ZEN and the art of MM

Last week I was chatting with my soon-to-be 20 year-old son who was reading Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and just like that I decided to reread it 30 years after tackling it the first time! Before I knew it I was pulled back into the heady meanderings of this book where art, technology, philosophy and travel intermingle, collide, unravel, and challenge the reader. I hardly put it down till I was done, mentally exhausted yet alert to these revisited ideas and musings.


When I read this at 22, it was an introduction to a new world of thought for me. I had graduated with my first Bachelor’s degree in Science, but had never taken philosophy so I remember being fascinated with all these ideas and ways of thinking. Now, 30 years later, having navigated through other degrees, raised a family, travelled through 20-odd countries, I read, absorbed, and thought about the book from that evolved perspective and life experience. And because of my current habit of journaling, I thought that a blog-post summarizing my highlights of the book and the connections I made with my present Interaction Design endeavours would be productive.

First and foremost…the message

The main take-away for me was that, in my own little way, I have been on the “right track” in living life in the moment, enjoying the process, pursuing and doing what I’m interested in, savouring moments and relationships, and seeking Quality and Meaning in this short time we have on earth.

Second, my parallels with the book

The first parallel is the fact that my son seems very interested in this book’s material at a similar age to when I first read it, and that I enjoyed the re-read concurrently, now. I love that! He and I also drove across Canada and the USA 5 years ago, passing through similar states and parks that the author is riding his bike through with his son.

The second parallel is that even though the book was written in the mid-1970s, way before personal computers and discusses the impact of technology on how we approach the world and our lives…it is so relevant today, where technology is a very large part of our lives and soon to become even more of mine as I venture into the world of Interaction Design.

And to me the most important parallel or similarity to me is the author’s love of travel and process and being in the moment. And at the heart of the book is a search for what really matters in life, something I think about more and more as my parents age, my boys grow up, some of my friends die too early, and I transition to this mid-life empty-nest stage in my life.

Next the quotes I want to highlight and remember

…human forces stronger than logic…

I am a pioneer now, looking into a promised land

Intuition, sympathy…strange works for the origin of scientific knowledge (Einstein)

And truth is a function of time

The art of the work (technology) is just as dependent upon your own mind and spirit as it is upon the material of the machine

Nonrepresentational art is one of the root experiences that most logical/classical reasoners have difficulty understanding because it doesn’t make sense to them

Quality is the response of the organism to its environment

Quality is all-pervading, the fountainhead of all things (Tao Te Ching)

Creativity, originality, inventiveness, intuition, imagination – unstuckness- are completely outside the domain of the traditional scientific method

Romantic reality is the cutting edge of experience…on the train of knowledge running on the track of Quality

The leading edge is where absolutely all the action is, it contains all the infinite possibilities of the future and all the history of the past.

Finally closing remarks…for now

Those were the essential nuggets that I came away with, that touched me…and they are likely different for each reader or even for me if I were to reread the book again in 10-20 years. It really is a timeless tome.

Two other things I really appreciated in the 2000 edition I just read was first, the author’s new introduction which called attention to a couple of errors he wanted to correct, and second, the inclusion of correspondence between the author and the editor of the first edition which highlighted the process of how the book came to be, which is always a fascinating, yet often hidden unfolding.

I would love to hear anyone else’s take-aways from and reactions to the book, so feel free to leave a comment!

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