Happy birthday, Robert M Persig
On September 6, 1928, Robert M Pirsig was born in Minneapolis, Minn.
An entry today in the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s “Freethought of the Day” reveals that Pirsig was tested with an IQ of 170 when he was only nine years old.
He enrolled in the University of Minnesota when he was 15, but left to join the army in 1946. Pirsig returned to the university and graduated with a degree in philosophy in 1950, as well as studying philosophy at Banaras Hindu University in India and earning his MA in journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1958.
He later became a professor of English rhetoric and composition at the University of Montana, but stopped teaching after he was briefly diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression. He appeared to recover after some institutional care.
In 1974, Pirsig wrote the wildly popular philosophical book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, in which Pirsig details a motorcycle trip he took with his son, Chris, while illustrating philosophical ideas.
In the book, Pirsig writes about his theory, “the metaphysics of quality,” which is still widely discussed today.
In Pirsig’s novel, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals (1991), Pirsig writes:
A person isn’t considered insane if there are a number of people who believe the same way. Insanity isn’t supposed to be a communicable disease. If one other person starts to believe him, maybe two or three, then it’s a religion.
He is quoted in Richard Dawkins’ 2006 book, The God Delusion, as saying more succinctly:
When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called Religion.
Religious mysticism is intellectual garbage. It’s a vestige of the old superstitious Dark Ages when nobody knew anything and the whole world was sinking deeper and deeper into filth and disease and poverty and ignorance. It is one of those delusions that isn’t called insane only because there are so many people involved.