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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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If you have never read Robert Pirsig's book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", (1974), you are past due.

Here is a good cliff notes version of the key issues: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_A...cle_Maintenance

On Amazon:


In the book, the Narrator describes the "romantic" approach to life of his friend John Sutherland, who refuses to learn how to maintain his own expensive new BMW motorcycle. John simply hopes for the best with his bike, and when problems do occur he becomes extremely frustrated and is forced to rely on professional mechanics to repair it. In contrast, the Narrator has an older motorcycle which he is mostly able to diagnose and repair himself through the use of rational problem solving skills. The Narrator exemplifies the "classical" approach to life.

In another example, Pirsig explains to the reader how one should pay attention and learn: when the Narrator and his friends came into Miles City, Montana, he had noticed (second page of chapter 8) that the engine "idle was loping a little", a sign that the fuel/air mixture was too rich. The next day he is thinking of this as he is going through his ritual to adjust the valves on his cycle's engine, because it "has picked up a noise". In the process, he notes that both spark plugs are black, another sign of rich mixture. He solves the puzzle as he is thinking about the feel-good-higher-altitude-mountain-air; the altitude is causing the engine to run rich. New jets are purchased, and installed, and with the valves adjusted, the engine runs well. His cycle begins coughing and almost quits when they get into the mountains of Montana. This is a more severe altitude problem, but he knows it will go away when they get back to lower altitude. He does adjust the carburetor to prevent over heating on the way down.

With this, the book details two types of personalities: those who are interested mostly in gestalts (romantic viewpoints, such as Zen, focused on being "in the moment", and not on rational analysis), and those who need to know details, the inner workings, mechanics (classic viewpoints with application of rational analysis, vis-a-vis motorcycle maintenance) and so on.

The Sutherlands represent an exclusively romantic attitude toward the world. The Narrator initially appears to prefer the classic approach. It later becomes apparent that he understands both viewpoints and is aiming, not for the middle ground, but for the necessary ground that includes both. He understands that technology, and the "dehumanized world" it carries with it, appears ugly and repulsive to a romantic person. He knows that such persons are determined to shoehorn all of life's experience into the romantic view. Pirsig is capable of seeing the beauty of technology and feels good about mechanical work, where the goal is "to achieve an inner peace of mind". Zen and the Art demonstrates that motorcycle maintenance may be dull and tedious drudgery or an enjoyable and pleasurable pastime; it all depends on the inner attitude, or lack thereof.


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