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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Machine Language

… static patterns of value are divided into 4 systems: inorganic patterns, biological patterns, social patterns and intellectual patterns … That’s all there are … nothing is left out … Only Dynamic Quality, which cannot be described … is absent

… the four systems … all operate at the same time and in ways that are almost independent of each other … they are not continuous … Although each higher level is built on a lower one it is not an extension of that lower level. Quite the contrary. The higher level can often be seen to be in opposition to the lower level, dominating it, controlling it where possible for it’s own purposes.

… An excellent analogy to the independence of the levels is the relation of hardware to software in a computer … It isn’t necessary for a programmer to learn circuit design. Neither is it necessary for a hardware technician to learn programming … except for a memory map called the ‘Machine Language Instruction Repertoire’ … a list so small you could write it on a single page … the electronic circuits and the programs existing in the same computer at the same time have nothing whatsoever to do with each other

… Machine Language instructions were … the end performance of a whole symphony of switching operations … Then … [in] programming this symphony was considered to be a mere single note in a whole other symphony that had no resemblance to the first one … Machine Language Instruction Repertoire was now the lowest element of the lowest level programming language … On top of this low level programming language was a high-level programming language which had the same kind of independence … and on top of the high-level language was still another level of patterns, the application, a novel perhaps in a word-processing program … one could spend all eternity probing the electrical patterns of that computer … and never find that novel … Certainly the novel cannot exist in the computer without a parallel pattern of voltages to support it. But that does not mean that the novel is an expression or property of those voltage … It can reside in a notebook but it is not composed of or possessed by the ink&paper.

Trying to explain social moral patterns in terms of inorganic chemistry patterns is like trying to explain the plot of a word-processor novel in terms of a computer’s electronics. You can’t do it. You can see how the circuits make the novel possible, but they do not provide a plot. Similarly the biological patterns of life and the molecular patterns of organic chemistry have a “machine language” interface called DNA … but that does not mean that the carbon or hydrogen or oxygen atoms possess or guide life.

“Trying to explain social moral patterns in terms of inorganic chemistry patterns is like trying to explain the plot of a word-processor novel in terms of a computer’s electronics. You can’t do it.”