Chris and I have had a good night's sleep and this morning have packed the backpacks carefully, and now have been going up the mountainside for about an hour. The forest here at the bottom of the canyon is mostly pine, with a few aspen and broad-leafed shrubs. Steep canyon walls rise way above us on both sides. Occasionally the trail opens into a patch of sunlight and grass that edges the canyon stream, but soon it reenters the deep shade of the pines. The earth of the trail is covered with a soft springy duff of pine needles. It is very quiet here.
Mountains like these and travelers in the mountains and events that happen to them here are found not only in Zen literature but in the tales of every major religion. The allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make. Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships. Some travel into the mountains accompanied by experienced guides who know the best and least dangerous routes by which they arrive at their destination. Still others, inexperienced and untrusting, attempt to make their own routes. Few of these are successful, but occasionally some, by sheer will and luck and grace, do make it. Once there they become more aware than any of the others that there's no single or fixed number of routes. There are as many routes as there are individual souls.
I want to talk now about Phædrus' exploration into the meaning of the term Quality, an exploration which he saw as a route through the mountains of the spirit. As best I can puzzle it out, there were two distinct phases.
In the first phase he made no attempt at a rigid, systematic definition of what he was talking about. This was a happy, fulfilling and creative phase. It lasted most of the time he taught at the school back in the valley behind us.
The second phase emerged as a result of normal intellectual criticism of his lack of definition of what he was talking about. In this phase he made systematic, rigid statements about what Quality is, and worked out an enormous hierarchic structure of thought to support them. He literally had to move heaven and earth to arrive at this systematic understanding and when he was done felt he'd achieved an explanation of existence and our consciousness of it better than any that had existed before.
If it was truly a new route over the mountain it's certainly a needed one. For more than three centuries now the old routes common in this hemisphere have been undercut and almost washed out by the natural erosion and change of the shape of the mountain wrought by scientific truth. The early climbers established paths that were on firm ground with an accessibility that appealed to all, but today the Western routes are all but closed because of dogmatic inflexibility in the face of change. To doubt the literal meaning of the words of Jesus or Moses incurs hostility from most people, but it's just a fact that if Jesus or Moses were to appear today, unidentified, with the same message he spoke many years ago, his mental stability would be challenged. This isn't because what Jesus or Moses said was untrue or because modern society is in error but simply because the route they chose to reveal to others has lost relevance and comprehensibility. "Heaven above" fades from meaning when space-age consciousness asks, Where is "above"? But the fact that the old routes have tended, because of language rigidity, to lose their everyday meaning and become almost closed doesn't mean that the mountain is no longer there. It's there and will be there as long as consciousness exists.
Phædrus' second metaphysical phase was a total disaster. Before the electrodes were attached to his head he'd lost everything tangible: money, property, children; even his rights as a citizen had been taken away from him by order of the court. All he had left was his one crazy lone dream of Quality, a map of a route across the mountain, for which he had sacrificed everything. Then, after the electrodes were attached, he lost that.
I will never know all that was in his head at that time, nor will anyone else. What's left now is just fragments: debris, scattered notes, which can be pieced together but which leave huge areas unexplained.
When I first discovered this debris I felt like some agricultural peasant near the outskirts of, say, Athens, who occasionally and without much surprise plows up stones that have strange designs on them. I knew that these were part of some larger overall design that had existed in the past, but it was far beyond my comprehension. At first I deliberately avoided them, paid no attention to them because I knew these stones had caused some kind of trouble I should avoid. But I could see even then that they were a part of a huge structure of thought and I was curious about it in a secret sort of way.
Later, when I developed more confidence in my immunity to his affliction, I became interested in this debris in a more positive way and began to jot down the fragments amorphically, that is, without regard to form, in the order in which they occurred to me. Many of these amorphic statements have been supplied by friends. There are thousands of them now, and although only a small portion of them can fit into this Chautauqua, this Chautauqua is clearly based on them.
It is probably a long way from what he thought. When trying to recreate a whole pattern by deduction from fragments I am bound to commit errors and put down inconsistencies, for which I must ask some indulgence. In many cases the fragments are ambiguous; a number of different conclusions could be drawn. If something is wrong there's a good chance that the error isn't in what he thought but in my reconstruction of it, and a better reconstruction can later be found.
A whirr sounds and a partridge disappears through the trees.
"Did you see it?" says Chris.
"Yes," I say back.
"What was it?"
"How do you know?"
"They rock back and forth like that when they fly," I say. I'm not sure of this but it sounds right. "They stay close to the ground too."
"Oh," says Chris and we continue hiking. The rays of the sun create a cathedral effect through the pines.
Today now I want to take up the first phase of his journey into Quality, the nonmetaphysical phase, and this will be pleasant. It's nice to start journeys pleasantly, even when you know they won't end that way. Using his class notes as reference material I want to reconstruct the way in which Quality became a working concept for him in the teaching of rhetoric. His second phase, the metaphysical one, was tenuous and speculative, but this first phase, in which he simply taught rhetoric, was by all accounts solid and pragmatic and probably deserves to be judged on its own merits, independently of the second phase.
He'd been innovating extensively. He'd been having trouble with students who had nothing to say. At first he thought it was laziness but later it became apparent that it wasn't. They just couldn't think of anything to say.
One of them, a girl with strong-lensed glasses, wanted to write a five-hundred-word essay about the United States. He was used to the sinking feeling that comes from statements like this, and suggested without disparagement that she narrow it down to just Bozeman.
When the paper came due she didn't have it and was quite upset. She had tried and tried but she just couldn't think of anything to say.
He had already discussed her with her previous instructors and they'd confirmed his impressions of her. She was very serious, disciplined and hardworking, but extremely dull. Not a spark of creativity in her anywhere. Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, were the eyes of a drudge. She wasn't bluffing him, she really couldn't think of anything to say, and was upset by her inability to do as she was told.
It just stumped him. Now he couldn't think of anything to say. A silence occurred, and then a peculiar answer: "Narrow it down to the main street of Bozeman." It was a stroke of insight.
She nodded dutifully and went out. But just before her next class she came back in real distress, tears this time, distress that had obviously been there for a long time. She still couldn't think of anything to say, and couldn't understand why, if she couldn't think of anything about all of Bozeman, she should be able to think of something about just one street.
He was furious. "You're not looking!" he said. A memory came back of his own dismissal from the University for having too much to say. For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses. The more you look the more you see. She really wasn't looking and yet somehow didn't understand this.
He told her angrily, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick."
Her eyes, behind the thick-lensed glasses, opened wide. She came in the next class with a puzzled look and handed him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana. "I sat in the hamburger stand across the street," she said, "and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn't stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don't understand it."
Neither did he, but on long walks through the streets of town he thought about it and concluded she was evidently stopped with the same kind of blockage that had paralyzed him on his first day of teaching. She was blocked because she was trying to repeat, in her writing, things she had already heard, just as on the first day he had tried to repeat things he had already decided to say. She couldn't think of anything to write about Bozeman because she couldn't recall anything she had heard worth repeating. She was strangely unaware that she could look and see freshly for herself, as she wrote, without primary regard for what had been said before. The narrowing down to one brick destroyed the blockage because it was so obvious she had to do some original and direct seeing.
He experimented further. In one class he had everyone write all hour about the back of his thumb. Everyone gave him funny looks at the beginning of the hour, but everyone did it, and there wasn't a single complaint about "nothing to say."
In another class he changed the subject from the thumb to a coin, and got a full hour's writing from every student. In other classes it was the same. Some asked, "Do you have to write about both sides?" Once they got into the idea of seeing directly for themselves they also saw there was no limit to the amount they could say. It was a confidence-building assignment too, because what they wrote, even though seemingly trivial, was nevertheless their own thing, not a mimicking of someone else's. Classes where he used that coin exercise were always less balky and more interested.
As a result of his experiments he concluded that imitation was a real evil that had to be broken before real rhetoric teaching could begin. This imitation seemed to be an external compulsion. Little children didn't have it. It seemed to come later on, possibly as a result of school itself.
That sounded right, and the more he thought about it the more right it sounded. Schools teach you to imitate. If you don't imitate what the teacher wants you get a bad grade. Here, in college, it was more sophisticated, of course; you were supposed to imitate the teacher in such a way as to convince the teacher you were not imitating, but taking the essence of the instruction and going ahead with it on your own. That got you A's. Originality on the other hand could get you anything...from A to F. The whole grading system cautioned against it.
He discussed this with a professor of psychology who lived next door to him, an extremely imaginative teacher, who said, "Right. Eliminate the whole degree-and-grading system and then you'll get real education."
Phædrus thought about this, and when weeks later a very bright student couldn't think of a subject for a term paper, it was still on his mind, so he gave it to her as a topic. She didn't like the topic at first, but agreed to take it anyway.
Within a week she was talking about it to everyone, and within two weeks had worked up a superb paper. The class she delivered it to didn't have the advantage of two weeks to think about the subject, however, and was quite hostile to the whole idea of eliminating grades and degrees. This didn't slow her down at all. Her tone took on an old-time religious fervor. She begged the other students to listen, to understand this was really right. "I'm not saying this for him," she said and glanced at Phædrus. "It's for you."
Her pleading tone, her religious fervor, greatly impressed him, along with the fact that her college entrance examinations had placed her in the upper one percent of the class. During the next quarter, when teaching "persuasive writing," he chose this topic as a "demonstrator," a piece of persuasive writing he worked up by himself, day by day, in front of and with the help of the class.
He used the demonstrator to avoid talking in terms of principles of composition, all of which he had deep doubts about. He felt that by exposing classes to his own sentences as he made them, with all the misgivings and hang-ups and erasures, he would give a more honest picture of what writing was like than by spending class time picking nits in completed student work or holding up the completed work of masters for emulation. This time he developed the argument that the whole grading system and degree should be eliminated, and to make it something that truly involved the students in what they were hearing, he withheld all grades during the quarter.
Just up above the top of the ridge the snow can be seen now. On foot it's many days away though. The rocks below it are too steep for a direct hiking climb, particularly with the heavy loads we are carrying, and Chris is way too young for any kind of ropes-and- pitons stuff. We must cross over the forested ridge we are now approaching, enter another canyon, follow it to its end and then come back at an upward angle along to the ridge. Three days hard to the snow. Four days easy. If we don't show up in nine, DeWeese will start looking for us.
We stop for a rest, sit down and brace against a tree so that we don't topple over backward from the packs. After a while I reach around over my shoulder, take the machete from the top of my pack and hand it to Chris.
"See those two aspens over there? The straight ones? At the edge?" I point to them. "Cut those down about a foot from the ground."
"We'll need them later for hiking sticks and tent poles."
Chris takes the machete, starts to rise but then settles back again. "You cut them," he says.
So I take the machete and go over and cut the poles. They both cut neatly in one swing, except for the final strip of bark, which I sever with the back hook of the machete. Up in the rocks you need the poles for balancing and the pine up above is no good for poles, and this is about the last of the aspen here. It bothers me a little though that Chris is turning down work. Not a good sign in the mountains.
A short rest and then on we go. It'll take a while to get used to this load. There's a negative reaction to all the weight. As we go on though, it'll become more natural -- .
Phædrus' argument for the abolition of the degree-and- grading system produced a nonplussed or negative reaction in all but a few students at first, since it seemed, on first judgment, to destroy the whole University system. One student laid it wide open when she said with complete candor, "Of course you can't eliminate the degree and grading system. After all, that's what we're here for."
She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic attitude.
The demonstrator was an argument that elimination of grades and degrees would destroy this hypocrisy. Rather than deal with generalities it dealt with the specific career of an imaginary student who more or less typified what was found in the classroom, a student completely conditioned to work for a grade rather than for the knowledge the grade was supposed to represent.
Such a student, the demonstrator hypothesized, would go to his first class, get his first assignment and probably do it out of habit. He might go to his second and third as well. But eventually the novelty of the course would wear off and, because his academic life was not his only life, the pressure of other obligations or desires would create circumstances where he just would not be able to get an assignment in.
Since there was no degree or grading system he would incur no penalty for this. Subsequent lectures which presumed he'd completed the assignment might be a little more difficult to understand, however, and this difficulty, in turn, might weaken his interest to a point where the next assignment, which he would find quite hard, would also be dropped. Again no penalty.
In time his weaker and weaker understanding of what the lectures were about would make it more and more difficult for him to pay attention in class. Eventually he would see he wasn't learning much; and facing the continual pressure of outside obligations, he would stop studying, feel guilty about this and stop attending class. Again, no penalty would be attached.
But what had happened? The student, with no hard feelings on anybody's part, would have flunked himself out. Good! This is what should have happened. He wasn't there for a real education in the first place and had no real business there at all. A large amount of money and effort had been saved and there would be no stigma of failure and ruin to haunt him the rest of his life. No bridges had been burned.
The student's biggest problem was a slave mentality which had been built into him by years of carrot-and- whip grading, a mule mentality which said, "If you don't whip me, I won't work." He didn't get whipped. He didn't work. And the cart of civilization, which he supposedly was being trained to pull, was just going to have to creak along a little slower without him.
This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, "the system," is pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, "location" point of view, but it's not the Church attitude.
The Church attitude is that civilization, or "the system" or "society" or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.
The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he'd abandoned, in what used to be called the "school of hard knocks." Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe as a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that's what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he'd found his level. But don't count on it.
In time...six months; five years, perhaps...a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shopwork. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now become reawakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He'd think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn't have the theoretical information. He would discover that when before he felt stupid because of his lack of interest in theoretical information, he'd now find a brand of theoretical information which he'd have a lot of respect for, namely, mechanical engineering.
So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He'd no longer be a grade-motivated person. He'd be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He'd be a free man. He wouldn't need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors assigned him were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He'd be there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they'd better come up with it.
Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless, degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn't stop with rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his sphere of interest because he'd see he needed them. Metallurgy and electrical engineering would come up for attention. And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these abstract studies gave him, he would he likely to branch out into other theoretical areas that weren't directly related to machines but had become a part of a newer larger goal. This larger goal wouldn't be the imitation of education in Universities today, glossed over and concealed by grades and degrees that give the appearance of something happening when, in fact, almost nothing is going on. It would be the real thing.
Such was Phædrus' demonstrator, his unpopular argument, and he worked on it all quarter long, building it up and modifying it, arguing for it, defending it. All quarter long papers would go back to the students with comments but no grades, although the grades were entered in a book.
As I said before, at first almost everyone was sort of nonplussed. The majority probably figured they were stuck with some idealist who thought removal of grades would make them happier and thus work harder, when it was obvious that without grades everyone would just loaf. Many of the students with A records in previous quarters were contemptuous and angry at first, but because of their acquired self-discipline went ahead and did the work anyway. The B students and high-C students missed some of the early assignments or turned in sloppy work. Many of the low-C and D students didn't even show up for class. At this time another teacher asked him what he was going to do about this lack of response.
"Outwait them," he said.
His lack of harshness puzzled the students at first, then made them suspicious. Some began to ask sarcastic questions. These received soft answers and the lectures and speeches proceeded as usual, except with no grades.
Then a hoped-for phenomenon began. During the third or fourth week some of the A students began to get nervous and started to turn in superb work and hang around after class with questions that fished for some indication as to how they were doing. The B and high-C students began to notice this and work a little and bring up the quality of their papers to a more usual level. The low C, D and future F's began to show up for class just to see what was going on.
After midquarter an even more hoped-for phenomenon took place. The A-rated students lost their nervousness and became active participants in everything that went on with a friendliness that was uncommon in a grade-getting class. At this point the B and C students were in a panic, and turned in stuff that looked as though they'd spent hours of painstaking work on it. The D's and F's turned in satisfactory assignments.
In the final weeks of the quarter, a time when normally everyone knows what his grade will be and just sits back half asleep, Phædrus was getting a kind of class participation that made other teachers take notice. The B's and C's had joined the A's in friendly free-for-all discussion that made the class seem like a successful party. Only the D's and F's sat frozen in their chairs, in a complete internal panic.
The phenomenon of relaxation and friendliness was explained later by a couple of students who told him, "A lot of us got together outside of class to try to figure out how to beat this system. Everyone decided the best way was just to figure you were going to fail and then go ahead and do what you could anyway. Then you start to relax. Otherwise you go out of your mind!"
The students added that once you got used to it it wasn't so bad, you were more interested in the subject matter, but repeated that it wasn't easy to get used to.
At the end of the quarter the students were asked to write an essay evaluating the system. None of them knew at the time of writing what his or her grade would be. Fifty-four percent opposed it. Thirty-seven percent favored it. Nine percent were neutral.
On the basis of one man, one vote, the system was very unpopular. The majority of students definitely wanted their grades as they went along. But when Phædrus broke down the returns according to the grades that were in his book...and the grades were not out of line with grades predicted by previous classes and entrance evaluations...another story was told. The A students were 2 to 1 in favor of the system. The B and C students were evenly divided. And the D's and F's were unanimously opposed!
This surprising result supported a hunch he had had for a long time: that the brighter, more serious students were the least desirous of grades, possibly because they were more interested in the subject matter of the course, whereas the dull or lazy students were the most desirous of grades, possibly because grades told them if they were getting by.
As DeWeese said, from here straight south you can go seventy-five miles through nothing but forests and snow without ever encountering a road, although there are roads to the east and the west. I've arranged it so that if things work out badly at the end of the second day we'll be near a road that can get us back fast. Chris doesn't know about this, and it would hurt his YMCA-camp sense of adventure to tell him, but after enough trips into the high country, the YMCA desire for adventure diminishes and the more substantial benefits of cutting down risks appear. This country can be dangerous. You take one bad step in a million, sprain an ankle, and then you find out how far from civilization you really are.
This is apparently a seldom-entered canyon this far up. After another hour of hiking we see that the trail is about gone.
Phædrus thought withholding grades was good, according to his notes, but he didn't give it scientific value. In a true experiment you keep constant every cause you can think of except one, and then see what the effects are of varying that one cause. In the classroom you can never do this. Student knowledge, student attitude, teacher attitude, all change from all kinds of causes which are uncontrollable and mostly unknowable. Also, the observer in this case is himself one of the causes and can never judge his effects without altering his effects. So he didn't attempt to draw any hard conclusions from all this, he just went ahead and did what he liked.
The movement from this to his enquiry into Quality took place because of a sinister aspect of grading that the withholding of grades exposed. Grades really cover up failure to teach. A bad instructor can go through an entire quarter leaving absolutely nothing memorable in the minds of his class, curve out the scores on an irrelevant test, and leave the impression that some have learned and some have not. But if the grades are removed the class is forced to wonder each day what it's really learning. The questions, What's being taught? What's the goal? How do the lectures and assignments accomplish the goal? become ominous. The removal of grades exposes a huge and frightening vacuum.
