Mind Bending Books: Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Mind Bending Books
“It is what you read when you don’t have to
that determines what you will be when you can’t help it”
Oscar Wilde
Welcome to a new series about those books that change the way we think for ever, those books you try to persuade your friends to read, and whose ideas come back to you in the night when you can’t sleep. Here at SalfordPsych we are offering you a captive audience of like-minded students and staff with whom to share your treasures…
Zen book
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (1974)
ISBN 0-688-00230-7 (418pp)
Zen’ is a modern classic. It is the fictional (but highly autobiographical) account of a father and son’s road trip across the USA in the 1960s. The manuscript was rejected by a record breaking 121 publishers before going on to sell over 5m copies worldwide.
This book will not teach you Zen Buddhist practice, or how to keep your motorbike on the road. It is actually a philosophical riff on Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality. This includes discussion of epistemology and the philosophy of science and logic. The title refers to an extended metaphor relating mechanical understanding to rational analysis and a Classical outlook on life (as opposed to a Romantic, gestalt one). The journey is towards reconciliation of the dichotomy between the two ‘ways of being’.
‘Quality’ is a Big Idea. So big, that the narrator’s pursuit of it drove him insane. Interspersed with hard-core rational philosophy is a challenging , personal and highly intelligent account of the experience and treatment of mania, disassociation, ECT, and of societal responses to mental illness. The book also tackles the worst fear of many a sufferer –  the horrific suspicion that you have passed your condition on to your children.
This book changed the way I think about Quality, and about the fine line between genius and madness. When Big Ideas challenge established authority, the exponent can be marginalised. Plato, Darwin, Freud and Pirsig battled on with perseverance and resilience to pass their Big Ideas on to us so that we might use them to have Big Ideas of our own.
Although more philosophy than psychology, this book will be of interest to anyone interested in the ingredients of ‘peace of mind’, in the philosophy of science, or in experiences of mental illness.
Ease of Reading: 2 (where 5 is pool-side, and 1 is alone in silence)
Health Warning: take regular fresh air breaks; don’t read it all in one go! Depressing but worth it.
Review by Sophie (@gluepotgluepot) Level 4 Psych & Counselling
Which book changed your thinking?
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