Book Club: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (June 2017)

Kalid Azad and I discuss June’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We discuss the practical implications of the book as well as some of its loftier philosophical ambitions.

If you would rather read the transcript, download it here.

Below are some highlights:

…on the analytical “knife” and what is created/destroyed in the process of thinking:

Scott: I want to move on to an idea that you’ve previously mentioned: the idea of an analytical knife. It’s the idea that how we conceptualize the world is like a knife cutting up the world at the joints.

I think it’s often discussed in a destructive process or a negative light whereas I thought that the book handled this with aplomb and showed how it’s useful. But it also showed that by cutting something you are destroying it to a certain extent. What are your thoughts on this dual nature of the analytical knife?

Kalid: The author mentioned that when you cut something you are basically creating something and destroying something. So when you separate things into components you’re taking a different view that’s more microscopic and you might miss the big picture. So you might see more detail but you’re missing the Gestalt overall experience. I thought it was interesting.

So if we’re talking about Geometry for example do you ever allow those two parallel lines to meet? It will change your view of the universe. The meta lesson that I’m getting from it is that essentially choice in life is quite important and we’re actually not aware of it. But we need to look at why we chose that knife.

…on whether we agree with the metaphysics of the book:

Scott: Let’s touch on the meta-physics. What is the big idea of this book? For me, the book has so many little insights and discussions. It’s so well written in so many ways, I feel as though, even if you went through and it didn’t like the meta-physical lessons, it’s still such a valuable ride.

Kalid: I am a pragmatist on these types of things. I go through it thinking, does this worldview help or hurt me? Does it make me live a life more consistent with the values I actually care about? And I think it does.

Scott: However, on the meta-physical end I do have two opinions on that. My first opinion is that I have a general doubt about meta-physics in general. My favorite quote comes from Tyler Cowen (renowned economist) he was asked about why he is is agnostic.

His opinion of this is when you come across a watch in the desert, you can form some analogies about it such as its design, who created it, etc. because you have other experiences not having to do with the watch. However, we never come across the universe because we are embedded in it. Therefore our analogies are a bit naive because we are implying reasoning about the part from within the whole. There is something to be said for that.

Where I do disagree, theoretically with this idea, personally, is that I do feel perceptions of value are emergent phenomena in the universe. The fundamental “things” are probably not values but field theories or something like that. Value comes at a level of complexity at a level much higher up on the chain.

For those of you who want to read the book, it is available here. If you want to participate in the group discussion for the book, throughout the month, you can join our book club here.

Special thanks to Kalid Azad. His website, Better Explained, is a great resource for learning mathematics.

The book for July 2017 will be Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

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