What was Phædrus trying to do, anyway? This question became more and more imperative as he went on. The answer that had seemed right when he started now made less and less sense. He had wanted his students to become creative by deciding for themselves what was good writing instead of asking him all the time. The real purpose of withholding the grades was to force them to look within themselves, the only place they would ever get a really right answer.
But now this made no sense. If they already knew what was good and bad, there was no reason for them to take the course in the first place. The fact that they were there as students presumed they did not know what was good or bad. That was his job as instructor...to tell them what was good or bad. The whole idea of individual creativity and expression in the classroom was really basically opposed to the whole idea of the University.
For many of the students, this withholding created a Kafkaesque situation in which they saw they were to be punished for failure to do something but no one would tell them what they were supposed to do. They looked within themselves and saw nothing and looked at Phædrus and saw nothing and just sat there helpless, not knowing what to do. The vacuum was deadly. One girl suffered a nervous breakdown. You cannot withhold grades and sit there and create a goalless vacuum. You have to provide some goal for a class to work toward that will fill that vacuum. This he wasn't doing.
He couldn't. He could think of no possible way he could tell them what they should work toward without falling back into the trap of authoritarian, didactic teaching. But how can you put on the blackboard the mysterious internal goal of each creative person?
The next quarter he dropped the whole idea and went back to regular grading, discouraged, confused, feeling he was right but somehow it had come out all wrong. When spontaneity and individuality and really good original stuff occurred in a classroom it was in spite of the instruction, not because of it. This seemed to make sense. He was ready to resign. Teaching dull conformity to hateful students wasn't what he wanted to do.
He'd heard that Reed College in Oregon withheld grades until graduation, and during the summer vacation he went there but was told the faculty was divided on the value of withholding grades and that no one was tremendously happy about the system. During the rest of the summer his mood became depressed and lazy. He and his wife camped a lot in those mountains. She asked why he was so silent all the time but he couldn't say why. He was just stopped. Waiting. For that missing seed crystal of thought that would suddenly solidify everything.
It's looking bad for Chris. For a while he was way ahead of me and now he sits under a tree and rests. He doesn't look at me, and that's how I know it's bad.
I sit down next to him and his expression is distant. His face is flushed and I can see he's exhausted. We sit and listen to the wind through the pines.
I know eventually he'll get up and keep going but he doesn't know this, and is afraid to face the possibility that his fear creates: that he may not be able to climb the mountain at all. I remember something Phædrus had written about these mountains and tell it to Chris now.
"Years ago," I tell him, "your mother and I were at the timberline not so far from here and we camped near a lake with a marsh on one side."
He doesn't look up but he's listening.
"At about dawn we heard falling rocks and we thought it must be an animal, except that animals don't usually clatter around. Then I heard a squishing sound in the marsh and we were really wide-awake. I got out of the sleeping bag slowly and got our revolver from my jacket and crouched by a tree."
Now Chris's attention is distracted from his own problems.
"There was another squish," I say. "I thought it could be horses with dudes packing in, but not at this hour. Another squish! And a loud galoomph! That's no horse! And a Gallomph! and a GALOOMPH! And there, in the dim grey light of dawn coming straight for me through the muck of the marsh, was the biggest bull moose I ever saw. Horns as wide as a man is tall. Next to the grizzly the most dangerous animal in the mountains. Some say the worst."
Chris's eyes are bright again.
"GALOOMPH! I cocked the hammer on the revolver, thinking a thirty-eight Special wasn't very much for a moose. GALOOMPH! He didn't SEE me! GALOOMPH! I couldn't get out of his way. Your mother was in the sleeping bag right in his path. GALOOMPH! What a GIANT! GALOOMPH! He's ten yards away! GALOOMPH! I stand up and take aim. GALOOMPH! -- GALOOMPH! -- GALOOMPH! -- He stops, THREE YARDS AWAY, and sees me -- . The gunsights lie right between his eyes -- . We're motionless."
I reach around into my pack and get out some cheese.
"Then what happened?" Chris asks.
"Wait until I cut off some of this cheese."
I remove my hunting knife and hold the cheese wrapper so that my fingers don't get on it. I slice out a quarter-inch hunk and hold it out for him.
He takes it. "Then what happened?"
I watch until he takes his first bite. "That bull moose looked at me for what must have been five seconds. Then he looked down at your mother. Then he looked at me again, and at the revolver which was practically lying on top of his big round nose. And then he smiled and slowly walked away."
"Oh," says Chris. He looks disappointed.
"Normally when they're confronted like that they'll charge," I say, "but he just thought it was a nice morning, and we were there first, so why make trouble? And that's why he smiled."
"Can they smile?"
"No, but it looked that way."
I put the cheese away and add, "Later on that day we were jumping from boulder to boulder down the side of a slope. I was about to land on a great big brown boulder when all of a sudden the great big brown boulder jumped into the air and ran off into the woods. It was the same moose -- .I think that moose must have been pretty sick of us that day."
I help Chris get to his feet. "You were going a little too fast," I say. "Now the mountainside's becoming steep and we have to go slowly. If you go too fast you get winded and when you get winded you get dizzy and that weakens your spirit and you think, I can't do it. So go slow for a while."
"I'll stay behind you," he says.
We walk now away from the stream we were following, up the canyon side at the shallowest angle I can find.
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you're no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn't just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It's the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here's where things grow.
But of course, without the top you can't have any sides. It's the top that defines the sides. So on we go -- we have a long way -- no hurry -- just one step after the next -- with a little Chautauqua for entertainment -- .Mental reflection is so much more interesting than TV it's a shame more people don't switch over to it. They probably think what they hear is unimportant but it never is.
There's a large fragment concerning Phædrus' first class after he gave that assignment on "What is quality in thought and statement?" The atmosphere was explosive. Almost everyone seemed as frustrated and angered as he had been by the question.
"How are we supposed to know what quality is?" they said. "You're supposed to tell us!"
Then he told them he couldn't figure it out either and really wanted to know. He had assigned it in the hope that somebody would come up with a good answer. That ignited it. A roar of indignation shook the room. Before the commotion had settled down another teacher had stuck his head in the door to see what the trouble was.
"It's all right," Phædrus said. "We just accidentally stumbled over a genuine question, and the shock is hard to recover from." Some students looked curious at this, and the noise simmered down.
He then used the occasion for a short return to his theme of "Corruption and Decay in the Church of Reason." It was a measure of this corruption, he said, that students should be outraged by someone trying to use them to seek the truth. You were supposed to fake this search for the truth, to imitate it. To actually search for it was a damned imposition.
The truth was, he said, that he genuinely did want to know what they thought, not so that he could put a grade on it, but because he really wanted to know.
They looked puzzled.
"I sat there all night long," one said.
"I was ready to cry, I was so mad," a girl next to the window said.
"You should warn us," a third said.
"How could I warn you," he said, "when I had no idea how you'd react?"
Some of the puzzled ones looked at him with a first dawning. He wasn't playing games. He really wanted to know.
A most peculiar person.
Then someone said, "What do you think?"
"I don't know," he answered.
"But what do you think?"
He paused for a long time. "I think there is such a thing as Quality, but that as soon as you try to define it, something goes haywire. You can't do it."
Murmurs of agreement.
He continued, "Why this is, I don't know. I thought maybe I'd get some ideas from your paper. I just don't know."
This time the class was silent.
In subsequent classes that day there was some of the same commotion, but a number of students in each class volunteered friendly answers that told him the first class had been discussed during lunch.
A few days later he worked up a definition of his own and put it on the blackboard to be copied for posterity. The definition was: "Quality is a characteristic of thought and statement that is recognized by a nonthinking process. Because definitions are a product of rigid, formal thinking, quality cannot be defined."
The fact that this "definition" was actually a refusal to define did not draw comment. The students had no formal training that would have told them his statement was, in a formal sense, completely irrational. If you can't define something you have no formal rational way of knowing that it exists. Neither can you really tell anyone else what it is. There is, in fact, no formal difference between inability to define and stupidity. When I say, "Quality cannot be defined," I'm really saying formally, "I'm stupid about Quality."
Fortunately the students didn't know this. If they'd come up with these objections he wouldn't have been able to answer them at the time.
But then, below the definition on the blackboard, he wrote, "But even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what Quality is!" and the storm started all over again.
"Oh, no, we don't!"
"Oh, yes, you do."
"Oh, no,we don't!"
"Oh, yes, you do!" he said and he had some material ready to demonstrate it to them.
He had selected two examples of student composition. The first was a rambling, disconnected thing with interesting ideas that never built into anything. The second was a magnificent piece by a student who was mystified himself about why it had come out so well. Phædrus read both, then asked for a show of hands on who thought the first was best. Two hands went up. He asked how many liked the second better. Twenty-eight hands went up.
"Whatever it is," he said, "that caused the overwhelming majority to raise their hands for the second one is what I mean by Quality. So you know what it is."
There was a long reflective silence after this, and he just let it last.
This was just intellectually outrageous, and he knew it. He wasn't teaching anymore, he was indoctrinating. He had erected an imaginary entity, defined it as incapable of definition, told the students over their own protests that they knew what it was, and demonstrated this by a technique that was as confusing logically as the term itself. He was able to get away with this because logical refutation required more talent than any of the students had. In subsequent days he continually invited their refutations, but none came. He improvised further.
To reinforce the idea that they already knew what Quality was he developed a routine in which he read four student papers in class and had everyone rank them in estimated order of Quality on a slip of paper. He did the same himself. He collected the slips, tallied them on the blackboard and averaged the rankings for an overall class opinion. Then he would reveal his own rankings, and this would almost always be close to, if not identical with the class average. Where there were differences it was usually because two papers were close in quality.
At first the classes were excited by this exercise, but as time went on they became bored. What he meant by Quality was obvious. They obviously knew what it was too, and so they lost interest in listening. Their question now was "All right, we know what Quality is. How do we get it?"
Now, at last, the standard rhetoric texts came into their own. The principles expounded in them were no longer rules to rebel against, not ultimates in themselves, but just techniques, gimmicks, for producing what really counted and stood independently of the techniques...Quality. What had started out as a heresy from traditional rhetoric turned into a beautiful introduction to it.
He singled out aspects of Quality such as unity, vividness, authority, economy, sensitivity, clarity, emphasis, flow, suspense, brilliance, precision, proportion, depth and so on; kept each of these as poorly defined as Quality itself, but demonstrated them by the same class reading techniques. He showed how the aspect of Quality called unity, the hanging-togetherness of a story, could be improved with a technique called an outline. The authority of an argument could be jacked up with a technique called footnotes, which gives authoritative reference. Outlines and footnotes are standard things taught in all freshman composition classes, but now as devices for improving Quality they had a purpose. And if a student turned in a bunch of dumb references or a sloppy outline that showed he was just fulfilling an assignment by rote, he could be told that while his paper may have fulfilled the letter of the assignment it obviously didn't fulfill the goal of Quality, and was therefore worthless.
Now, in answer to that eternal student question, How do I do this? that had frustrated him to the point of resignation, he could reply, "It doesn't make a bit of difference how you do it! Just so it's good." The reluctant student might ask in class, "But how do we know what's good?" but almost before the question was out of his mouth he would realize the answer had already been supplied. Some other student would usually tell him, "You just see it." If he said, "No, I don't," he'd be told, "Yes, you do. He proved it." The student was finally and completely trapped into making quality judgments for himself. And it was just exactly this and nothing else that taught him to write.
Up to now Phædrus had been compelled by the academic system to say what he wanted, even though he knew that this forced students to conform to artificial forms that destroyed their own creativity. Students who went along with his rules were then condemned for their inability to be creative or produce a piece of work that reflected their own personal standards of what is good.
Now that was over with. By reversing a basic rule that all things which are to be taught must first be defined, he had found a way out of all this. He was pointing to no principle, no rule of good writing, no theory...but he was pointing to something, nevertheless, that was very real, whose reality they couldn't deny. The vacuum that had been created by the withholding of grades was suddenly filled with the positive goal of Quality, and the whole thing fit together. Students, astonished, came by his office and said, "I used to just hate English. Now I spend more time on it than anything else." Not just one or two. Many. The whole Quality concept was beautiful. It worked. It was that mysterious, individual, internal goal of each creative person, on the blackboard at last.
I turn to see how Chris is doing. His face looks tired.
I ask, "How do you feel?"
"Okay," he says, but his tone is defiant.
"We can stop anywhere and camp," I say.
He flashes a fierce look at me, and so I say nothing more. Soon I see he's working his way around me on the slope. With what must be great effort he pulls ahead. We go on.
Phædrus got this far with his concept of Quality because he deliberately refused to look outside the immediate classroom experience. Cromwell's statement, "No one ever travels so high as he who knows not where he is going," applied at this point. He didn't know where he was going. All he knew was that it worked.
In time, however, he wondered why it worked, especially when he already knew it was irrational. Why should an irrational method work when rational methods were all so rotten? He had an intuitive feeling, growing rapidly, that what he had stumbled on was no small gimmick. It went far beyond. How far, he didn't know.
This was the beginning of the crystallization that I talked about before. Others wondered at the time, "Why should he get so excited about `quality'?" But they saw only the word and its rhetoric context. They didn't see his past despair over abstract questions of existence itself that he had abandoned in defeat.
If anyone else had asked, What is Quality? it would have been just another question. But when he asked it, because of his past, it spread out for him like waves in all directions simultaneously, not in a hierarchic structure, but in a concentric one. At the center, generating the waves, was Quality. As these waves of thought expanded for him I'm sure he fully expected each wave to reach some shore of existing patterns of thought so that he had a kind of unified relationship with these thought structures. But the shore was never reached until the end, if it appeared at all. For him there was nothing but ever expanding waves of crystallization. I'll now try to follow these waves of crystallization, the second phase of his exploration into quality, as best I can.
Up ahead all of Chris's movements seem tired and angry. He stumbles on things, lets branches tear at him, instead of pulling them to one side.
I'm sorry to see this. Some blame can be put on the YMCA camp he attended for two weeks just before we started. From what he's told me, they made a big ego thing out of the whole outdoor experience. A proof-of-manhood thing. He began in a lowly class they were careful to point out was rather disgraceful to be in -- original sin. Then he was allowed to prove himself with a long series of accomplishments...swimming, rope tying -- he mentioned a dozen of them, but I've forgotten them.
It made the kids at camp much more enthusiastic and cooperative when they had ego goals to fulfill, I'm sure, but ultimately that kind of motivation is destructive. Any effort that has self-glorification as its final endpoint is bound to end in disaster. Now we're paying the price. When you try to climb a mountain to prove how big you are, you almost never make it. And even if you do it's a hollow victory. In order to sustain the victory you have to prove yourself again and again in some other way, and again and again and again, driven forever to fill a false image, haunted by the fear that the image is not true and someone will find out. That's never the way.
Phædrus wrote a letter from India about a pilgrimage to holy Mount Kailas, the source of the Ganges and the abode of Shiva, high in the Himalayas, in the company of a holy man and his adherents.
He never reached the mountain. After the third day he gave up, exhausted, and the pilgrimage went on without him. He said he had the physical strength but that physical strength wasn't enough. He had the intellectual motivation but that wasn't enough either. He didn't think he had been arrogant but thought that he was undertaking the pilgrimage to broaden his experience, to gain understanding for himself. He was trying to use the mountain for his own purposes and the pilgrimage too. He regarded himself as the fixed entity, not the pilgrimage or the mountain, and thus wasn't ready for it. He speculated that the other pilgrims, the ones who reached the mountain, probably sensed the holiness of the mountain so intensely that each footstep was an act of devotion, an act of submission to this holiness. The holiness of the mountain infused into their own spirits enabled them to endure far more than anything he, with his greater physical strength, could take.
To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that's out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He's likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he's tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what's ahead even when he knows what's ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He's here but he's not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be "here." What he's looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn't want that because it is all around him. Every step's an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.
That seems to be Chris's problem now.
There's an entire branch of philosophy concerned with the definition of Quality, known as esthetics. Its question, What is meant by beautiful?, goes back to antiquity. But when he was a student of philosophy Phædrus had recoiled violently from this entire branch of knowledge. He had almost deliberately failed the one course in it he had attended and had written a number of papers subjecting the instructor and materials to outrageous attack. He hated and reviled everything.
It wasn't any particular esthetician who produced this reaction in him. It was all of them. It wasn't any particular point of view that outraged him so much as the idea that Quality should be subordinated to any point of view. The intellectual process was forcing Quality into its servitude, prostituting it. I think that was the source of his anger.
He wrote in one paper, "These estheticians think their subject is some kind of peppermint bonbon they're entitled to smack their fat lips on; something to be devoured; something to be intellectually knifed, forked and spooned up bit by bit with appropriate delicate remarks and I'm ready to throw up. What they smack their lips on is the putrescence of something they long ago killed."
Now, as the first step of the crystallization process, he saw that when Quality is kept undefined by definition, the entire field called esthetics is wiped out -- completely disenfranchised -- kaput. By refusing to define Quality he had placed it entirely outside the analytic process. If you can't define Quality, there's no way you can subordinate it to any intellectual rule. The estheticians can have nothing more to say. Their whole field, definition of Quality, is gone.
The thought of this completely thrilled him. It was like discovering a cancer cure. No more explanations of what art is. No more wonderful critical schools of experts to determine rationally where each composer had succeeded or failed. All of them, every last one of those know-it-alls, would finally have to shut up. This was no longer just an interesting idea. This was a dream.
I don't think anyone really saw what he was up to at first. They saw an intellectual delivering a message that had all the trappings of a rational analysis of a teaching situation. They didn't see he had a purpose completely opposite to any they were used to. He wasn't furthering rational analysis. He was blocking it. He was turning the method of rationality against itself, turning it against his own kind, in defense of an irrational concept, an undefined entity called Quality.
He wrote: "(1) Every instructor of English composition knows what quality is. (Any instructor who does not should keep this fact carefully concealed, for this would certainly constitute proof of incompetence.) (2) Any instructor who thinks quality of writing can and should be defined before teaching it can and should go ahead and define it. (3) All those who feel that quality of writing does exist but cannot be defined, but that quality should be taught anyway, can benefit by the following method of teaching pure quality in writing without defining it."
He then went ahead and described some of the methods of comparison that had evolved in the classroom.
I think he really did hope that someone would come along, challenge him and try to define Quality for him. But no one ever did.
However, that little parenthetic statement about inability to define Quality as proof of incompetence did raise eyebrows within the department. He was, after all, the junior member, and not really expected to provide standards quite yet for his seniors' performance.
