This post contains excerpts from Robert Pirsig's book Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.

The words are all his, the editing choices are all mine, the consequences of reading are all yours.

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Carbon

Biological evolution can be seen as a process by which weak Dynamic forces at a subatomic level discover stratagems for overcoming huge static inorganic forces at a super-atomic level … by selecting super atomic mechanisms in which a number of options are so evenly balanced that a weak Dynamic force can tip the balance … their primary vehicle is carbon …

… carbon [is] unique … the lightest and most active of the group IV atoms whose chemical bonding characteristics are ambiguous … The group containing carbon is half way between metals and nonmetals … carbon combines with metals, nonmetals … itself … Carbon bonding was a balanced mechanism … [Dynamic subatomic forces] could steer to all sorts of freedom … by selecting bonding … variety … What distinguishes all the species of plants and animal is, in the final analysis, differences in the way carbon chooses to bond … the invention of Dynamic carbon bonding represents only one kind of evolutionary stratagem … the other kind is preservation.

… A Dynamic advance is meaningless until it can be find some static pattern with which to protect itself from degeneration … Evolution can’t be a continuous forward movement. It must be a process of ratchet-like steps in which there is a Dynamic movement forward up … then, if the results look successful, a static latching-on of the gain that has been made … the Dynamic force had to invent a carbon molecule that would preserve its limited Dynamic freedom from inorganic laws and at the same time resist deterioration back to simple compounds of carbon again … Dynamic force got around this problem by inventing two molecules: a static molecule able to resist abrasion, heat, chemical attack and the like; and a Dynamic one able to … ‘try everything’ in the ways of chemical bonding.

The static, chemically ‘dead’ plastic-like molecule called protein, surrounds the dynamic one and prevents attack … that would … destroy it. The Dynamic one, called DNA, reciprocates by telling the static one what to do, replacing [it] when it wears out, replacing itself even when it hasn’t worn out, and changing it’s own nature to overcome adverse conditions.

The division of all biological evolutionary patterns into a Dynamic function and a static function continues on up through higher levels … semipermeable cell walls to to let food in & keep poisons out is a static latch. So are … clothes, houses, villages, rituals, laws & libraries … On the other hand, the shift in cell reproduction from mitosis to meiosis to permit sexual choice and allow huge DNA diversification is a Dynamic advance. So are sexual choice, death.. communication, speculative thought, curiosity and art … in a value centered explanation of evolution [these] are close to the dynamic process itself … pulling … life forward to greater … freedom … Without Dynamic Quality an organism cannot grow. Without static quality the organism cannot last. Both are needed.

Now when we come to the chemistry professor … studying his empirically gathered data, trying to figure out what it means … this person makes more sense. He’s conducting his experiments for exactly the same purpose as the subatomic forces had when they first began to create him billions of years ago. He’s looking for information that will expand the static patterns of evolution itself and give both greater versatility and greater stability against hostile static forces of nature. He may have personal motives such as ‘pure fun’, that is the Dynamic Quality of his work. But when he applies fir funding he will … tie his request to some branch of humanity’s overall evolutionary purpose.

“Evolution can’t be a continuous forward movement. It must be a process of ratchet-like steps ...”
“Without Dynamic Quality an organism cannot grow. Without static quality the organism cannot last. Both are needed.”