gradual (final score 4-1 for fuzziness).

Jonathan B. Marder <>
Department of Agricultural Botany, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Faculty of Agriculture, P.O.Box 12, Rehovot 76100, ISRAEL
Phone: +972 8 9481918 Fax: +972 8 9467763
Web page:

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