His right to say as he pleased was valued, and the senior members actually seemed to enjoy his independence of thought and support him in a churchlike way. But contrary to the belief of many opponents of academic freedom, the church attitude has never been that a teacher should be allowed to blather anything that comes into his head without any accountability at all. The church attitude is simply that the accountability must be to the God of Reason, not to the idols of political power. The fact that he was insulting people was irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of what he was saying and he couldn't ethically be struck down for this. But what they were prepared to strike him down for, ethically and with gusto, was any indication that he wasn't making sense. He could do anything he wanted as long as he justified it in terms of reason.
But how the hell do you ever justify, in terms of reason, a refusal to define something? Definitions are the foundation of reason. You can't reason without them. He could hold off the attack for a while with fancy dialectical footwork and insults about competence and incompetence, but sooner or later he had to come up with something more substantial than that. His attempt to come up with something substantial led to further crystallization beyond the traditional limits of rhetoric and into the domain of philosophy.
Chris turns and flashes a tormented look at me. It won't be long now. Even before we left there were clues this was coming. When DeWeese told a neighbor I was experienced in the mountains Chris showed a big flash of admiration. It was a large thing in his eyes. He should be done for soon, and then we can stop for the day.
Oop! There he goes. He's fallen down. He's not getting up. It was an awfully neat fall, not very accidental-looking. Now he looks at me with hurt and anger, searching for condemnation from me. I don't show him any. I sit down next to him and see he's almost defeated.
"Well," I say, "we can stop here, or we can go ahead, or we can go back. Which do you want to do?"
"I don't care," he says, "I don't want to -- "
"You don't want to what?"
"I don't care!" he says, angrily.
"Then since you don't care, we'll keep on going," I say, trapping him.
"I don't like this trip," he says. "It isn't any fun. I thought it was going to be fun."
Some anger catches me off guard too. "That may be true," I reply, "but it's a hell of a thing to say."
I see a sudden flick of fear in his eyes as he gets up.
We go on.
The sky over the other wall of the canyon has become overcast, and the wind in the pines around us has become cool and ominous.
At least the coolness makes it easier hiking -- .
I was talking about the first wave of crystallization outside of rhetoric that resulted from Phædrus' refusal to define Quality. He had to answer the question, If you can't define it, what makes you think it exists?
His answer was an old one belonging to a philosophic school that called itself realism."A thing exists," he said, "if a world without it can't function normally. If we can show that a world without Quality functions abnormally, then we have shown that Quality exists, whether it's defined or not." He thereupon proceeded to subtract Quality from a description of the world as we know it.
The first casualty from such a subtraction, he said, would be the fine arts. If you can't distinguish between good and bad in the arts they disappear. There's no point in hanging a painting on the wall when the bare wall looks just as good. There's no point to symphonies, when scratches from the record or hum from the record player sound just as good.
Poetry would disappear, since it seldom makes sense and has no practical value. And interestingly, comedy would vanish too. No one would understand the jokes, since the difference between humor and no humor is pure Quality.
Next he made sports disappear. Football, baseball, games of every sort would vanish. The scores would no longer be a measurement of anything meaningful, but simply empty statistics, like the number of stones in a pile of gravel. Who would attend them? Who would play?
Next he subtracted Quality from the marketplace and predicted the changes that would take place. Since quality of flavor would be meaningless, supermarkets would carry only basic grains such as rice, cornmeal, soybeans and flour; possibly also some ungraded meat, milk for weaning infants and vitamin and mineral supplements to make up deficiencies. Alcoholic beverages, tea, coffee and tobacco would vanish. So would movies, dances, plays and parties. We would all use public transportation. We would all wear G.I. shoes.
A huge proportion of us would be out of work, but this would probably be temporary until we relocated in essential non-Quality work. Applied science and technology would be drastically changed, but pure science, mathematics, philosophy and particularly logic would be unchanged.
Phædrus found this last to be extremely interesting. The purely intellectual pursuits were the least affected by the subtraction of Quality. If Quality were dropped, only rationality would remain unchanged. That was odd. Why would that be?
He didn't know, but he did know that by subtracting Quality from a picture of the world as we know it, he'd revealed a magnitude of importance of this term he hadn't known was there. The world can function without it, but life would be so dull as to be hardly worth living. In fact it wouldn't be worth living. The term worth is a Quality term. Life would just be living without any values or purpose at all.
He looked back over the distance this line of thought had taken him and decided he'd certainly proved his point. Since the world obviously doesn't function normally when Quality is subtracted, Quality exists, whether it's defined or not.
After conjuring up this vision of a Qualityless world, he was soon attracted to its resemblance to a number of social situations he had already read about. Ancient Sparta came to mind, Communist Russia and her satellites. Communist China, the Brave New World of Aldous Huxley and the 1984 of George Orwell. He also remembered people from his own experience who would have endorsed this Qualityless world. The same ones who tried to make him quit smoking. They wanted rational reasons for his smoking and, when he didn't have any, acted very superior, as though he'd lost face or something. They had to have reasons and plans and solutions for everything. They were his own kind. The kind he was now attacking. And he searched for a long time for a suitable name to sum up just what characterized them, so as to get a handle on this Qualityless world.
It was intellectual primarily, but it wasn't just intelligence that was fundamental. It was a certain basic attitude about the way the world was, a presumptive vision that it ran according to laws...reason...and that man's improvement lay chiefly through the discovery of these laws of reason and application of them toward satisfaction of his own desires. It was this faith that held everything together. He squinted at this vision of a Qualityless world for a while, conjured up more details, thought about it, and then squinted some more and thought some more and then finally circled back to where he was before.
That's the look. That sums it. Squareness. When you subtract quality you get squareness. Absence of Quality is the essence of squareness.
Some artist friends with whom he had once traveled across the United States came to mind. They were Negroes, who had always been complaining about just this Qualitylessness he was describing. Square. That was their word for it. Way back long ago before the mass media had picked it up and given it national white usage they had called all that intellectual stuff square and had wanted nothing to do with it. And there had been a fantastic mismeshing of conversations and attitudes between him and them because he was such a prime example of the squareness they were talking about. The more he had tried to pin them down on what they were talking about the vaguer they had gotten. Now with this Quality he seemed to say the same thing and talk as vaguely as they did, even though what he talked about was as hard and clear and solid as any rationally defined entity he'd ever dealt with.
Quality. That's what they'd been talking about all the time. "Man, will you just please, kindly dig it," he remembered one of them saying, "and hold up on all those wonderful seven-dollar questions? If you got to ask what is it all the time, you'll never get time to know." Soul. Quality. The same?
The wave of crystallization rolled ahead. He was seeing two worlds, simultaneously. On the intellectual side, the square side, he saw now that Quality was a cleavage term. What every intellectual analyst looks for. You take your analytic knife, put the point directly on the term Quality and just tap, not hard, gently, and the whole world splits, cleaves, right in two...hip and square, classic and romantic, technological and humanistic...and the split is clean. There's no mess. No slop. No little items that could be one way or the other. Not just a skilled break but a very lucky break. Sometimes the best analysts, working with the most obvious lines of cleavage, can tap and get nothing but a pile of trash. And yet here was Quality; a tiny, almost unnoticeable fault line; a line of illogic in our concept of the universe; and you tapped it, and the whole universe came apart, so neatly it was almost unbelievable. He wished Kant were alive. Kant would have appreciated it. That master diamond cutter. He would see. Hold Quality undefined. That was the secret.
Phædrus wrote, with some beginning awareness that he was involved in a strange kind of intellectual suicide, "Squareness may be succinctly and yet thoroughly defined as an inability to see quality before it's been intellectually defined, that is, before it gets all chopped up into words -- .We have proved that quality, though undefined, exists. Its existence can be seen empirically in the classroom, and can be demonstrated logically by showing that a world without it cannot exist as we know it. What remains to be seen, the thing to be analyzed, is not quality, but those peculiar habits of thought called `squareness' that sometimes prevent us from seeing it."
Thus did he seek to turn the attack. The subject for analysis, the patient on the table, was no longer Quality, but analysis itself. Quality was healthy and in good shape. Analysis, however, seemed to have something wrong with it that prevented it from seeing the obvious.
I look back and see Chris is way behind. "Come on!" I shout.
He doesn't answer.
"Come on!" I shout again.
Then I see him fall sideways and sit in the grass on the side of the mountain. I leave my pack and go back down to him. The slope is so steep I have to dig my feet in sideways. When I get there he's crying.
"I hurt my ankle," he says, and doesn't look at me.
When an ego-climber has an image of himself to protect he naturally lies to protect this image. But it's disgusting to see and I'm ashamed of myself for letting this happen. Now my own willingness to continue becomes eroded by his tears and his inner sense of defeat passes to me. I sit down, live with this for a while, then, without turning away from it, pick up his backpack and say to him, "I'll carry the packs in relays. I'll take this one up to where mine is and then you stop and wait with it so we don't lose it. Then I'll take mine up farther and then come back for yours. That way you can get plenty of rest. It'll be slower, but we'll get there."
But I've done this too soon. There's still disgust and resentment in my voice which he hears and is shamed by. He shows anger, but says nothing, for fear he'll have to carry the pack again, just frowns and ignores me while I relay the packs upward. I work off the resentment at having to do this by realizing that it isn't any more work for me, actually, than the other way. It's more work in terms of reaching the top of the mountain, but that's only the nominal goal. In terms of the real goal, putting in good minutes, one after the other, it comes out the same; in fact, better. We climb slowly upward and the resentment leaves.
For the next hour we move slowly upward, I carrying the packs in relays, to where I locate the beginning trickle of a stream. I send Chris down for water in one of the pans, which he gets. When he comes back he says, "Why are we stopping here? Let's keep going."
"This is probably the last stream we'll see for a long time, Chris, and I'm tired."
"Why are you so tired?"
Is he trying to infuriate me? He's succeeding.
"I'm tired, Chris, because I'm carrying the packs. If you're in a hurry take your pack and go on up ahead. I'll catch up with you."
He looks at me with another flick of fear, then sits down. "I don't like this," he says, almost in tears. "I hate this! I'm sorry I came. Why did we come here?" He's crying again, hard.
I reply, "You make me very sorry too. You better have something for lunch."
"I don't want anything. My stomach hurts."
He goes off a distance and picks a stem of grass and puts it in his mouth. Then he buries his face in his hands. I make lunch for myself and have a short rest.
When I wake up again he's still crying. There's nowhere for either of us to go. Nothing to do but face up to the existing situation. but I really don't know what the existing situation is.
"Chris," I say finally.
He doesn't answer.
"Chris," I repeat.
Still no answer. He finally says, belligerently, "What?"
"I was going to say, Chris. that you don't have to prove anything to me. Do you understand that?"
A real flash of terror hits his face. He jerks his head away violently.
I say, "You don't understand what I mean by that, do you?"
He continues to look away and doesn't answer. The wind moans through the pines.
I just don't know. I just don't know what it is. It isn't just YMCA egotism that's making him this upset. Some minor thing reflects badly on him and it's the end of the world. When he tries to do something and doesn't get it just right he blows up or goes into tears.
I settle back in the grass and rest again. Maybe it's not having answers that's defeating both of us. I don't want to go ahead because it doesn't look like any answers ahead. None behind either. Just lateral drift. That's what it is between me and him. Lateral drift, waiting for something.
Later I hear him prowl at the knapsack. I roll over and see him glaring at me. "Where's the cheese?" he says. The tone's still belligerent.
But I'm not going to give in to it. "Help yourself," I say. "I'm not waiting on you."
He digs around and finds some cheese and crackers. I give him my hunting knife to spread the cheese with. "I think what I'm going to do, Chris, is put all the heavy stuff in my pack and the light stuff in yours. That way I won't have to go back and forth with both packs."
He agrees to this and his mood improves. It seems to have solved something for him.
My pack must be about forty or forty-five pounds now, and after we've climbed for a while an equilibrium establishes itself at about one breath for each step.
We come to a rough grade and it changes to two breaths per step. At one bank it goes to four breaths per step. Huge steps, almost vertical, hanging on to roots and branches. I feel stupid because I should have planned my way around this. The aspen staves come in handy now, and Chris takes some interest in the use of his. The packs made you top heavy and the sticks are good insurance against toppling over. You plant one foot, plant the staff, then SWING on it, up, and take three breaths, then plant the next foot, plant the staff and SWING up -- .
I don't know if I've got any more Chautauqua left in me today. My head gets fuzzy about this time in the afternoon -- maybe I can establish just one overview and let it go for today -- .
Way back long ago when we first set out on this strange voyage I talked about how John and Sylvia seemed to be running from some mysterious death force that seemed to them to be embodied in technology, and that there were many others like them. I talked for a while about how some of the people involved in technology seemed to be avoiding it too. An underlying reason for this trouble was that they saw it from a kind of "groovy dimension" that was concerned with the immediate surface of things whereas I was concerned with the underlying form. I called John's style romantic, mine classic. His was, in the argot of the sixties, "hip," mine was "square." Then we started going into this square world to see what made it tick. Data, classifications, hierarchies, cause-and-effect and analysis were discussed, and somewhere along there was some talk about a handful of sand, the world of which we're conscious, taken from the endless landscape of awareness around us. I said a process of discrimination goes to work on this handful of sand and divides it into parts. Classical, square understanding is concerned with the piles of sand and the nature of the grains and the basis for sorting and interrelating them.
Phædrus' refusal to define Quality, in terms of this analogy, was an attempt to break the grip of the classical sandsifting mode of understanding and find a point of common understanding between the classic and romantic worlds. Quality, the cleavage term between hip and square, seemed to be it. Both worlds used the term. Both knew what it was. It was just that the romantic left it alone and appreciated it for what it was and the classic tried to turn it into a set of intellectual building blocks for other purposes. Now, with the definition blocked, the classic mind was forced to view Quality as the romantic did, undistorted by thought structures.
I'm making a big thing out of all this, these classical-romantic differences, but Phædrus didn't.
He wasn't really interested in any kind of fusion of differences between these two worlds. He was after something else...his ghost. In the pursuit of this ghost he went on to wider meanings of Quality which drew him further and further to his end. I differ from him in that I've no intention of going on to that end. He just passed through this territory and opened it up. I intend to stay and cultivate it and see if I can get something to grow.
I think that the referent of a term that can split a world into hip and square, classic and romantic, technological and humanistic, is an entity that can unite a world already split along these lines into one. A real understanding of Quality doesn't just serve the System, or even beat it or even escape it. A real understanding of Quality captures the System, tames it, and puts it to work for one's own personal use, while leaving one completely free to fulfill his inner destiny.
Now that we're up high on one side of the canyon we can see back and down and across to the other side. It's as steep there as it is here...a dark mat of greenish-black pines going up to a high ridge. We can measure our progress by sighting against it at what seems like a horizontal angle.
That's all the Quality talk for today, I guess, thank goodness. I don't mind the Quality, it's just that all the classical talk about it isn't Quality. Quality is just the focal point around which a lot of intellectual furniture is getting rearranged.
We stop for a break and look down below. Chris's spirits seem to be better now, but I'm afraid it's the ego thing again.
"Look how far we've come," he says.
"We've got a lot farther to go."
Later on Chris shouts to hear his echo, and throws rocks down to see where they fall. He's starting to get almost cocky, so I step up the equilibrium to where I breathe at a good swift rate, about one-and-a-half times our former speed. This sobers him somewhat and we keep on climbing.
By about three in the afternoon my legs start to get rubbery and it's time to stop. I'm not in very good shape. If you go on after that rubbery feeling you start to pull muscles and the next day is agony.
We come to a flat spot, a large knoll protruding from the side of the mountain. I tell Chris this is it for today. He seems satisfied and cheerful; maybe some progress has been made with him after all.
I'm ready for a nap, but clouds have formed in the canyon that appear ready to drop rain. They've filled in the canyon so that we can't see the bottom and can just barely see the ridge on the other side.
I break open the packs and get the tent halves out, Army ponchos, and snap them together. I take a rope and tie it between the two trees, then throw the shelter halves over it. I cut some stakes out of shrubs with the machete, and pound them in, then dig a small trench with the flat end of the machete around the tent to drain away any rainwater. We've just got everything inside when the first rain comes down.
Chris is in high spirits about the rain. We lie on our backs on the sleeping bags and watch the rain come down and hear its popping sound on the tent. The forest has a misty appearance and we both become contemplative and watch the leaves of the shrubs jolt when struck by raindrops and jolt a little ourselves when a clash of thunder comes down but feel happy that we're dry when everything around us is wet.
After a while I reach into my pack for the paperback by Thoreau, find it and have to strain a little to read it to Chris in the grey rainy light. I guess I've explained that we've done this with other books in the past, advanced books that he wouldn't normally understand. What happens is I read a sentence, he comes up with a long series of questions about it and then, when he's satisfied, I read the next sentence.
We do this with Thoreau for a while, but after half an hour I see to my surprise and disappointment that Thoreau isn't coming through. Chris is restless and so am I. The language structure is wrong for the mountain forest we're in. At least that's my feeling. The book seems tame and cloistered, something I'd never have thought of Thoreau, but there it is. He's talking to another situation, another time, just discovering the evils of technology rather than discovering the solution. He isn't talking to us. Reluctantly I put the book away again and we're both silent and meditative. It's just Chris and me and the forest and the rain. No books can guide us anymore.
Pans we've set outside the tent begin to fill up with rainwater, and later, when we have enough, we pour it all together in a pot and add some cubes of chicken bouillon and heat it over a small Sterno stove. Like any food or drink after a hard climb in the mountains, it tastes good.
Chris says, "I like camping with you better than with the Sutherlands."
"The circumstances are different," I say.
When the bouillon is gone I get out a can of pork and beans and empty it into the pot. It takes a long time to heat up, but we're in no hurry.
"It smells good," Chris says.
The rain has stopped and just occasional drops pat down on the tent.
"I think tomorrow'll be sunny," I say.
We pass the pot of pork and beans back and forth, eating from opposite sides.
"Dad, what do you think about all the time? You're always thinking all the time."
"Ohhhhhh -- all kinds of things."
"Oh, about the rain, and about troubles that can happen and about things in general."
"Oh, about what it's going to be like for you when you grow up."
He's interested. "What's it going to be like?"
But there's a slight ego gleam in his eyes as he asks this and the answer as a result comes out masked. "I don't know," I say, "it's just what I think about."
"Do you think we'll get to the top of this canyon by tomorrow?"
"Oh yes, we're not far from the top."
"In the morning?"
"I think so."
Later he is asleep, and a damp night wind comes down from the ridge causing a sighing sound from the pines. The silhouettes of the treetops move gently with the wind. They yield and then return, then with a sigh yield and return again, restless from forces that are not part of their nature. The wind causes a flutter of one side of the tent. I get up and peg it down, then walk on the damp spongy grass of the knoll for a while, then crawl back into the tent and wait for sleep.
A mat of sunlit pine needles by my face slowly tells me where I am and helps dispel a dream.
