LS Reality, Truth and Goodness in Pirsig's 4 levels

Jonathan B. Marder (
Tue, 11 Aug 1998 19:54:13 +0100

I previously wrote:-
>I realise that my young son provided the answer. "Daddy, was that a
>REAL story, or was it made up?" (his words). I answered that it was
>real and made up. He then realised the problem with his original
>question. All stories are real. All patterns are real. The story which
>has never been told is not (yet) a story. The pattern which has not yet
>been perceived has yet to exist.

I thought some more about my son's question, which should have been "Is
that a TRUE story?" What's interesting about this is that understanding
REALITY is the goal of metaphysics, while Plato's quest for the TRUTH
supposed to achieve the same - at least that's how I understand it and
how Pirsig describes it in ZAMM.
It's strange then that by replacing REAL by TRUE the meaning of the
question changes.
Actually, there is a third question: "is it GOOD?"

So let's ask 3 questions about patterns at each of Pirsig's 4 levels:-
1. Is it REAL?
2. Is it TRUE?
3. Is it GOOD?

At the inorganic level, a real pattern is a pattern observed, which is
something true. This is the basis of empiricism.
Whether the pattern is "good" depends on how well it persists.

At the biological level, an observed pattern is again real, but to be
true, it has to be true to the biological level.
The pattern of a dead cat is real, but it is no longer true to the
level. Once again, good must be related to persistence (or survival).

At the social level the answers are the same. Observed patterns are
always real, but not always true to the social level, and good depending
on their persistence.

At the intellectual level, all patterns are real but abstract. Good
patterns are the ones which prove useful. Newton's laws of motion proved
to be better patterns than Aristotle's, and are "good enough" to put a
man on the moon. That's why we remember and teach Newton's laws,
ensuring their persistence.
The test for truth is whether the pattern is consistent or inconsistent
with intellectual understanding - whether it fits or contradicts other
patterns. But there is no absolute way to determine *which* of two
contradictory patterns is true. Furthermore when it comes to an
intellectual construct like a story, the question of "truth" isn't
necessarily so important - it depends entirely on the purpose of the

What's remarkable about the above is that the answers to questions 1 and
3 are basically the same at each level, while question 2 is level
dependent. It seems to me that concepts of REALITY and GOOD (VALUE) thus
transcend the 4 levels of MoQ, while TRUTH is subordinate and only has
meaning within the level-context.

Now, I have (IMHO) a nice link back to the DQ/SQ split:-
DQ is the generator of REALITY and makes patterns available for
evaluation. SQ is the generator of VALUE and determines which patterns
are for keeps.

Basically, I've only thought this through superficially in the last day
or so, and would welcome criticism or further development of the idea.

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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