Penn State

Kevin D. Alloway - Professor of Neural and Behavioral Sciences, Penn State College of Medicine, The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Book Title: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Author: Robert M. Pirsig

Book Description:

I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was an undergraduate student, and it has had a profound influence on me ever since. In this novel, Robert Pirsig describes the challenge of maintaining a motorcycle in peak condition and uses this as a metaphor to persuade us of the virtue of striving for Quality in our work. As a scientist and teacher, I have found that accomplishing something worthwhile usually requires extraordinary practice, the determination to overcome unanticipated obstacles, and the willingness to apply a level of self-criticism that causes one to make an honest search for improvement. Doing anything less, even if it exceeds the standards of others, is not satisfying. By extension, discrepancies between what has been done and my perception of what is possible have often been sources of inspiration and creativity in my work.

The following passage from Pirsig's book, which I used as the preface in my doctoral thesis, captures the essence of these values:

"Peace of mind isn't at all superficial to technical work. It's the whole thing. That which produces it is good work and that which destroys it is bad work. The reason for this is that peace of mind is a prerequisite for a perception of that Quality which must accompany the work as it proceeds. The way to see what looks good and understand the reason it looks good, and to be at one with this goodness as the work proceeds, is to cultivate an inner quietness, a peace of mind so that goodness can shine through.


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