In the dream I was standing in a white-painted room looking at a glass door. On the other side was Chris and his brother and mother. Chris was waving at me from the other side of the door and his brother was smiling, but his mother had tears in her eyes. Then I saw that Chris's smile was fixed and artificial and actually there was deep fear.
I moved toward the door and his smile became better. He motioned for me to open it. I was about to open it, but then didn't. His fear came back but I turned and walked away.
It's a dream that has occurred often before. Its meaning is obvious and fits some thoughts of last night. He's trying to relate to me and is afraid he never will. Things are getting clearer up here.
Beyond the flap of the tent now the needles on the ground send vapors of mist up toward the sun. The air feels moist and cool, and while Chris still sleeps I get out of the tent carefully, stand up and stretch.
My legs and back are stiff but not painful. I do calisthenics for a few minutes to loosen them up, then sprint from the knoll into the pines. That feels better.
The pine odor is heavy and moist this morning. I squat and look down at the morning mists in the canyon below.
Later I return to the tent where a noise indicates that Chris is awake, and when I look inside I see his face stare around silently. He's a slow waker and it'll be five minutes before his mind warms up to the point where he can speak. Now he squints into the light.
"Good morning," I say.
No answer. A few raindrops fall down from the pines.
"Did you sleep well?"
"That's too bad."
"How come you're up so early?" he asks.
"It's not early."
"What time is it?"
"Nine o'clock," I say.
"I bet we didn't go to sleep until three."
Three? If he stayed awake he's going to pay for it today.
"Well, I got to sleep," I say.
He looks at me strangely. "You kept me awake."
"In my sleep, you mean."
"No, about the mountain "
Something is odd here. "I don't know anything about a mountain, Chris."
"Well, you talked all night about it. You said at the top of the mountain we'd see everything. You said you were going to meet me there."
I think he's been dreaming. "How could I meet you there when I'm already with you?"
"I don't know. You said it." He looks upset. "You sounded like you were drunk or something."
He's still half asleep. I'd better let him wake up peacefully. But I'm thirsty and remember I left the canteen behind, thinking we'd find enough water as we traveled. Dumb. There'll be no breakfast now until we're up over the ridge and far enough down to the other side where we can find a spring. "We'd better pack up and go," I say, "if we're going to get some water for breakfast." It's already warm out and probably will be hot this afternoon.
The tent comes down easily and I'm pleased to see that everything stayed dry. In a half-hour we're packed. Now except for beaten-down grass the area looks as if no one had been here.
We still have a lot of climbing to do, but on the trail we discover it's easier than yesterday. We're getting to the rounded upper portion of the ridge and the slope isn't as steep. It looks as though the pines have never been cut here. All direct light is shut out from the forest floor and there's no underbrush at all. Just a springy floor of needles that's open and spacious and easy hiking -- .
Time to get on with the Chautauqua and the second wave of crystallization, the metaphysical one.
This was brought about in response to Phædrus' wild meanderings about Quality when the English faculty at Bozeman, informed of their squareness, presented him with a reasonable question: "Does this undefined `quality' of yours exist in the things we observe?" they asked. "Or is it subjective, existing only in the observer?" It was a simple, normal enough question, and there was no hurry for an answer.
Hah. There was no need for hurry. It was a finisher-offer, a knockdown question, a haymaker, a Saturday-night special...the kind you don't recover from.
Because if Quality exists in the object, then you must explain just why scientific instruments are unable to detect it. You must suggest instruments that will detect it, or live with the explanation that instruments don't detect it because your whole Quality concept, to put it politely, is a large pile of nonsense.
On the other hand, if Quality is subjective, existing only in the observer, then this Quality that you make so much of is just a fancy name for whatever you like.
What Phædrus had been presented with by the faculty of the English department of Montana State College was an ancient logical construct known as a dilemma. A dilemma,which is Greek for "two premises," has been likened to the front end of an angry and charging bull.
If he accepted the premise that Quality was objective, he was impaled on one horn of the dilemma. If he accepted the other premise that Quality was subjective, he was impaled on the other horn. Either Quality is objective or subjective, therefore he was impaled no matter how he answered.
He noticed that from a number of faculty members he was receiving some good-natured smiles.
Phædrus, however, because of his training in logic, was aware that every dilemma affords not two but three classic refutations, and he also knew of a few that weren't so classic, so he smiled back. He could take the left horn and refute the idea that objectivity implied scientific detectability. Or, he could take the right horn, and refute the idea that subjectivity implies "anything you like." Or he could go between the horns and deny that subjectivity and objectivity are the only choices. You may be sure he tested out all three.
In addition to these three classical logical refutations there are some illogical, "rhetorical" ones. Phædrus, being a rhetorician, had these available too.
One may throw sand in the bull's eyes. He had already done this with his statement that lack of knowledge of what Quality is constitutes incompetence. It's an old rule of logic that the competence of a speaker has no relevance to the truth of what he says, and so talk of incompetence was pure sand. The world's biggest fool can say the sun is shining, but that doesn't make it dark out. Socrates, that ancient enemy of rhetorical argument, would have sent Phædrus flying for this one, saying, "Yes, I accept your premise that I'm incompetent on the matter of Quality. Now please show an incompetent old man what Quality is. Otherwise, how am I to improve?" Phædrus would have been allowed to stew around for a few minutes, and then been flattened with questions that proved he didn't know what Quality was either and was, by his own standards, incompetent.
One may attempt to sing the bull to sleep. Phædrus could have told his questioners that the answer to this dilemma was beyond his humble powers of solution, but the fact that he couldn't find an answer was no logical proof that an answer couldn't be found. Wouldn't they, with their broader experience, try to help him find this answer? But it was way too late for lullabies like that. They could simply have replied, "No, we're way too square. And until you do come up with an answer, stick to the syllabus so that we don't have to flunk out your mixed-up students when we get them next quarter."
A third rhetorical alternative to the dilemma, and the best one in my opinion, was to refuse to enter the arena. Phædrus could simply have said, "The attempt to classify Quality as subjective or objective is an attempt to define it. I have already said it is undefinable ," and left it at that. I believe DeWeese actually counseled him to do this at the time.
Why he chose to disregard this advice and chose to respond to this dilemma logically and dialectically rather than take the easy escape of mysticism, I don't know. But I can guess. I think first of all that he felt the whole Church of Reason was irreversibly in the arena of logic, that when one put oneself outside logical disputation, one put oneself outside any academic consideration whatsoever. Philosophical mysticism, the idea that truth is indefinable and can be apprehended only by nonrational means, has been with us since the beginning of history. It's the basis of Zen practice. But it's not an academic subject. The academy, the Church of Reason, is concerned exclusively with those things that can be defined, and if one wants to be a mystic, his place is in a monastery, not a University. Universities are places where things should be spelled out.
I think a second reason for his decision to enter the arena was an egoistic one. He knew himself to be a pretty sharp logician and dialectician, took pride in this and looked upon this present dilemma as a challenge to his skill. I think now that trace of egotism may have been the beginning of all his troubles.
I see a deer move about two hundred yards ahead and above us through the pines. I try to point it out to Chris, but by the time he looks it's gone.
The first horn of Phædrus' dilemma was, If Quality exists in the object, why can't scientific instruments detect it?
This horn was the mean one. From the start he saw how deadly it was. If he was going to presume to be some super-scientist who could see in objects Quality that no scientist could detect, he was just proving himself to be a nut or a fool or both. In today's world, ideas that are incompatible with scientific knowledge don't get off the ground.
He remembered Locke's statement that no object, scientific or otherwise, is knowable except in terms of its qualities. This irrefutable truth seemed to suggest that the reason scientists cannot detect Quality in objects is because Quality is all they detect. The "object" is an intellectual construct deduced from the qualities. This answer, if valid, certainly smashed the first horn of the dilemma, and for a while excited him greatly.
But it turned out to be false. The Quality that he and the students had been seeing in the classroom was completely different from the qualities of color or heat or hardness observed in the laboratory. Those physical properties were all measurable with instruments. His Quality..."excellence," "worth," "goodness"...was not a physical property and was not measurable. He had been thrown off by an ambiguity in the term quality.He wondered why that ambiguity should exist, made a mental note to do some digging into the historic roots of the word quality, then put it aside. The horn of the dilemma was still there.
He turned his attention to the other horn of the dilemma, which showed more promise of refutation. He thought, So Quality is whatever you like? It angered him. The great artists of history...Raphael, Beethoven, Michelangelo...they were all just putting out what people liked. They had no goal other than to titillate the senses in a big way. Was that it? It was angering, and what was most angering about it was that he couldn't see any immediate way to cut it up logically. So he studied the statement carefully, in the same reflective way he always studied things before attacking them.
Then he saw it. He brought out the knife and excised the one word that created the entire angering effect of that sentence. The word was "just." Why should Quality be just what you like? Why should "what you like" be "just"? What did "just" mean in this case? When separated out like this for independent examination it became apparent that "just" in this case really didn't mean a damn thing. It was a purely pejorative term, whose logical contribution to the sentence was nil. Now, with that word removed, the sentence became "Quality is what you like," and its meaning was entirely changed. It had become an innocuous truism.
He wondered why that statement had angered him so much in the first place. It had seemed so natural. Why had it taken so long to see that what it really said was "What you like is bad, or at least inconsequential." What was behind this smug presumption that what pleased you was bad, or at least unimportant in comparison to other things? It seemed the quintessence of the squareness he was fighting. Little children were trained not to do "just what they liked" but -- but what? -- Of course! What others liked. And which others? Parents, teachers, supervisors, policemen, judges, officials, kings, dictators. All authorities. When you are trained to despise "just what you like" then, of course, you become a much more obedient servant of others...a good slave. When you learn not to do "just what you like" then the System loves you.
But suppose you do just what you like? Does that mean you're going to go out and shoot heroin, rob banks and rape old ladies? The person who is counseling you not to do "just as you like" is making some remarkable presumptions as to what is likable. He seems unaware that people may not rob banks because they have considered the consequences and decided they don't like to. He doesn't see that banks exist in the first place because they're "just what people like," namely, providers of loans. Phædrus began to wonder how all this condemnation of "what you like" ever seemed such a natural objection in the first place.
Soon he saw there was much more to this than he had been aware of. When people said, Don't do just what you like, they didn't just mean, Obey authority. They also meant something else.
This "something else" opened up into a huge area of classic scientific belief which stated that "what you like" is unimportant because it's all composed of irrational emotions within yourself. He studied this argument for a long time,then knifed it into two smaller groups which he called scientific materialism and classic formalism. He said the two are often found associated in the same person but logically are separate.
Scientific materialism, which is commoner among lay followers of science than among scientists themselves, holds that what is composed of matter or energy and is measurable by the instruments of science is real. Anything else is unreal, or at least of no importance. "What you like" is unmeasurable, and therefore unreal. "What you like" can be a fact or it can be a hallucination. Liking does not distinguish between the two. The whole purpose of scientific method is to make valid distinctions between the false and the true in nature, to eliminate the subjective, unreal, imaginary elements from one's work so as to obtain an objective, true, picture of reality. When he said Quality was subjective, to them he was just saying Quality is imaginary and could therefore be disregarded in any serious consideration of reality.
On the other hand is classic formalism, which insists that what isn't understood intellectually isn't understood at all. Quality in this case is unimportant because it's an emotional understanding unaccompanied by the intellectual elements of reason.
Of these two main sources of that epithet "just," Phædrus felt that the first, scientific materialism, was by far the easiest to cut to ribbons. This, he knew from his earlier education, was na•ve science. He went after it first, using the reductio ad absurdum. This form of argument rests on the truth that if the inevitable conclusions from a set of premises are absurd then it follows logically that at least one of the premises that produced them is absurd. Let's examine, he said, what follows from the premise that anything not composed of mass...energy is unreal or unimportant.
He used the number zero as a starter. Zero, originally a Hindu number, was introduced to the West by the Arabs during the Middle Ages and was unknown to the ancient Greeks and Romans. How was that? he wondered. Had nature so subtly hidden zero that all the Greeks and all the Romans...millions of them...couldn't find it? One would normally think that zero is right out there in the open for everyone to see. He showed the absurdity of trying to derive zero from any form of mass-energy, and then asked, rhetorically, if that meant the number zero was "unscientific." If so, did that mean that digital computers, which function exclusively in terms of ones and zeros, should be limited to just ones for scientific work? No trouble finding the absurdity here.
He then went on with other scientific concepts, one by one, showing how they could not possibly exist independently of subjective considerations. He ended up with the law of gravity, in the example I gave John and Sylvia and Chris on the first night of our trip. If subjectivity is eliminated as unimportant, he said, then the entire body of science must be eliminated with it.
This refutation of scientific materialism, however, seemed to put him in the camp of philosophic idealism...Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Bradley, Bosanquet...good company all, logical to the last comma, but so difficult to justify in "common sense" language they seemed a burden to him in his defense of Quality rather than an aid. The argument that the world was all mind might be a sound logical position but it was certainly not a sound rhetorical one. It was way too tedious and difficult for a course in freshman composition. Too "far-fetched."
At this point the whole subjective horn of the dilemma looked almost as uninspiring as the objective one. And the arguments of classical formalism, when he started to examine them, made it even worse. These were the extremely forceful arguments that you shouldn't respond to your immediate emotional impulses without considering the big rational picture.
Kids are told, "Don't spend your whole allowance for bubble gum [immediate emotional impulse] because you're going to want to spend it for something else later [big picture]." Adults are told, "This paper mill may smell awful even with the best controls [immediate emotions], but without it the economy of the whole town will collapse [big picture]." In terms of our old dichotomy, what's being said is, "Don't base your decisions on romantic surface appeal without considering classical underlying form." This was something he kind of agreed with.
What the classical formalists meant by the objection "Quality is just what you like" was that this subjective, undefined "quality" he was teaching was just romantic surface appeal. Classroom popularity contests could determine whether a composition had immediate appeal, all right, but was this Quality? Was Quality something that you "just see" or might it be something more subtle than that, so that you wouldn't see it at all immediately, but only after a long period of time?
The more he examined this argument the more formidable it appeared. This looked like the one that might do in his whole thesis.
What made it so ominous was that it seemed to answer a question that had arisen often in class and which he always had to answer somewhat casuistically. This was the question, If everyone knows what quality is, why is there such a disagreement about it?
His casuist answer had been that although pure Quality was the same for everyone, the objects that people said Quality inhered in varied from person to person. As long as he left Quality undefined there was no way to argue with this but he knew and he knew the students knew that it had the smell of falseness about it. It didn't really answer the question.
Now there was an alternative explanation: people disagreed about Quality because some just used their immediate emotions whereas others applied their overall knowledge. He knew that in any popularity contest among English teachers, this latter argument which bolstered their authority would win overwhelming endorsement.
But this argument was completely devastating. Instead of one single, uniform Quality now there appeared to be two qualities; a romantic one, just seeing, which the students had; and a classic one, overall understanding, which the teachers had. A hip one and a square one. Squareness was not the absence of Quality; it was classic Quality. Hipness was not just presence of Quality; it was mere romantic Quality. The hip-square cleavage he'd discovered was still there, but Quality didn't now seem to fall entirely on one side of the cleavage, as he'd previously supposed. Instead, Quality itself cleaved into two kinds, one on each side of the cleavage line. His simple, neat, beautiful, undefined Quality was starting to get complex.
He didn't like the way this was going. The cleavage term that was going to unify the classic and romantic ways of looking at things had itself been cleaved into two parts and could no longer unify anything. It had been caught in an analytic meat grinder. The knife of subjectivity-and-objectivity had cut Quality in two and killed it as a working concept. If he was going to save it, he couldn't let that knife get it.
And really, the Quality he was talking about wasn't classic Quality or romantic Quality. It was beyond both of them. And by God, it wasn't subjective or objective either, it was beyond both of those categories. Actually this whole dilemma of subjectivity-objectivity, of mind-matter, with relationship to Quality was unfair. That mind-matter relationship has been an intellectual hang-up for centuries. They were just putting that hang-up on top of Quality to drag Quality down. How could he say whether Quality was mind or matter when there was no logical clarity as to what was mind and what was matter in the first place?
And so: he rejected the left horn. Quality is not objective, he said. It doesn't reside in the material world.
Then: he rejected the right horn. Quality is not subjective, he said. It doesn't reside merely in the mind.
And finally: Phædrus, following a path that to his knowledge had never been taken before in the history of Western thought, went straight between the horns of the subjectivity-objectivity dilemma and said Quality is neither a part of mind, nor is it a part of matter. It is a third entity which is independent of the two.
He was heard along the corridors and up and down the stairs of Montana Hall singing softly to himself, almost under his breath, "Holy, holy, holy -- blessed Trinity."
And there is a faint, faint fragment of memory, possibly wrong, possibly just something I'm imagining, that says he just let the whole thought structure sit like that for weeks, without carrying it any further.
Chris shouts, "When are we going to get to the top?"
"Probably quite a way yet," I reply.
"Will we see a lot?"
"I think so. Look for blue sky between the trees. As long as we can't see sky we know it's a way yet. The light will come through the trees when we round the top."
Last night's rain has soaked this soft duff of needles sufficiently to make them good walking. Sometimes when it's really dry on a slope like this they become slippery and you have to dig your feet into them edgewise or you'll slide down.
I say to Chris, "Isn't it great when there's no underbrush like this?"
"Why isn't there any?" he asks.
"I think this area must never have been logged. When a forest is left alone like this for centuries, the trees shut out all the underbrush."
"It's like a park," Chris says. "You can sure see all around." His mood seems much better than yesterday. I think he'll be a good traveler from here on. This forest silence improves anyone.
The world now, according to Phædrus, was composed of three things: mind, matter, and Quality. The fact that he had established no relationship between them didn't bother him at first. If the relationship between mind and matter had been fought over for centuries and wasn't yet resolved, why should he, in a matter of a few weeks, come up with something conclusive about Quality? So he let it go. He put it up on a kind of mental shelf where he put all kinds of questions he had no immediate answers for. He knew the metaphysical trinity of subject, object and Quality would sooner or later have to be interrelated but he was in no hurry about it. It was just so satisfying to be beyond the danger of those horns that he relaxed and enjoyed it as long as he could.
Eventually, however, he examined it more closely. Although there's no logical objection to a metaphysical trinity, a three-headed reality, such trinities are not common or popular. The metaphysician normally seeks either a monism, such as God, which explains the nature of the world as a manifestation of one single thing, or he seeks a dualism, such as mind-matter, which explains it as two things, or he leaves it as a pluralism, which explains it as a manifestation of an indefinite number of things. But three is an awkward number. Right away you want to know, Why three? What's the relationship among them? And as the need for relaxation diminished Phædrus became curious about this relationship too.
