Action as Understanding

LatchThe act of understanding kept me motivated while completing the gate installation project. At the same time, I was also reminded of a post that I made, a while back, about the scientific method.  

In it, I quoted Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’s passage about a mechanic going through the scientific method:

“An untrained observer will see only physical labor and often get the idea that physical labor is mainly what the mechanic does. Actually the physical labor is the smallest and easiest part of what the mechanic does. By far the greatest part of his work is careful observation and precise thinking. That is why mechanics sometimes seem so taciturn and withdrawn when performing tests. They don’t like it when you talk to them because they are concentrating on mental images, hierarchies, and not really looking at you or the physical motorcycle at all. They are using the experiment as part of a program to expand their hierarchy of knowledge of the faulty motorcycle and compare it to the correct hierarchy in their mind. They are looking at underlying form.” – Robert Pirsig, ZMM

Pirsig somewhat minimizes the mechanic’s actions in that above paragraph.  I get the impression that he beleives the action is just something that has to be done as part of the scientific process.  The majority of the work is in someone’s head, so the things that go on in your head are more important.  I disagree.

I probably am reading too much into Pirsig’s words.  More than likely, I am projecting my own biases onto him.  That is not very fair because this book was one of the major contributors of getting me out of my head and into living.  Regardless of my own biases, action is not merely a step in the scientific process.  It is as important as the thinking that leads up to it.  Actions are a manifestation of understanding.  To truly know something you have to see it happen.  Anticipations do not always match up with reality

There is a ebb and flow between thoughts and actions that philosopher’s have been talking about ever since philosophers could talk.  It is easy to get so wrapped up in theories and talk that you lose track of what you are trying to understand.  But it is still important to keep the theories in mind when acting.  Which is the point that finally leads me back to the gate installation project.

Reading those instructions and conceptualizing the parts was only a part of the exercise of learning that I went through when installing the gate.  The other part was physically putting the pieces together.  I identified the latch spindles and the latch brackets.  I attempted to fit them together.  When the pieces fit, I fully understood what the latch spindles and brackets were.  When I heard the click of the top spindle under the locking latch, I knew that the gate was installed correctly.

Photo courtesy of Wetsun 

Leave a comment