Pirsig on high vistas and elevated thought

Another perspective on the metaphor of the mountaintop.

I worked on some edits to the “some high mountain” thought experiment. There is a section in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that brought me back to this draft. (Indeed, every time I come across a reflection about reviewing the human experience from an elevated perspective, I wonder what it might add to this ongoing, evolving thought project.)

I am working on something like this to add to this “some high mountain” section:

In his philosophical autobiography, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig peers down at the world below from Beartooth Pass on US Route 212, which climbs to an elevation of 10,974 feet (3,345 meters) above sea level. “People spend their entire lives at those lower altitudes without any awareness that this high country exists,” he thinks to himself.1 For Pirsig, there is a parallel between mountaintop vistas and elevated ways of thinking. Atop the mountain of critical thought, one must embrace the dilemma of their chronic uncertainty and accept the sheer enormity of the questions before them.

I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance late last year. I am admittedly late to the game on this one, but I found the book very interesting for several reasons. Truth be told, I suspect I would not have derived as much from it had I read it, say, 10 years ago. Anyway, written in 1974, it now reads to me as something of a historical artifact in the psyche of Western thought. It is one of those books that you read and wonder, To what extent does this text capture the concerns and questions of the 1970s and to what extent does it shape cultural attitudes of the 1980s onward? Speaking as fish who can't see the water we are swimming in, it is impossible to tease apart an answer, but I venture we will eventually include Motorcycle Maintenance in the canon of required reading on post-modernity. I feel like I understand the logic of post-modernity more coherently after reading it, and I’m supposedly a Gen-X’er!


Pirsig, Robert. (2011[1974]). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: 40th Anniversary Edition. Random House.