He noted that although normally you associate Quality with objects, feelings of Quality sometimes occur without any object at all. This is what led him at first to think that maybe Quality is all subjective. But subjective pleasure wasn't what he meant by Quality either. Quality decreases subjectivity. Quality takes you out of yourself, makes you aware of the world around you. Quality is opposed to subjectivity.
I don't know how much thought passed before he arrived at this, but eventually he saw that Quality couldn't be independently related with either the subject or the object but could be found only in the relationship of the two with each other. It is the point at which subject and object meet.
That sounded warm.
Quality is not a thing. It is an event.
It is the event at which the subject becomes aware of the object.
And because without objects there can be no subject...because the objects create the subject's awareness of himself...Quality is the event at which awareness of both subjects and objects is made possible.
Now he knew it was coming.
This means Quality is not just the result of a collision between subject and object. The very existence of subject and object themselves is deduced from the Quality event. The Quality event is the cause of the subjects and objects, which are then mistakenly presumed to be the cause of the Quality!
Now he had that whole damned evil dilemma by the throat. The dilemma all the time had this unseen vile presumption in it, for which there was no logical justification. that Quality was the effect of subjects and objects. It was not! He brought out his knife.
"The sun of quality," he wrote, "does not revolve around the subjects and objects of our existence. It does not just passively illuminate them. It is not subordinate to them in any way. It has created them. They are subordinate to it!
And at that point, when he wrote that, he knew he had reached some kind of culmination of thought he had been unconsciously striving for over a long period of time.
"Blue sky!" shouts Chris.
There it is, way above us, a narrow patch of blue through the trunks of the trees.
We move faster and the patches of blue become larger and larger through the trees and soon we see that the trees thin out to a bare spot at the summit. When the summit is about fifty yards away I say, "Let's go!" and start to dash for it, throwing into the effort all the reserves of energy I've been saving.
I give it everything I have, but Chris gains on me. Then he passes me, giggling. With the heavy load and high altitude we're not setting any records but now we're just charging up with all we have.
Chris gets there first, while I just break out of the trees. He raises his arms and shouts, "The Winner!"
I'm breathing so hard when I arrive I can't speak. We just drop our packs from our shoulders and lie down against some rocks. The crust of the ground is dry from the sun, but underneath is mud from last night's rain. Below us and miles away beyond the forested slopes and the fields beyond them is the Gallatin Valley. At one corner of the valley is Bozeman. A grasshopper jumps up from the rock and soars down and away from us over the trees.
"We made it," Chris says. He is very happy. I am still too winded to answer. I take off my boots and socks which are soggy with sweat and set them out to dry on a rock. I stare at them meditatively as vapors from them rise up toward the sun.
Evidently I've slept. The sun is hot. My watch says a few minutes before noon. I look over the rock I'm leaning against and see Chris sound asleep on the other side. Way up above him the forest stops and barren grey rock leads into patches of snow. We can climb the back of this ridge straight up there, but it would be dangerous toward the top. I look up at the top of the mountain for a while. What was it Chris said I told him last night?..."I'll see you at the top of mountain" -- no -- "I'll meet you at the top of the mountain."
How could I meet him at the top of the mountain when I'm already with him? Something's very strange about that. He said I told him something else too, the other night...that it's lonely here. That contradicts what I actually believe. I don't think it's lonely here at all.
A sound of falling rock draws my attention over to one side of the mountain. Nothing moves. Completely still.
It's all right. You hear little rockslides like this all the time.
Not so little sometimes, though. Avalanches start with little slides like that. If you're above them or beside them, they're interesting to watch. But if they're above you...no help then. You just have to watch it come.
People say strange things in their sleep, but why would I tell him I'll meet him? And why would he think I was awake? There's something really wrong there that produces a very bad quality feeling, but I don't know what it is. First you get the feeling, then you figure out why.
I hear Chris move and turn and see him look around.
"Where are we?" he asks.
"Top of the ridge."
"Oh," he says. He smiles.
I break open a lunch of Swiss cheese, pepperoni and crackers. I cut up the cheese and then the pepperoni in careful, neat slices. The silence allows you to do each thing right.
"Let's build a cabin here," he says.
"Ohhhhh," I groan, "and climb up to it every day?"
"Sure," he teases. "That wasn't hard."
Yesterday is long ago in his memory. I pass some cheese and crackers over to him.
"What are you always thinking about?" he asks.
"Thousands of things," I answer.
"Most of them wouldn't make any sense to you."
"Like why I told you I'd meet you at the top of the mountain."
"Oh," he says, and looks down.
"You said I sounded drunk," I tell him
"No, not drunk," he says, still looking down. The way he looks away from me makes me wonder all over again if he's telling the truth.
He doesn't answer.
"How then, Chris?"
"Well, I don't know!" He looks up at me and there's a flicker of fear. "Like you used to sound a long time ago," he says, and then looks down.
"When we lived here."
I keep my face composed so that he sees no change of expression in it, then carefully get up and go over and methodically turn the socks on the rock. They've dried long ago. As I return with them I see his glance is still on me. Casually I say, "I didn't know I sounded different."
He doesn't reply to this.
I put the socks on and slip the boots over them.
"I'm thirsty," Chris says.
"We shouldn't have too far to go down to find water," I say, standing up. I look at the snow for a while, then say, "You ready to go?"
He nods and we get the packs on.
As we walk along the summit toward the beginning of a ravine we hear another clattering sound of falling rock, much louder than the first one I heard just a while ago. I look up to see where it is. Still nothing.
"What was that?" Chris asks.
We both stand still for a moment, listening. Chris asks, "Is there somebody up there?"
"No, I think it's just melting snow that's loosening stones. When it's really hot like this in the early part of the summer you hear a lot of small rockslides. Sometimes big ones. It's part of the wearing down of the mountains."
"I didn't know mountains wore out."
"Not wore out, wore down. They get rounded and gentle. These mountains are still unworn."
Everywhere around us now, except above, the sides of the mountain are covered with blackish green of the forest. In the distance the forest looks like velvet.
I say, "You look at these mountains now, and they look so permanent and peaceful, but they're changing all the time and the changes aren't always peaceful. Underneath us, beneath us here right now, there are forces that can tear this whole mountain apart."
"Do they ever?"
"Tear the whole mountain apart?"
"Yes," I say. Then I remember: "Not far from here there are nineteen people lying dead under millions of tons of rock. Everyone was amazed there were only nineteen."
"They were just tourists from the east who had stopped for the night at a campground. During the night the underground forces broke free and when the rescuers saw what had happened the next morning, they just shook their heads. They didn't even try to excavate. All they could have done was dig down through hundreds of feet of rock for bodies that would just have to be buried all over again. So they left them there. They're still there now."
"How did they know there were nineteen?"
"Neighbors and relatives from their hometowns reported them missing."
Chris stares at the top of the mountain before us. "Didn't they get any warning?"
"I don't know."
"You'd think there'd be a warning."
"Maybe there was."
We walk to where the ridge we are on creases inward to the start of a ravine. I see that we can follow this ravine down and eventually find water in it. I start angling down now.
Some more rocks clatter up above. Suddenly I'm frightened.
"Chris," I say.
"You know what I think?"
"I think we'd be very smart if we let that mountaintop go for now and try it another summer."
He's silent. Then he says, "Why?"
"I have bad feelings about it."
He doesn't say anything for a long time. Finally he says, "Like what?"
"Oh, I just think that we could get caught up there in a storm or a slide or something and we'd be in real trouble."
More silence. I look up and see real disappointment in his face. I think he knows I'm leaving something out. "Why don't you think about it," I say, "and then when we get to some water and have lunch we'll decide."
We continue walking down. "Okay?" I say.
He finally says, "Okay," in a noncommittal voice.
The descent is easy now but I see it will be steeper soon. It's still open and sunny here but soon we'll be in trees again.
I don't know what to make of all this weird talk at night except that it's not good. For either of us. It sounds like all the strain of this cycling and camping and Chautauqua and all these old places has a bad effect on me that appears at night. I want to clear out of here as fast as possible.
I don't suppose that sounds like the old days to Chris either. I spook very easily these days, and am not ashamed to admit it. He never spooked at anything. Never. That's the difference between us. That's why I'm alive and he's not. If he's up there, some psychic entity, some ghost, some Doppelgänger waiting up there for us in God knows what fashion -- well, he's going to have to wait a long time. A very long time.
These damned heights get eerie after a while. I want to go down, way down; far, far down.
To the ocean. That sounds right. Where the waves roll in slowly and there's always a roar and you can't fall anywhere. You're already there.
Now we enter the trees again, and the sight of the mountaintop is obscured by their branches and I'm glad.
I think we've gone as far along Phædrus' path as we want to go in this Chautauqua too. I want to leave his path now. I've given him all due credit for what he thought and said and wrote, and now I want to develop on my own some of the ideas he neglected to pursue. The title of this Chautauqua is "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," not "Zen and the Art of Mountain Climbing," and there are no motorcycles on the tops of mountains, and in my opinion very little Zen. Zen is the "spirit of the valley," not the mountaintop. The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there. Let's get out of here.
"Feels good to be going down, doesn't it?" I say.
We're going to have a little fight, I'm afraid.
You go up the mountaintop and all you're gonna get is a great big heavy stone tablet handed to you with a bunch of rules on it.
That's about what happened to him.
Thought he was a goddamned Messiah.
Not me, boy. The hours are way too long, and the pay is way too short. Let's go. Let's go -- .
Soon I'm clomping down the slope in a kind of two-step idiot gallop -- ga-dump, ga-dump, ga-dump -- until I hear Chris holler, "SLOW DOWN!" and see he is a couple of hundred yards back through the trees.
So I slow down, but after a while see he is deliberately lagging behind. He's disappointed, of course.
I suppose what I ought to do in the Chautauqua is just point out in summary form the direction Phædrus went, without evaluation, and then get on with my own thing. Believe me, when the world is seen not as a duality of mind and matter but as a trinity of quality, mind, and matter, then the art of motorcycle maintenance and other arts take on a dimension of meaning they never had. The specter of technology the Sutherlands are running from becomes not an evil but a positive fun thing. And to demonstrate that will be a long fun task.
But first, to give this other specter his walking papers, I should say the following:
Perhaps he would have gone in the direction I'm now about to go in if this second wave of crystallization, the metaphysical wave, had finally grounded out where I'll be grounding it out, that is, in the everyday world. I think metaphysics is good if it improves everyday life; otherwise forget it. But unfortunately for him it didn't ground out. It went into a third mystical wave of crystallization from which he never recovered.
He'd been speculating about the relationship of Quality to mind and matter and had identified Quality as the parent of mind and matter, that event which gives birth to mind and matter. This Copernican inversion of the relationship of Quality to the objective world could sound mysterious if not carefully explained, but he didn't mean it to be mysterious. He simply meant that at the cutting edge of time, before an object can be distinguished, there must be a kind of nonintellectual awareness, which he called awareness of Quality. You can't be aware that you've seen a tree until after you've seen the tree, and between the instant of vision and instant of awareness there must be a time lag. We sometimes think of that time lag as unimportant, But there's no justification for thinking that the time lag is unimportant...none whatsoever.
The past exists only in our memories, the future only in our plans. The present is our only reality. The tree that you are aware of intellectually, because of that small time lag, is always in the past and therefore is always unreal. Any intellectually conceived object is always in the past and therefore unreal. Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place. There is no other reality. This preintellectual reality is what Phædrus felt he had properly identified as Quality. Since all intellectually identifiable things must emerge from this preintellectual reality, Quality is the parent, the source of all subjects and objects.
He felt that intellectuals usually have the greatest trouble seeing this Quality, precisely because they are so swift and absolute about snapping everything into intellectual form. The ones who have the easiest time seeing this Quality are small children, uneducated people and culturally "deprived" people. These have the least predisposition toward intellectuality from cultural sources and have the least formal training to instill it further into them. That, he felt, is why squareness is such a uniquely intellectual disease. He felt he'd been accidentally immunized from it, or at least to some extent broken from the habit by his failure from school. After that he felt no compulsive identification with intellectuality and could examine anti-intellectual doctrines with sympathy.
Squares, he said, because of their prejudices toward intellectuality usually regard Quality, the preintellectual reality, as unimportant, a mere uneventful transition period between objective reality and subjective perception of it. Because they have preconceived ideas of its unimportance they don't seek to find out if it's in any way different from their intellectual conception of it.
It is different, he said. Once you begin to hear the sound of that Quality, see that Korean wall, that nonintellectual reality in its pure form, you want to forget all that word stuff, which you finally begin to see is always somewhere else.
Now, armed with his new time-interrelated metaphysical trinity, he had that romantic-classic Quality split, the one which had threatened to ruin him, completely stopped. They couldn't cut up Quality now. He could sit there and at his leisure cut them up. Romantic Quality always correlated with instantaneous impressions. Square Quality always involved multiple considerations that extended over a period of time. Romantic Quality was the present, the here and now of things. Classic Quality was always concerned with more than just the present. The relation of the present to the past and future was always considered. If you conceived the past and future to be all contained in the present, why, that was groovy, the present was what you lived for. And if your motorcycle is working, why worry about it? But if you consider the present to be merely an instant between the past and the future, just a passing moment, then to neglect the past and future for the present is bad Quality indeed. The motorcycle may be working now, but when was the oil level last checked? Fussbudgetry from the romantic view, but good common sense from the classic.
Now we had two different kinds of Quality but they no longer split Quality itself. They were just two different time aspects of Quality, short and long. What had previously been asked for was a metaphysical hierarchy that looked like this:
What he gave them in return was a metaphysical hierarchy that looked like this:
The Quality he was teaching was not just a part of reality, it was the whole thing.
He then proceeded in terms of the trinity to answer the question, Why does everybody see Quality differently? This was the question he had always had to answer speciously before. Now he said, "Quality is shapeless, formless, indescribable. To see shapes and forms is to intellectualize. Quality is independent of any such shapes and forms. The names, the shapes and forms we give Quality depend only partly on the Quality. They also depend partly on the a priori images we have accumulated in our memory. We constantly seek to find, in the Quality event, analogues to our previous experiences. If we didn't we'd be unable to act. We build up our language in terms of these analogues. We build up our whole culture in terms of these analogues."
The reason people see Quality differently, he said, is because they come to it with different sets of analogues. He gave linguistic examples, showing that to us the Hindi letters da, da, and dha all sound identical to us because we don't have analogues to them to sensitize us to their differences. Similarly, most Hindi-speaking people cannot distinguish between da and the because they are not so sensitized. It is not uncommon, he said, for Indian villagers to see ghosts. But they have a terrible time seeing the law of gravity.
This, he said, explains why a classful of freshman composition students arrives at similar ratings of Quality in the compositions. They all have relatively similar backgrounds and similar knowledge. But if a group of foreign students were brought in, or, say, medieval poems out of the range of class experience were brought in, then the students' ability to rank Quality would probably not correlate as well.
In a sense, he said, it's the student's choice of Quality that defines him. People differ about Quality, not because Quality is different, but because people are different in terms of experience. He speculated that if two people had identical a priori analogues they would see Quality identically every time. There was no way to test this, however, so it had to remain just speculation.
In answer to his colleagues at school he wrote:
"Any philosophic explanation of Quality is going to be both false and true precisely because it is a philosophic explanation. The process of philosophic explanation is an analytic process, a process of breaking something down into subjects and predicates. What I mean (and everybody else means) by the word quality cannot be broken down into subjects and predicates. This is not because Quality is so mysterious but because Quality is so simple, immediate and direct.
"The easiest intellectual analogue of pure Quality that people in our environment can understand is that `Quality is the response of an organism to its environment' (he used this example because his chief questioners seemed to see things in terms of stimulus-response behavior theory). An amoeba, placed on a plate of water with a drip of dilute sulfuric acid placed nearby, will pull away from the acid (I think). If it could speak the amoeba, without knowing anything about sulfuric acid, could say, `This environment has poor quality.' If it had a nervous system it would act in a much more complex way to overcome the poor quality of the environment. It would seek analogues, that is, images and symbols from its previous experience, to define the unpleasant nature of its new environment and thus `understand' it.
"In our highly complex organic state we advanced organisms respond to our environment with an invention of many marvelous analogues. We invent earth and heavens, trees, stones and oceans, gods, music, arts, language, philosophy, engineering, civilization and science. We call these analogues reality. And they are reality. We mesmerize our children in the name of truth into knowing that they are reality. We throw anyone who does not accept these analogues into an insane asylum. But that which causes us to invent the analogues is Quality. Quality is the continuing stimulus which our environment puts upon us to create the world in which we live. All of it. Every last bit of it.
"Now, to take that which has caused us to create the world, and include it within the world we have created, is clearly impossible. That is why Quality cannot be defined. If we do define it we are defining something less than Quality itself."
I remember this fragment more vividly than any of the others, possibly because it is the most important of all. When he wrote it he felt momentary fright and was about to strike out the words "All of it. Every last bit of it." Madness there. I think he saw it. But he couldn't see any logical reason to strike these words out and it was too late now for faintheartedness. He ignored his warning and let the words stand.
He put his pencil down and then -- felt something let go. As though something internal had been strained too hard and had given way. Then it was too late.
He began to see that he had shifted away from his original stand. He was no longer talking about a metaphysical trinity but an absolute monism. Quality was the source and substance of everything.
A whole new flood of philosophic associations came to mind. Hegel had talked like this, with his Absolute Mind. Absolute Mind was independent too, both of objectivity and subjectivity.
However, Hegel said the Absolute Mind was the source of everything, but then excluded romantic experience from the "everything" it was the source of. Hegel's Absolute was completely classical, completely rational and completely orderly.
Quality was not like that.
Phædrus remembered Hegel had been regarded as a bridge between Western and Oriental philosophy. The Vedanta of the Hindus, the Way of the Taoists, even the Buddha had been described as an absolute monism similar to Hegel's philosophy. Phædrus doubted at the time, however, whether mystical Ones and metaphysical monisms were introconvertable since mystical Ones follow no rules and metaphysical monisms do. His Quality was a metaphysical entity, not a mystic one. Or was it? What was the difference?
He answered himself that the difference was one of definition. Metaphysical entities are defined. Mystical Ones are not. That made Quality mystical. No. It was really both. Although he'd thought of it purely in philosophical terms up to now as metaphysical, he had all along refused to define it. That made it mystic too. Its indefinability freed it from the rules of metaphysics.
Then, on impulse, Phædrus went over to his bookshelf and picked out a small, blue, cardboard-bound book. He'd hand-copied this book and bound it himself years before, when he couldn't find a copy for sale anywhere. It was the 2,400-year-old Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. He began to read through the lines he had read many times before, but this time he studied it to see if a certain substitution would work. He began to read and interpret it at the same time.
The quality that can be defined is not the Absolute Quality.
That was what he had said.
