Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Study Guide

Robert Pirsig

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance | Part 2, Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

Most of this chapter is devoted to an educational lecture, or Chautauqua, on basic philosophical principles of logic. "Two kinds of logic are used, inductive and deductive," says the narrator. Inductive inferences "start with observation ... and arrive at general conclusions." As an example, if the rider notices the cycle's engine misfires whenever the cycle goes over a bump, the logical conclusion is that the bumps cause the misfiring. Alternatively, deductive inferences start with general knowledge and make a predictive observation based on this knowledge—the engine's battery powers the horn, so if the battery dies, the horn won't work.

The scientific method uses a combination of inductive and deductive reasoning. Though most motorcycle problems don't require immersion in the scientific method, the method is best for complicated repairs. Complicated or nonobvious problems should be entered into a lab notebook. The mechanic writes down the problem statements and then follows the step-by-step procedure below to solve the problems.

  1. State the problem.
  2. Formulate hypotheses about the cause of the problem.
  3. Design experiments to test the hypotheses.
  4. Predict the results of the experiments.
  5. Observe the results of the experiments.
  6. Draw conclusions from the experimental results.

In summation the narrator says, "Careful observation and precise thinking" are a mechanic's primary tools—very much like a scientist.

The chapter ends on a startling note. A car with a trailer veers out of its lane and almost hits the narrator's motorcycle. Then the cyclists pass a cardboard carton in the middle of the road, which terrifies Sylvia. She mistakes the carton for the narrator's motorcycle rolling over.

Analysis

As happened in Chapter 8, this chapter features a strongly rational passage followed and overshadowed by a jarring one. In the previous chapter the narrator suddenly shares a memory of Phaedrus sleeping on a park bench. In this chapter the narrator's motorcycle is almost hit by an oncoming car veering out of its lane. By creating such a sharp disconnect between rational, systematic, purposeful thought and unexpected, unplanned events, Pirsig may be illuminating the divide between order and chaos. Zen philosophy sees as folly the arrogance in thinking humans can exercise complete control over external environments. In fact, it teaches that individuals are not even in control of their own minds. Systems form and break down largely in spite of human intervention. People do not go insane because they want to; they just do. For all his "classical" thinking, not only is the narrator not in control of his world, he's not even in control of his psyche. He keeps returning to memories of a former self he wishes would just go away.

The bulk of this chapter is devoted to an in-depth inquiry into the scientific method. The frame of the chapter is a small group of travelers crossing a vast landscape. On the other side of the philosophical contemplation, there is a momentary near-accident.

The lengthy discussion of the scientific method also includes insights on ways the process can pose problems. The method itself—with its clear six-step outline—is reliable, but the human element can introduce complications and flaws. This builds on the ideas Pirsig has introduced to this point about motorcycle maintenance. There is a steadiness, an attention to detail, a shutting out of other things required in the process. This steadiness is necessary because a false conclusion about the machine means "you can get hung up indefinitely." He is setting himself up as an authority on both the concepts he is presenting and why the attention to small details matters.

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