The names that can be given it are not Absolute names.
It is the origin of heaven and earth.
When named it is the mother of all things -- .
Quality [romantic Quality] and its manifestations [classic Quality] are in their nature the same. It is given different names [subjects and objects] when it becomes classically manifest.
Romantic quality and classic quality together may be called the "mystic."
Reaching from mystery into deeper mystery ,it is the gate to the secret of all life.
Quality is all-pervading.
And its use is inexhaustible!
Like the fountainhead of all things --
Yet crystal clear like water it seems to remain.
I do not know whose Son it is.
An image of what existed before God.
-- Continuously,continuously it seems to remain. Draw upon it and it serves you with ease --
Looked at but cannot be seen -- listened to but cannot be heard -- grasped at but cannot be touched -- these three elude all our inquiries and hence blend and become one.
Not by its rising is there light ,
Not by its sinking is there darkness
It cannot be defined
And reverts again into the realm of nothingness
That is why it is called the form of the formless
The image of nothingness
That is why it is called elusive
Meet it and you do not see its face
Follow it and you do not see its back
He who holds fast to the quality of old
Is able to know the primeval beginnings
Which are the continuity of quality.
Phædrus read on through line after line, verse after verse of this, watched them match, fit, slip into place. Exactly. This was what he meant. This was what he'd been saying all along, only poorly, mechanistically. There was nothing vague or inexact about this book. It was as precise and definite as it could be. It was what he had been saying, only in a different language with different roots and origins. He was from another valley seeing what was in this valley, not now as a story told by strangers but as a part of the valley he was from. He was seeing it all
He had broken the code.
He read on. Line after line. Page after page. Not a discrepancy. What he had been talking about all the time as Quality was here the Tao, the great central generating force of all religions, Oriental and Occidental, past and present, all knowledge, everything.
Then his mind's eye looked up and caught his own image and realized where he was and what he was seeing and -- I don't know what really happened -- but now the slippage that Phædrus had felt earlier, the internal parting of his mind, suddenly gathered momentum, as do the rocks at the top of a mountain. Before he could stop it, the sudden accumulated mass of awareness began to grow and grow into in avalanche of thought and awareness out of control; with each additional growth of the downward tearing mass loosening hundreds of times its volume, and then that mass uprooting hundreds of times its volume more, and then hundreds of times that; on and on, wider and broader, until there was nothing left to stand.
No more anything.
It all gave way from under him.
"You're not very brave, are you?" Chris says.
"No," I answer, and pull the rind of a slice of salami between my teeth to remove the meat. "But you'd be astonished at how smart I am."
We're down quite a way from the summit now, and the mixed pines and leafy underbrush are much higher here and more closed in than they were at this altitude on the other side of the canyon. Evidently more rain gets into this canyon. I gulp down a large quantity of water from a pot Chris has filled at the stream here, then look at him. I can see by his expression that he's resigned himself to going down and there's no need to lecture him or argue. We finish the lunch off with a part of a bag of candy, wash it down with another pot of water and lay back on the ground for a rest. Mountain springwater has the best taste in the world.
After a while Chris says, "I can carry a heavier load now."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure," he says, a little haughtily.
Gratefully I transfer some of the heavier stuff to his pack and we put the packs on, wriggling through the shoulder straps on the ground and then standing up. I can feel the difference in weight. He can be considerate when he's in the mood.
From here on it looks like a slow descent. This slope has evidently been logged and there's a lot of underbrush higher than our heads that makes it slow going. We'll have to work our way around it.
What I want to do now in the Chautauqua is get away from intellectual abstractions of an extremely general nature and into some solid, practical, day-to-day information, and I'm not quite sure how to go about this.
One thing about pioneers that you don't hear mentioned is that they are invariably, by their nature, mess-makers. They go forging ahead, seeing only their noble, distant goal, and never notice any of the crud and debris they leave behind them. Someone else gets to clean that up and it's not a very glamorous or interesting job. You have to depress for a while before you can get down to doing it. Then, once you have depressed into a really low-key mood, it isn't so bad.
To discover a metaphysical relationship of Quality and the Buddha at some mountaintop of personal experience is very spectacular. And very unimportant. If that were all this Chautauqua was about I should be dismissed. What's important is the relevance of such a discovery to all the valleys of this world, and all the dull, dreary jobs and monotonous years that await all of us in them.
Sylvia knew what she was talking about the first day when she noticed all those people coming the other way. What did she call it? A "funeral procession." The task now is to get back down to that procession with a wider kind of understanding than exists there now.
First of all I should say that I don't know whether Phædrus' claim that Quality is the Tao is true. I don't know of any way of testing it for truth, since all he did was simply compare his understanding of one mystic entity with another. He certainly thought they were the same, but he may not have completely understood what Quality was. Or, more likely, he may not have understood the Tao. He certainly was no sage. And there's plenty of advice for sages in that book he would have done well to heed.
I think, furthermore, that all his metaphysical mountain climbing did absolutely nothing to further either our understanding of what Quality is or of what the Tao is. Not a thing.
That sounds like an overwhelming rejection of what he thought and said, but it isn't. I think it's a statement he would have agreed with himself, since any description of Quality is a kind of definition and must therefore fall short of its mark. I think he might even have said that statements of the kind he had made, which fall short of their mark, are even worse than no statement at all, since they can be easily mistaken for truth and thus retard an understanding of Quality.
No, he did nothing for Quality or the Tao. What benefited was reason. He showed a way by which reason may be expanded to include elements that have previously been unassimilable and thus have been considered irrational. I think it's the overwhelming presence of these irrational elements crying for assimilation that creates the present bad quality, the chaotic, disconnected spirit of the twentieth century. I want to go at these now in as orderly a manner as possible.
We're on steep mucky soil now that's hard to keep a footing in. We grab branches and shrubs to steady ourselves. I take a step, then figure where my next step will be, then take this step, then look again. Soon the brush becomes so thick I see we will have to hack through it. I sit down while Chris gets the machete from the pack on my back. He hands it to me, then, hacking and chopping, I head into the brush. It's slow going. Two or three branches must be cut for every step. It may go on like this for a long time.
The first step down from Phædrus' statement that "Quality is the Buddha" is a statement that such an assertion, if true, provides a rational basis for a unification of three areas of human experience which are now disunified. These three areas are Religion, Art and Science. If it can be shown that Quality is the central term of all three, and that this Quality is not of many kinds but of one kind only, then it follows that the three disunified areas have a basis for introconversion.
The relationship of Quality to the area of Art has been shown rather exhaustively through a pursuit of Phædrus' understanding of Quality in the Art of rhetoric. I don't think much more in the way of analysis need be made there. Art is high-quality endeavor. That is all that really needs to be said. Or, if something more high-sounding is demanded: Art is the Godhead as revealed in the works of man. The relationship established by Phædrus makes it clear that the two enormously different sounding statements are actually identical.
In the area of Religion, the rational relationship of Quality to the Godhead needs to be more thoroughly established, and this I hope to do much later on. For the time being one can meditate on the fact that the old English roots for the Buddha and Quality, God and good, appear to be identical. It's in the area of Science that I want to focus attention in the immediate future, for this is the area that most badly needs the relationship established. The dictum that Science and its offspring, technology, are "value free," that is, "quality free," has got to go. It's that "value freedom" that underlines the death-force effect to which attention was brought early in the Chautauqua. Tomorrow I intend to start on that.
For the remainder of the afternoon we climb down over grey weathered trunks of deadfalls and angle back and forth on the steep slope.
We reach a cliff, angle along its edge in search of a way down, and eventually a narrow draw appears which we're able to descend. It continues down through a rocky crevice in which there is a little rivulet. Shrubs and rocks and muck and roots of huge trees watered by the rivulet fill the crevice. Then we hear the roar of a much larger creek in the distance.
We cross the creek using a rope, which we leave behind, then on the road beyond find some other campers who give us a ride into town.
In Bozeman it's dark and late. Rather than wake up the DeWeeses and ask them to drive in, we check in at the main downtown hotel. Some tourists in the lobby stare at us. With my old Army clothes, walking stick, two-day beard and black beret I must look like some old-time Cuban revolutionary, in for a raid.
In the hotel room we exhaustedly dump everything on the floor. I empty into a waste basket the stones picked up by my boots from the rushing water of the stream, then set the boots by a cold window to dry slowly. We collapse into the beds without a word.
The next morning we check out of the hotel feeling refreshed, say goodbye to the DeWeeses, and head north on the open road out of Bozeman. The DeWeeses wanted us to stay, but a peculiar itching to move west and get on with my thoughts has taken over. I want to talk today about a person whom Phædrus never heard of, but whose writings I've studied quite extensively in preparation for this Chautauqua. Unlike Phædrus, this man was an international celebrity at thirty-five, a living legend at fifty-eight, whom Bertrand Russell has described as "by general agreement, the most eminent scientific man of his generation." He was an astronomer, a physicist, a mathematician and philosopher all in one. His name was Jules Henri Poincaré.
It always seemed incredible to me, and still does, I guess, that Phædrus should have traveled along a line of thought that had never been traveled before. Someone, somewhere, must have thought of all this before, and Phædrus was such a poor scholar it would have been just like him to have duplicated the commonplaces of some famous system of philosophy he hadn't taken the trouble to look into.
So I spent more than a year reading the very long and sometimes very tedious history of philosophy in a search for duplicate ideas. It was a fascinating way to read the history of philosophy, however, and a thing occurred of which I still don't know quite what to make. Philosophical systems that are supposed to be greatly opposed to one another both seem to be saying something very close to what Phædrus thought, with minor variations. Time after time I thought I'd found whom he was duplicating, but each time, because of what appeared to be some slight differences, he took a greatly different direction. Hegel, for example, whom I referred to earlier, rejected Hindu systems of philosophy as no philosophy at all. Phædrus seemed to assimilate them, or be assimilated by them. There was no feeling of contradiction.
Eventually I came to Poincaré. Here again there was little duplication but another kind of phenomenon. Phædrus follows a long and tortuous path into the highest abstractions, seems about to come down and then stops. Poincaré starts with the most basic scientific verities, works up to the same abstractions and then stops. Both trails stop right at each other's end! There is perfect continuity between them. 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. Like Robinson Crusoe's discovery of footprints on the sand.
Poincaré lived from 1854 to 1912, a professor at the University of Paris. His beard and pince-nez were reminiscent of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, who lived in Paris at the same time and was only ten years younger.
During Poincaré's lifetime, an alarmingly deep crisis in the foundations of the exact sciences had begun. For years scientific truth had been beyond the possibility of a doubt; the logic of science was infallible, and if the scientists were sometimes mistaken, this was assumed to be only from their mistaking its rules. The great questions had all been answered. The mission of science was now simply to refine these answers to greater and greater accuracy. True, there were still unexplained phenomena such as radioactivity, transmission of light through the "ether," and the peculiar relationship of magnetic to electric forces; but these, if past trends were any indication, had eventually to fall. It was hardly guessed by anyone that within a few decades there would be no more absolute space, absolute time, absolute substance or even absolute magnitude; that classical physics, the scientific rock of ages, would become "approximate"; that the soberest and most respected of astronomers would be telling mankind that if it looked long enough through a telescope powerful enough, what it would see was the back of its own head!
The basis of the foundation-shattering Theory of Relativity was as yet understood only by very few, of whom Poincaré, as the most eminent mathematician of his time, was one.
In his Foundations of Science Poincaré explained that the antecedents of the crisis in the foundations of science were very old. It had long been sought in vain, he said, to demonstrate the axiom known as Euclid's fifth postulate and this search was the start of the crisis. Euclid's postulate of parallels, which states that through a given point there's not more than one parallel line to a given straight line, we usually learn in tenth-grade geometry. It is one of the basic building blocks out of which the entire mathematics of geometry is constructed.
All the other axioms seemed so obvious as to be unquestionable, but this one did not. Yet you couldn't get rid of it without destroying huge portions of the mathematics, and no one seemed able to reduce it to anything more elementary. What vast effort had been wasted in that chimeric hope was truly unimaginable, Poincaré said.
Finally, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and almost at the same time, a Hungarian and a Russian...Bolyai and Lobachevski...established irrefutably that a proof of Euclid's fifth postulate is impossible. They did this by reasoning that if there were any way to reduce Euclid's postulate to other, surer axioms, another effect would also be noticeable: a reversal of Euclid's postulate would create logical contradictions in the geometry. So they reversed Euclid's postulate.
Lobachevski assumes at the start that through a given point can be drawn two parallels to a given straight. And he retains besides all Euclid's other axioms. From these hypotheses he deduces a series of theorems among which it's impossible to find any contradiction, and he constructs a geometry whose faultless logic is inferior in nothing to that of the Euclidian geometry.
Thus by his failure to find any contradictions he proves that the fifth postulate is irreducible to simpler axioms.
It wasn't the proof that was alarming. It was its rational byproduct that soon overshadowed it and almost everything else in the field of mathematics. Mathematics, the cornerstone of scientific certainty, was suddenly uncertain.
We now had two contradictory visions of unshakable scientific truth, true for all men of all ages, regardless of their individual preferences.
This was the basis of the profound crisis that shattered the scientific complacency of the Gilded Age. How do we know which one of these geometries is right? If there is no basis for distinguishing between them, then you have a total mathematics which admits logical contradictions. But a mathematics that admits internal logical contradictions is no mathematics at all. The ultimate effect of the non-Euclidian geometries becomes nothing more than a magician's mumbo jumbo in which belief is sustained purely by faith!
And of course once that door was opened one could hardly expect the number of contradictory systems of unshakable scientific truth to be limited to two. A German named Riemann appeared with another unshakable system of geometry which throws overboard not only Euclid's postulate, but also the first axiom, which states that only one straight line can pass through two points. Again there is no internal contradiction, only an inconsistency with both Lobachevskian and Euclidian geometries.
According to the Theory of Relativity, Riemann geometry best describes the world we live in.
At Three Forks the road cuts into a narrow canyon of whitish-tan rock, past some Lewis and Clark caves. East of Butte we go up a long hard grade, cross the Continental Divide, then go down into a valley. Later we pass the great stack of the Anaconda smelter, turn into the town of Anaconda and find a good restaurant with steak and coffee. We go up a long grade that leads to a lake surrounded by pine forests and past some fishermen who push a small boat into the water. Then the road winds down again through the pine forest, and I see by the angle of the sun that the morning is almost ended.
We pass through Phillipsburg and are off into valley meadows. The head wind becomes more gusty here, so I slow down to fifty-five to lessen it a little. We go through Maxville and by the time we reach Hall are badly in need of a rest.
We find a churchyard by the side of the road and stop. The wind is blowing hard now and is chilly, but the sun is warm and we lay out our jackets and helmets on the grass on the leeward side of the church for a rest. It's very lonely and open here, but beautiful. When you have mountains in the distance or even hills, you have space. Chris turns his face into his jacket and tries to sleep.
Everything is so different now without the Sutherlands...so lonely. If you'll excuse me I'll just talk Chautauqua now, until the loneliness goes away.
To solve the problem of what is mathematical truth, Poincaré said, we should first ask ourselves what is the nature of geometric axioms. Are they synthetic a priori judgments, as Kant said? That is, do they exist as a fixed part of man's consciousness, independently of experience and uncreated by experience? Poincaré thought not. They would then impose themselves upon us with such force that we couldn't conceive the contrary proposition, or build upon it a theoretic edifice. There would be no non-Euclidian geometry.
Should we therefore conclude that the axioms of geometry are experimental verities? Poincaré didn't think that was so either. If they were, they would be subject to continual change and revision as new laboratory data came in. This seemed to be contrary to the whole nature of geometry itself.
Poincaré concluded that the axioms of geometry are conventions, our choice among all possible conventions is guided by experimental facts, but it remains free and is limited only by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction. Thus it is that the postulates can remain rigorously true even though the experimental laws that have determined their adoption are only approximative. The axioms of geometry, in other words, are merely disguised definitions.
Then, having identified the nature of geometric axioms, he turned to the question, Is Euclidian geometry true or is Riemann geometry true?
He answered, The question has no meaning.
As well ask whether the metric system is true and the avoirdupois system is false; whether Cartesian coordinates are true and polar coordinates are false. One geometry can not be more true than another; it can only be more convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.
Poincaré then went on to demonstrate the conventional nature of other concepts of science, such as space and time, showing that there isn't one way of measuring these entities that is more true than another; that which is generally adopted is only more convenient.
Our concepts of space and time are also definitions, selected on the basis of their convenience in handling the facts.
This radical understanding of our most basic scientific concepts is not yet complete, however. The mystery of what is space and time may be made more understandable by this explanation, but now the burden of sustaining the order of the universe rests on "facts." What are facts?
Poincaré proceeded to examine these critically. Which facts are you going to observe? he asked. There is an infinity of them. There is no more chance that an unselective observation of facts will produce science than there is that a monkey at a typewriter will produce the Lord's Prayer.
The same is true of hypotheses. Which hypotheses? Poincaré wrote, "If a phenomenon admits of a complete mechanical explanation it will admit of an infinity of others which will account equally well for all the peculiarities disclosed by experiment." This was the statement made by Phædrus in the laboratory; it raised the question that failed him out of school.
If the scientist had at his disposal infinite time, Poincaré said, it would only be necessary to say to him, "Look and notice well"; but as there isn't time to see everything, and as it's better not to see than to see wrongly, it's necessary for him to make a choice.
Poincaré laid down some rules: There is a hierarchy of facts.
The more general a fact, the more precious it is. Those which serve many times are better than those which have little chance of coming up again. Biologists, for example, would be at a loss to construct a science if only individuals and no species existed, and if heredity didn't make children like parents.
Which facts are likely to reappear? The simple facts. How to recognize them? Choose those that seem simple. Either this simplicity is real or the complex elements are indistinguishable. In the first case we're likely to meet this simple fact again either alone or as an element in a complex fact. The second case too has a good chance of recurring since nature doesn't randomly construct such cases.
Where is the simple fact? Scientists have been seeking it in the two extremes, in the infinitely great and in the infinitely small. Biologists, for example, have been instinctively led to regard the cell as more interesting than the whole animal; and, since Poincaré's time, the protein molecule as more interesting than the cell. The outcome has shown the wisdom of this, since cells and molecules belonging to different organisms have been found to be more alike than the organisms themselves.
How then choose the interesting fact, the one that begins again and again? Method is precisely this choice of facts; it is needful then to be occupied first with creating a method; and many have been imagined, since none imposes itself. It's proper to begin with the regular facts, but after a rule is established beyond all doubt, the facts in conformity with it become dull because they no longer teach us anything new. Then it's the exception that becomes important. We seek not resemblances but differences, choose the most accentuated differences because they're the most striking and also the most instructive.
We first seek the cases in which this rule has the greatest chance of failing; by going very far away in space or very far away in time, we may find our usual rules entirely overturned, and these grand overturnings enable us the better to see the little changes that may happen nearer to us. But what we ought to aim at is less the ascertainment of resemblances and differences than the recognition of likenesses hidden under apparent divergences. Particular rules seem at first discordant, but looking more closely we see in general that they resemble each other; different as to matter, they are alike as to form, as to the order of their parts. When we look at them with this bias we shall see them enlarge and tend to embrace everything. And this it is that makes the value of certain facts that come to complete an assemblage and to show that it is the faithful image of other known assemblages.
No, Poincaré concluded, a scientist does not choose at random the facts he observes. He seeks to condense much experience and much thought into a slender volume; and that's why a little book on physics contains so many past experiences and a thousand times as many possible experiences whose result is known beforehand.
Then Poincaré illustrated how a fact is discovered. He had described generally how scientists arrive at facts and theories but now he penetrated narrowly into his own personal experience with the mathematical functions that established his early fame.
For fifteen days, he said, he strove to prove that there couldn't be any such functions. Every day he seated himself at his work-table, stayed an hour or two, tried a great number of combinations and reached no results.
Then one evening, contrary to his custom, he drank black coffee and couldn't sleep. Ideas arose in crowds. He felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination.
The next morning he had only to write out the results. A wave of crystallization had taken place.
He described how a second wave of crystallization, guided by analogies to established mathematics, produced what he later named the "Theta-Fuchsian Series." He left Caen, where he was living, to go on a geologic excursion. The changes of travel made him forget mathematics. He was about to enter a bus, and at the moment when he put his foot on the step, the idea came to him, without anything in his former thoughts having paved the way for it, that the transformations he had used to define the Fuchsian functions were identical with those of non-Euclidian geometry. He didn't verify the idea, he said, he just went on with a conversation on the bus; but he felt a perfect certainty. Later he verified the result at his leisure.
A later discovery occurred while he was walking by a seaside bluff. It came to him with just the same characteristics of brevity, suddenness and immediate certainty. Another major discovery occurred while he was walking down a street. Others eulogized this process as the mysterious workings of genius, but Poincaré was not content with such a shallow explanation. He tried to fathom more deeply what had happened.
Mathematics, he said, isn't merely a question of applying rules, any more than science. It doesn't merely make the most combinations possible according to certain fixed laws. The combinations so obtained would he exceedingly numerous, useless and cumbersome. The true work of the inventor consists in choosing among these combinations so as to eliminate the useless ones, or rather, to avoid the trouble of making them, and the rules that must guide the choice are extremely fine and delicate. It's almost impossible to state them precisely; they must be felt rather than formulated.
Poincaré then hypothesized that this selection is made by what he called the "subliminal self," an entity that corresponds exactly with what Phædrus called preintellectual awareness. The subliminal self, Poincaré said, looks at a large number of solutions to a problem, but only the interesting ones break into the domain of consciousness. Mathematical solutions are selected by the subliminal self on the basis of "mathematical beauty," of the harmony of numbers and forms, of geometric elegance. "This is a true esthetic feeling which all mathematicians know," Poincaré said, "but of which the profane are so ignorant as often to be tempted to smile." But it is this harmony, this beauty, that is at the center of it all.
Poincaré made it clear that he was not speaking of romantic beauty, the beauty of appearances which strikes the senses. He meant classic beauty, which comes from the harmonious order of the parts, and which a pure intelligence can grasp, which gives structure to romantic beauty and without which life would be only vague and fleeting, a dream from which one could not distinguish one's dreams because there would be no basis for making the distinction. It is the quest of this special classic beauty, the sense of harmony of the cosmos, which makes us choose the facts most fitting to contribute to this harmony.It is not the facts but the relation of things that results in the universal harmony that is the sole objective reality.
What guarantees the objectivity of the world in which we live is that this world is common to us with other thinking beings. Through the communications that we have with other men we receive from them ready-made harmonious reasonings. We know that these reasonings do not come from us and at the same time we recognize in them, because of their harmony, the work of reasonable beings like ourselves. And as these reasonings appear to fit the world of our sensations, we think we may infer that these reasonable beings have seen the same thing as we; thus it is that we know we haven't been dreaming. It is this harmony, this quality if you will, that is the sole basis for the only reality we can ever know.
Poincaré's contemporaries refused to acknowledge that facts are preselected because they thought that to do so would destroy the validity of scientific method. They presumed that "preselected facts" meant that truth is "whatever you like" and called his ideas conventionalism. They vigorously ignored the truth that their own "principle of objectivity" is not itself an observable fact...and therefore by their own criteria should be put in a state of suspended animation.
They felt they had to do this because if they didn't, the entire philosophic underpinning of science would collapse. Poincaré didn't offer any resolutions of this quandary. He didn't go far enough into the metaphysical implications of what he was saying to arrive at the solution. What he neglected to say was that the selection of facts before you "observe" them is "whatever you like" only in a dualistic, subject-object metaphysical system! When Quality enters the picture as a third metaphysical entity, the preselection of facts is no longer arbitrary. The preselection of facts is not based on subjective, capricious "whatever you like" but on Quality, which is reality itself. Thus the quandary vanishes.
It was as though Phædrus had been working on a puzzle of his own and because of lack of time had left one whole side unfinished.
Poincaré had been working on a puzzle of his own. His judgment that the scientist selects facts, hypotheses and axioms on the basis of harmony, also left the rough serrated edge of a puzzle incomplete. To leave the impression in the scientific world that the source of all scientific reality is merely a subjective, capricious harmony is to solve problems of epistemology while leaving an unfinished edge at the border of metaphysics that makes the epistemology unacceptable.
But we know from Phædrus' metaphysics that the harmony Poincaré talked about is not subjective. It is the source of subjects and objects and exists in an anterior relationship to them. It is not capricious, it is the force that opposes capriciousness; the ordering principle of all scientific and mathematical thought which destroys capriciousness, and without which no scientific thought can proceed. What brought tears of recognition to my eyes was the discovery that these unfinished edges match perfectly in a kind of harmony that both Phædrus and Poincaré talked about, to produce a complete structure of thought capable of uniting the separate languages of Science and Art into one.
On either side of us the mountains have become steep, to form a long narrow valley that winds into Missoula. This head wind has worn me down and I'm tired now. Chris taps me and points to a high hill with a large painted M on it. I nod. This morning we passed one like it as we left Bozeman. A fragment occurs to me that the freshmen in each school go up there and paint the M each year.
At a station where we fill with gas, a man with a trailer carrying two Appaloosa horses strikes up a conversation. Most horse people are antimotorcycle, it seems, but this one is not, and he asks a lot of questions, which I answer. Chris keeps asking to go up to the M, but I can see from here it's a steep, rutty, scrambler road. With our highway machine and heavy load I don't want to fool with it. We stretch our legs for a while, walk around and then somewhat wearily head out of Missoula toward Lolo Pass.
A recollection appears that not many years ago this road was all dirt with twists and turns around every rock and fold in the mountains. Now it's paved and the turns are very broad. All the traffic we were in has evidently headed north for Kalispell or Coeur D'Alene, for there's hardly any now. We're headed southwest, have picked up a tail wind, and we feel better because of it. The road starts to wind up into the pass.
All traces of the East are gone now, at least in my imagination. All the rain here comes from Pacific winds and all the rivers and streams here return it to the Pacific. We should be at the ocean in two or three days.
At Lolo Pass we see a restaurant, and pull up in front of it beside an old Harley high-miler. It has a homemade pannier on the back and thirty-six thousand on the odometer. A real cross-country man.
Inside we fill up on pizza and milk, and when finished leave right away. There's not much sunlight left, and a search for a campsite after dark is difficult and unpleasant.
As we leave we see the cross-country man by the cycles with his wife and we say hello. He is from Missouri, and the relaxed look on his wife's face tells me they've been having a good trip.
The man asks, "Were you bucking that wind up to Missoula too?"
I nod. "It must have been thirty or forty miles an hour."
"At least," he says.
We talk about camping for a while and they comment on how cold it is. They never dreamed in Missouri it would be this cold in the summer, even in the mountains. They've had to buy clothes and blankets.
"It shouldn't be too cold tonight," I say. "We're only at about five thousand feet."
Chris says, "We're going to camp just down the road."
"At one of the campsites?"
"No, just somewhere off the road," I say.
They show no inclination of wanting to join us, so after a pause I press the starter button and we wave off.
On the road the shadows of the mountain trees are long now. After five or ten miles we see some logging road turnoffs and head up.
The logging road is sandy, so I keep in low gear with feet out to prevent a spill. We see side roads off the main logging road but I stay on the main one until after about a mile we come to some bulldozers. That means they're still logging here. We turn back and head up one of the side roads. After about half a mile we come to a tree fallen across the road. That's good. That means this road has been abandoned.
I say, "This is it" to Chris, and he gets off. We're on a slope that allows us to see over unbroken forest for miles.
Chris is all for exploring, but I'm so tired I just want to rest. "You go by yourself," I say.
"No, you come along."
"I'm really tired, Chris. In the morning we'll explore."
I untie the packs and spread the sleeping bags out on the ground. Chris goes off. I stretch out, and the tiredness fills my arms and legs. Silent, beautiful forest -- .
In time Chris returns, and says he has diarrhea.
"Oh," I say, and get up. "Do you have to change underwear?"
"Yes." He looks sheepish.
"Well, they're in the pack by the front of the cycle. Change and get a bar of soap from the saddlebag and we'll go down to the stream and wash the old underwear out." He's embarrassed by the whole thing and now is glad to take orders.
The downward slope of the road makes our feet flop as we head toward the stream. Chris shows me some stones he's collected while I've been sleeping. The pine smell of the forest is rich here. It's turning cool and the sun is very low. The silence and the fatigue and the sinking of the sun depress me a little, but I keep it to myself.
After Chris has washed out his underwear and has it completely clean and wrung out we head back up the logging road. As we climb it I get a sudden depressed feeling I've been walking up this logging road all my life.
"What?" A small bird rises from a tree in front of us.
"What should I be when I grow up?"
The bird disappears over a far ridge. I don't know what to say. "Honest," I finally say.
"I mean what kind of a job?"
"Why do you get mad when I ask that?"
"I'm not mad -- I just think -- I don't know -- I'm just too tired to think -- . It doesn't matter what you do."
Roads like this one get smaller and smaller and then quit.
Later I notice he's not keeping up.
The sun is below the horizon now and twilight is on us. We walk separately back up the logging road and when we reach the cycle we climb into the sleeping bags and without a word go to sleep.
There it is at the end of the corridor: a glass door. And behind it are Chris and on one side of him his younger brother and on the other side his mother.Chris has his hand against the glass. He recognizes me and waves. I wave back and approach the door.
How silent everything is. Like watching a motion picture when the sound has failed.
Chris looks up at his mother and smiles. She smiles down at him but I see she is only covering her grief. She's very distressed about something but she doesn't want them to see.
And now I see what the glass door is.It is the door of a coffin...mine.
Not a coffin, a sarcophagus. I am in an enormous vault , dead, and they are paying their last respects.
It's kind of them to come and do this. They didn't have to do this.I feel grateful.Now Chris motions for me to open the glass door of the vault.I see he wants to talk to me. He wants me to tell him, perhaps,what death is like.I feel a desire to do this,to tell him. It was so good of him to come and wave I will tell him it's not so bad. It's just lonely.
I reach to push the door open but a dark figure in a shadow beside the door motions for me not to touch it. A single finger is raised to lips I cannot see. The dead aren't permitted to speak.
But they want me to talk.I'm still needed! Doesn't he see this? There must he some kind of mistake.Doesn't he see that they need me? I plead with the figure that I have to speak to them.It's not finished yet. I have to tell them things.But the figure in the shadows makes no sign he has even heard.
"CHRIS! " I shout through the door."I'LL SEE YOU!!"
The dark figure moves toward me threateningly,but I hear Chris's voice,"Where? " faint and distant. He heard me! And the dark figure, enraged, draws a curtain over the door.
Not the mountain,I think.The mountain is gone."AT THE BOTTOM OF THE OCEAN!! " I shout.
And now I am standing in the deserted ruins of a city all alone.The ruins are all around me endlessly in every direction and I must walk them alone.
The sun is up.
For a while I'm not sure where I am.
We're on a road in a forest somewhere.
Bad dream. That glass door again.
The chrome of the cycle gleams beside me and then I see the pines and then Idaho comes to mind.
The door and the shadowy figure beside it were just imaginary. We're on a logging road, that's right -- bright day -- sparkling air. Wow! -- it's beautiful. We're headed for the ocean.
I remember the dream again and the words "I'll see you at the bottom of the ocean" and wonder about them. But pines and sunlight are stronger than any dream and the wondering goes away. Good old reality.
I get out of the sleeping bag. It's cold and I get dressed quickly. Chris is asleep. I walk around him, climb over a fallen treetrunk and walk up the logging road. To warm myself I speed up to a jog and move up the road briskly. Good, good, good, good, good. The word keeps time with the jogging. Some birds fly up from the shadowy hill into the sunlight and I watch them until they're out of sight. Good, good, good, good, good. Crunchy gravel on the road. Good, good. Bright yellow sand in the sun. Good, good, good.
These roads go on for miles sometimes. Good, good, good. Eventually I reach a point where I'm really winded. The road is higher now and I can see for miles over the forest.
Still puffing, I walk back down at a brisk pace, crunching more gently now, noticing small plants and shrubs where the pines have been logged.
At the cycle again I pack gently and quickly. By now I'm so familiar with how everything goes together it's almost done without thought. Finally I need Chris's sleeping bag. I roll him a little, not too rough, and tell him, "Great day!"
He looks around, disoriented. He gets out of the sleeping bag and, while I pack it, gets dressed without really knowing what he does.
"Put your sweater and jacket on," I say. "It's going to be a chilly ride."
He does and gets on and in low gear we follow the logging road down to where it meets the blacktop again. Before we start on it I take one last look back up. Nice. A nice spot. From here the blacktop winds down and down.
Long Chautauqua today. One that I've been looking forward to during the whole trip.
Second gear and then third. Not too fast on these curves. Beautiful sunlight on these forests.
There has been a haze, a backup problem in this Chautauqua so far; I talked about caring the first day and then realized I couldn't say anything meaningful about caring until its inverse side, Quality, is understood. I think it's important now to tie care to Quality by pointing out that care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who's bound to have some characteristics of Quality.
Thus, if the problem of technological hopelessness is caused by absence of care, both by technologists and antitechnologists; and if care and Quality are external and internal aspects of the same thing, then it follows logically that what really causes technological hopelessness is absence of the perception of Quality in technology by both technologists and antitechnologists. Phædrus' mad pursuit of the rational, analytic and therefore technological meaning of the word "Quality" was really a pursuit of the answer to the whole problem of technological hopelessness. So it seems to me, anyway.
So I backed up and shifted to the classic-romantic split that I think underlies the whole humanist-technological problem. But that too required a backup into the meaning of Quality.
But to understand the meaning of Quality in classic terms required a backup into metaphysics and its relationship to everyday life. To do that required still another backup into the huge area that relates both metaphysics and everyday life...namely, formal reason. So I proceeded with formal reason up into metaphysics and then into Quality and then from Quality back down into metaphysics and science.
Now we go still further down from science into technology, and I do believe that at last we are where I wanted to be in the first place.
But now we have with us some concepts that greatly alter the whole understanding of things. Quality is the Buddha. Quality is scientific reality. Quality is the goal of Art. It remains to work these concepts into a practical, down-to-earth context, and for this there is nothing more practical or down-to-earth than what I have been talking about all along...the repair of an old motorcycle.
This road keeps on winding down through this canyon. Early morning patches of sun are around us everywhere. The cycle hums through the cold air and mountain pines and we pass a small sign that says a breakfast place is a mile ahead.
"Are you hungry?" I shout.
"Yes!" Chris shouts back.
Soon a second sign saying CABINS with an arrow under it points off to the left. We slow down, turn and follow a dirt road until it reaches some varnished log cabins under some trees. We pull the cycle under a tree, shut off the ignition and gas and walk inside the main lodge. The wooden floors have a nice clomp under the cycle boots. We sit down at a tableclothed table and order eggs, hot cakes, maple syrup, milk, sausages and orange juice. That cold wind has worked up an appetite.
"I want to write a letter to Mom," Chris says.
That sounds good to me. I go to the desk and get some of the lodge stationery. I bring it to Chris and give him my pen. That brisk morning air has given him some energy too. He puts the paper in front of him, grabs the pen in a heavy grip and then concentrates on the blank paper for a while.
He looks up. "What day is it?"
I tell him. He nods and writes it down.
Then I see him write, "Dear Mom:" Then he stares at the paper for a while. Then he looks up. "What should I say?"
I start to grin. I should have him write for an hour about one side of a coin. I've sometimes thought of him as a student but not as a rhetoric student.
We're interrupted by the hot cakes and I tell him to put the letter to one side and I'll help him afterward.
When we are done I sit smoking with a leaden feeling from the hot cakes and the eggs and everything and notice through the window that under the pines outside the ground is in patches of shadow and sunlight.
Chris brings out the paper again. "Now help me," he says.
"Okay," I say. I tell him getting stuck is the commonest trouble of all. Usually, I say, your mind gets stuck when you're trying to do too many things at once. What you have to do is try not to force words to come. That just gets you more stuck. What you have to do now is separate out the things and do them one at a time. You're trying to think of what to say and what to say first at the same time and that's too hard. So separate them out. Just make a list of all the things you want to say in any old order. Then later we'll figure out the right order.
"Like what things?" he asks.
"Well, what do you want to tell her?"
"About the trip."
"What things about the trip?"
He thinks for a while. "About the mountain we climbed."
"Okay, write that down," I say.
He does. Then I see him write down another item, then another, while I finish my cigarette and coffee. He goes through three sheets of paper, listing things he wants to say.
"Save those," I tell him, "and we'll work on them later."
"I'll never get all this into one letter," he says.
He sees me laugh and frowns. I say, "Just pick out the best things." Then we head outside and onto the motorcycle again.
On the road down the canyon now we feel the steady drop of altitude by a popping of ears. It's becoming warmer and the air is thicker too. It's goodbye to the high country, which we've been more or less in since Miles City.
Stuckness. That's what I want to talk about today.
Back on our trip out of Miles City you'll remember I talked about how formal scientific method could be applied to the repair of a motorcycle through the study of chains of cause and effect and the application of experimental method to determine these chains. The purpose then was to show what was meant by classic rationality.
Now I want to show that that classic pattern of rationality can be tremendously improved, expanded and made far more effective through the formal recognition of Quality in its operation. Before doing this, however, I should go over some of the negative aspects of traditional maintenance to show just where the problems are.
The first is stuckness, a mental stuckness that accompanies the physical stuckness of whatever it is you're working on. The same thing Chris was suffering from. A screw sticks, for example, on a side cover assembly. You check the manual to see if there might be any special cause for this screw to come off so hard, but all it says is "Remove side cover plate" in that wonderful terse technical style that never tells you what you want to know. There's no earlier procedure left undone that might cause the cover screws to stick.
If you're experienced you'd probably apply a penetrating liquid and an impact driver at this point. But suppose you're inexperienced and you attach a self-locking plier wrench to the shank of your screwdriver and really twist it hard, a procedure you've had success with in the past, but which this time succeeds only in tearing the slot of the screw.
Your mind was already thinking ahead to what you would do when the cover plate was off, and so it takes a little time to realize that this irritating minor annoyance of a torn screw slot isn't just irritating and minor. You're stuck. Stopped. Terminated. It's absolutely stopped you from fixing the motorcycle.
This isn't a rare scene in science or technology. This is the commonest scene of all. Just plain stuck. In traditional maintenance this is the worst of all moments, so bad that you have avoided even thinking about it before you come to it.
The book's no good to you now. Neither is scientific reason. You don't need any scientific experiments to find out what's wrong. It's obvious what's wrong. What you need is an hypothesis for how you're going to get that slotless screw out of there and scientific method doesn't provide any of these hypotheses. It operates only after they're around.
This is the zero moment of consciousness. Stuck. No answer. Honked. Kaput. It's a miserable experience emotionally. You're losing time. You're incompetent. You don't know what you're doing. You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take the machine to a real mechanic who knows how to figure these things out.
It's normal at this point for the fear-anger syndrome to take over and make you want to hammer on that side plate with a chisel, to pound it off with a sledge if necessary. You think about it, and the more you think about it the more you're inclined to take the whole machine to a high bridge and drop it off. It's just outrageous that a tiny little slot of a screw can defeat you so totally.
What you're up against is the great unknown, the void of all Western thought. You need some ideas, some hypotheses. Traditional scientific method, unfortunately, has never quite gotten around to say exactly where to pick up more of these hypotheses. Traditional scientific method has always been at the very best, 20-20 hindsight. It's good for seeing where you've been. It's good for testing the truth of what you think you know, but it can't tell you where you ought to go, unless where you ought to go is a continuation of where you were going in the past. Creativity, originality, inventiveness, intuition, imagination..."unstuckness," in other words...are completely outside its domain.
We continue down the canyon, past folds in the steep slopes where wide streams enter. We notice the river grows rapidly now as streams enlarge it. Turns in the road are less sharp here and straight stretches are longer. I move into the highest gear.
Later the trees become scarce and spindly, with large areas of grass and underbrush between them. It's too hot for the jacket and sweater so I stop at a roadside pulloff to remove them.
Chris wants to go hiking up a trail and I let him, finding a small shady spot to sit back and rest. Just quiet now, and meditative.
A display describes a fire burn that took place here years ago. According to the information the forest is filling in again but it will be years before it returns to its former condition.
Later the crunch of gravel tells me Chris is coming back down the trail. He didn't go very far. When he arrives he says, "Let's go." We retie the pack, which has started to shift a little, and then move out on the highway. The sweat from sitting there cools suddenly from the wind.
We're still stuck on that screw and the only way it's going to get unstuck is by abandoning further examination of the screw according to traditional scientific method. That won't work. What we have to do is examine traditional scientific method in the light of that stuck screw.
We have been looking at that screw "objectively." According to the doctrine of "objectivity," which is integral with traditional scientific method, what we like or don't like about that screw has nothing to do with our correct thinking. We should not evaluate what we see. We should keep our mind a blank tablet which nature fills for us, and then reason disinterestedly from the facts we observe.
But when we stop and think about it disinterestedly, in terms of this stuck screw, we begin to see that this whole idea of disinterested observation is silly. Where are those facts? What are we going to observe disinterestedly? The torn slot? The immovable side cover plate? The color of the paint job? The speedometer? The sissy bar? As Poincaré would have said, there are an infinite number of facts about the motorcycle, and the right ones don't just dance up and introduce themselves. The right facts, the ones we really need, are not only passive, they are damned elusive, and we're not going to just sit back and "observe" them. We're going to have to be in there looking for them or we're going to be here a long time. Forever. As Poincaré pointed out, there must be a subliminal choice of what facts we observe.
The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! This is an ability about which formal traditional scientific method has nothing to say. It's long past time to take a closer look at this qualitative preselection of facts which has seemed so scrupulously ignored by those who make so much of these facts after they are "observed." I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn't destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice.
I think the basic fault that underlies the problem of stuckness is traditional rationality's insistence upon "objectivity," a doctrine that there is a divided reality of subject and object. For true science to take place these must be rigidly separate from each other. "You are the mechanic. There is the motorcycle. You are forever apart from one another. You do this to it. You do that to it. These will be the results."
This eternally dualistic subject-object way of approaching the motorcycle sounds right to us because we're used to it. But it's not right. It's always been an artificial interpretation superimposed on reality. It's never been reality itself. When this duality is completely accepted a certain nondivided relationship between the mechanic and motorcycle, a craftsmanlike feeling for the work, is destroyed. When traditional rationality divides the world into subjects and objects it shuts out Quality, and when you're really stuck it's Quality, not any subjects or objects, that tells you where you ought to go.
By returning our attention to Quality it is hoped that we can get technological work out of the noncaring subject-object dualism and back into craftsmanlike self-involved reality again, which will reveal to us the facts we need when we are stuck.
In my mind now is an image of a huge, long railroad train, one of those 120-boxcar jobs that cross the prairies all the time with lumber and vegetables going east and with automobiles and other manufactured goods going west. I want to call this railroad train "knowledge" and subdivide in into two parts: Classic Knowledge and Romantic Knowledge.
In terms of the analogy, Classic Knowledge, the knowledge taught by the Church of Reason, is the engine and all the boxcars. All of them and everything that's in them. If you subdivide the train into parts you will find no Romantic Knowledge anywhere. And unless you're careful it's easy to make the presumption that's all the train there is. This isn't because Romantic Knowledge is nonexistent or even unimportant. It's just that so far the definition of the train is static and purposeless. This was what I was trying to get at back in South Dakota when I talked about two whole dimensions of existence. It's two whole ways of looking at the train.
Romantic Quality, in terms of this analogy, isn't any "part" of the train. It's the leading edge of the engine, a two-dimensional surface of no real significance unless you understand that the train isn't a static entity at all. A train really isn't a train if it can't go anywhere. In the process of examining the train and subdividing it into parts we've inadvertently stopped it, so that it really isn't a train we are examining. That's why we get stuck.
The real train of knowledge isn't a static entity that can be stopped and subdivided. It's always going somewhere. On a track called Quality. And that engine and all those 120 boxcars are never going anywhere except where the track of Quality takes them; and romantic Quality, the leading edge of the engine, takes them along that track.
Romantic reality is the cutting edge of experience. It's the leading edge of the train of knowledge that keeps the whole train on the track. Traditional knowledge is only the collective memory of where that leading edge has been. At the leading edge there are no subjects, no objects, only the track of Quality ahead, and if you have no formal way of evaluating, no way of acknowledging this Quality, then the entire train has no way of knowing where to go. You don't have pure reason...you have pure confusion. The leading edge is where absolutely all the action is. The leading edge contains all the infinite possibilities of the future. It contains all the history of the past. Where else could they be contained?
The past cannot remember the past. The future can't generate the future. The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is.
Value, the leading edge of reality, is no longer an irrelevant offshoot of structure. Value is the predecessor of structure. It's the preintellectual awareness that gives rise to it. Our structured reality is preselected on the basis of value, and really to understand structured reality requires an understanding of the value source from which it's derived.
One's rational understanding of a motorcycle is therefore modified from minute to minute as one works on it and sees that a new and different rational understanding has more Quality. One doesn't cling to old sticky ideas because one has an immediate rational basis for rejecting them. Reality isn't static anymore. It's not a set of ideas you have to either fight or resign yourself to. It's made up, in part, of ideas that are expected to grow as you grow, and as we all grow, century after century. With Quality as a central undefined term, reality is, in its essential nature, not static but dynamic. And when you really understand dynamic reality you never get stuck. It has forms but the forms are capable of change.
To put it in more concrete terms: If you want to build a factory, or fix a motorcycle, or set a nation right without getting stuck, then classical, structured, dualistic subject-object knowledge, although necessary, isn't enough. You have to have some feeling for the quality of the work. You have to have a sense of what's good. That is what carries you forward. This sense isn't just something you're born with, although you are born with it. It's also something you can develop. It's not just "intuition," not just unexplainable "skill" or "talent." It's the direct result of contact with basic reality, Quality, which dualistic reason has in the past tended to conceal.
It all sounds so far out and esoteric when it's put like that it comes as a shock to discover that it is one of the most homespun, down-to-earth views of reality you can have. Harry Truman, of all people, comes to mind, when he said, concerning his administration's programs, "We'll just try them -- and if they don't work -- why then we'll just try something else." That may not be an exact quote, but it's close.
The reality of the American government isn't static, he said, it's dynamic. If we don't like it we'll get something better. The American government isn't going to get stuck on any set of fancy doctrinaire ideas.
The key word is "better"...Quality. Some may argue that the underlying form of the American government is stuck, is incapable of change in response to Quality, but that argument is not to the point. The point is that the President and everyone else, from the wildest radical to the wildest reactionary, agree that the government should change in response to Quality, even if it doesn't. Phædrus' concept of changing Quality as reality, a reality so omnipotent that whole governments must change to keep up with it, is something that in a wordless way we have always unanimously believed in all along.
And what Harry Truman said, really, was nothing different from the practical, pragmatic attitude of any laboratory scientist or any engineer or any mechanic when he's not thinking "objectively" in the course of his daily work.
I keep talking wild theory, but it keeps somehow coming out stuff everybody knows, folklore. This Quality, this feeling for the work, is something known in every shop.
Now finally let's get back to that screw.
Let's consider a reevaluation of the situation in which we assume that the stuckness now occurring, the zero of consciousness, isn't the worst of all possible situations, but the best possible situation you could be in. After all, it's exactly this stuckness that Zen Buddhists go to so much trouble to induce; through koans, deep breathing, sitting still and the like. Your mind is empty, you have a "hollow-flexible" attitude of "beginner's mind." You're right at the front end of the train of knowledge, at the track of reality itself. Consider, for a change, that this is a moment to be not feared but cultivated. If your mind is truly, profoundly stuck, then you may be much better off than when it was loaded with ideas.
The solution to the problem often at first seems unimportant or undesirable, but the state of stuckness allows it, in time, to assume its true importance. It seemed small because your previous rigid evaluation which led to the stuckness made it small.
But now consider the fact that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. Unless you are a real master at staying stuck you can't prevent this. The fear of stuckness is needless because the longer you stay stuck the more you see the Quality...reality that gets you unstuck every time. What's really been getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train.
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, in mechanical work as in other endeavors. It's this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.
Normally screws are so cheap and small and simple you think of them as unimportant. But now, as your Quality awareness becomes stronger, you realize that this one, individual, particular screw is neither cheap nor small nor unimportant. Right now this screw is worth exactly the selling price of the whole motorcycle, because the motorcycle is actually valueless until you get the screw out. With this reevaluation of the screw comes a willingness to expand your knowledge of it.
With the expansion of the knowledge, I would guess, would come a reevaluation of what the screw really is. If you concentrate on it, think about it, stay stuck on it for a long enough time, I would guess that in time you will come to see that the screw is less and less an object typical of a class and more an object unique in itself. Then with more concentration you will begin to see the screw as not even an object at all but as a collection of functions. Your stuckness is gradually eliminating patterns of traditional reason.
In the past when you separated subject and object from one another in a permanent way, your thinking about them got very rigid. You formed a class called "screw" that seemed to be inviolable and more real than the reality you are looking at. And you couldn't think of how to get unstuck because you couldn't think of anything new, because you couldn't see anything new.
Now, in getting that screw out, you aren't interested in what it is. What it is has ceased to be a category of thought and is a continuing direct experience. It's not in the boxcars anymore, it's out in front and capable of change. You are interested in what it does and why it's doing it. You will ask functional questions. Associated with your questions will be a subliminal Quality discrimination identical to the Quality discrimination that led Poincaré to the Fuchsian equations.
What your actual solution is is unimportant as long as it has Quality. Thoughts about the screw as combined rigidness and adhesiveness and about its special helical interlock might lead naturally to solutions of impaction and use of solvents. That is one kind of Quality track. Another track may be to go to the library and look through a catalog of mechanic's tools, in which you might come across a screw extractor that would do the job. Or to call a friend who knows something about mechanical work. Or just to drill the screw out, or just burn it out with a torch. or you might just, as a result of your meditative attention to the screw, come up with some new way of extracting it that has never been thought of before and that beats all the rest and is patentable and makes you a millionaire five years from now. There's no predicting what's on that Quality track. The solutions all are simple...after you have arrived at them. But they're simple only when you know already what they are.
Highway 13 follows another branch of our river but now it goes upstream past old sawmill towns and sleepy scenery. Sometimes when you switch from a federal to a state highway it seems like you drop back like this in time. Pretty mountains, pretty river, bumpy but pleasant tar road -- old buildings, old people on a front porch -- strange how old, obsolete buildings and plants and mills, the technology of fifty and a hundred years ago, always seem to look so much better than the new stuff. Weeds and grass and wildflowers grow where the concrete has cracked and broken. Neat, squared, upright lines acquire a random sag. The uniform masses of the unbroken color of fresh paint modify to a mottled, weathered softness. Nature has a non-Euclidian geometry of her own that seems to soften the deliberate objectivity of these buildings with a kind of random spontaneity that architects would do well to study.
Soon we leave the river and the old sleepy buildings and now climb to some sort of a dry, meadowy plateau. The road rolls and bumps and rocks so much I have to keep the speed down to fifty. There are some bad chuckholes in the asphalt and I watch carefully for more.
We're really accustomed to making mileage. Stretches that would have seemed long back in the Dakotas now seem short and easy. Being on the machine seems more natural than being off it. We're nowhere that I'm familiar with, in country that I've never seen before, yet I don't feel a stranger in it.
At the top of the plateau at Grangeville, Idaho, we step from the blasting heat into an air-conditioned restaurant. Deep cool inside. While we wait for chocolate malteds I notice a high-schooler sitting at the counter exchanging looks with the girl next to him. She's gorgeous, and I'm not the only other one who notices it. The girl behind the counter waiting on them is also watching with an anger she thinks no one else sees. Some kind of triangle. We keep passing unseen through little moments of other people's lives.
Back in the heat again and not far from Grangeville we see that the dry plateau that looked almost like prairie when we were out on it suddenly breaks away into an enormous canyon. I see our road will go down and down through what must be a hundred hairpin turns into a desert of broken land and crags. I tap Chris's knee and point and as we round a turn where we see it all I hear him holler, "Wow!"
At the brink I shift down to third, then close the throttle. The engine drags, backfiring a little, and down we go.
By the time our cycle has reached the bottom of wherever it is we are, we have dropped thousands of feet. I look back over my shoulder and see antlike cars way back at the top. Now we must head forward across this baking desert to wherever the road leads.
This morning a solution to the problem of stuckness was discussed, the classic badness caused by traditional reason. Now it's time to move to its romantic parallel, the ugliness of the technology traditional reason has produced.
The road has twisted and rolled over desert hills into a little, narrow thread of green surrounding the town of White Bird, then proceeded on to a big fast river, the Salmon, flowing between high canyon walls. Here the heat is tremendous and the glare from the white canyon rock is blinding. We wind on and on through the bottom of the narrow canyon, nervous about fast-moving traffic and oppressed by the fiery heat.
The ugliness the Sutherlands were fleeing is not inherent in technology. It only seemed that way to them because it's so hard to isolate what it is within technology that's so ugly. But technology is simply the making of things and the making of things can't by its own nature be ugly or there would be no possibility for beauty in the arts, which also include the making of things. Actually a root word of technology, techne, originally meant "art." The ancient Greeks never separated art from manufacture in their minds, and so never developed separate words for them.
Neither is the ugliness inherent in the materials of modern technology ... a statement you sometimes hear. Mass-produced plastics and synthetics aren't in themselves bad. They've just acquired bad associations. A person who's lived inside stone walls of a prison most of his life is likely to see stone as an inherently ugly material, even though it's also the prime material of sculpture, and a person who's lived in a prison of ugly plastic technology that started with his childhood toys and continues through a lifetime of junky consumer products is likely to see this material as inherently ugly. But the real ugliness of modern technology isn't found in any material or shape or act or product. These are just the objects in which the low Quality appears to reside. It's our habit of assigning Quality to subjects or objects that gives this impression.
The real ugliness is not the result of any objects ofÊtechnology. Nor is it, if one follows Phædrus' metaphysics, the result of any subjects of technology, theÊpeople who produce it or the people who use it. Quality, or its absence, doesn't reside in either the subject or the object. The real ugliness lies in the relationship between the people who produce the technology and the things they produce, which results in a similar relationship between the people who use the technology and the things they use.
Phædrus felt that at the moment of pure Quality perception, or not even perception, at the moment of pure Quality, there is no subject and there is no object. There is only a sense of Quality that produces a later awareness of subjects and objects. 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 craftsmanship in all the technical arts. And it is this identity that modern, 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 Phædrus' definition, it has no Quality.
That wall in Korea that Phædrus saw was an act of technology. It was beautiful, but not because of any masterful intellectual planning or any scientific supervision of the job, or any added expenditures to "stylize" it. It was beautiful because the people who worked on it had a way of looking at things that made them do it right unselfconsciously. They didn't separate themselves from the work in such a way as to do it wrong. There is the center of the whole solution.
The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology. That's impossible. The way to resolve the conflict is to break down the barriers of dualistic thought that prevent 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. When this transcendence occurs in such events as the first airplane flight across the ocean or the first footstep on the moon, a kind of public recognition of the transcendent nature of technology occurs. But this transcendence should also occur at the individual level, on a personal basis, in one's own life, in a less dramatic way.
The walls of the canyon here are completely vertical now. In many places room for the road had to be blasted out of it. No alternate routes here. Just whichever way the river goes. It may be just my imagination, but it seems the river's already smaller than it was an hour ago.
Such personal transcendence of conflicts with technology doesn't have to involve motorcycles, of course. It can be at a level as simple as sharpening a kitchen knife or sewing a dress or mending a broken chair. The underlying problems are the same. In each case there's a beautiful way of doing it and an ugly way of doing it, and in arriving at the high-quality, beautiful way of doing it, both an ability to see what "looks good"