Robert Pirisg's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance take on the classic versus romantic ways of thinking struck a responsive chord. This story helped me connect with a split within myself between these two views. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 107)

I want to divide human understanding into two kinds - classical understanding and romantic understanding. In terms of ultimate truth a dichotomy of this sort has little meaning but it is quite legitimate when one is operating within the classic mode used to discover or create a world of underlying form. The terms classic and romantic, as Phaedrus used them, mean the following.

Return to a measure of wholeness held out the only hope that I could reconnect with The Intuitive Self. The closer I got to this ultimate truth at the core of my being, the less meaning dichotomies such as classic and romantic had. My aim was to embrace both in the Tai Chi Dancer's rhythm with one foot firmly planted in each domain.

A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance. If you were to show an engine or a mechanical drafting or electronic schematic to a romantic it is unlikely he would see much of interest in it. It has no appeal because the reality he sees is its surface. Dull, complex lists of names, lines and numbers. Nothing interesting. But if you were to show the same blueprint or schematic or give the same description to a classical person he might look at it and then become fascinated by it because he sees that within the lines and shapes and symbols is a tremendous richness of underlying form.

As a programmer, I was fascinated with flow charts and decision tables. On their surface, they were lines and boxes with words in them. But the form behind the symbols represented the logic required for a computer to do a task. The immediate appearance was neat or sloppy depending on the programmer's habits. The elegance of the underlying form was often reflected by the external appearance - the sloppier the drawings, the less esthetic the logic.

The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive. Feelings rather than facts predominate. "Art" when it is opposed to "Science" is often romantic. It does not proceed by reason or by laws. It proceeds by feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience. In the northern European cultures the romantic mode is usually associated with femininity, but this is certainly not a necessary association.

The classic mode, by contrast, proceeds by reason and by laws - which are themselves underlying forms of thought and behavior. In the European cultures it is primarily a masculine mode and the fields of science, law and medicine are unattractive to women largely for this reason. Although motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic. The dirt, the grease, the mastery of underlying form required all give it such a negative romantic appeal that women never go near it.

The intuitive romantic associated with femininity and the logical classic associated with the masculine was clearly dominant in my marriage. My extraverted wife provided the intuitive sensitivity, and I, as the introvert, the logical structure for our work together. We coauthored development of the Personal Style Inventory for assessing rational versus intuitive preferences. Though our work together, my appreciation for the intuitive was gradually reborn.

Although surface ugliness is often found in the classic mode of understanding it is not inherent in it. There is a classic esthetic which romantics often miss because of its subtlety. The classic style is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical and carefully proportioned. Its purpose is not to inspire emotionally, but to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known. It is not an esthetically free and natural style. It is esthetically restrained. Everything is under control. Its value is measured in terms of the skill with which this control is maintained.

Flow charts and decision tables received my reverent attention as tools for the programmer's craft. Beyond the immediate value of the underlying form, there was an esthetic that was indescribable. They were beautiful creations. Although my work as a programmer was classic, my attitude was romantic. To this day, I appreciate elegant solutions to computing problems.

To a romantic this classic mode often appears dull, awkward and ugly, like mechanical maintenance itself. Everything is in terms of pieces and parts and components and relationships. Nothing is figured out until it's run through the computer a dozen times. Everything's got to be measured and proved. Oppressive. Heavy. Endlessly gray. The death force.

Within the classic mode, however, the romantic has some appearances of his own. Frivolous, irrational, erratic, untrustworthy, interested primarily in pleasure seeking. Shallow. Of no substance. Often a parasite who cannot or will not carry his own weight. A real drag on society. By now these battle lines should sound a little familiar.

I created first the HIP and then the PSI surveys to assess relative preferences for the classic and romantic. In the HIP survey, this was expressed as left versus right brain; in the PSI, as rational versus intuitive. My favorite classroom exercise was the "rainbow of styles." Using a composite score for each person, I arranged them in a semicircle from most rational to most intuitive. Each extreme was asked to characterize people at the other end of the spectrum. It was not unusual for them to use words similar to those of Pirsig.

This is the source of the trouble. Persons tend to think and feel exclusively in one mode or the other and in doing so tend to misunderstand and underestimate what the other mode is all about. But no one is willing to give up the truth as he sees it, and as far as I know, no one now living has any real reconciliation of these truths or modes. There is no point at which these visions of reality are unified.

And so in recent times we have seen a huge split develop between a classic culture and a romantic counterculture - two worlds growingly alienated and hateful toward each other with everyone wondering if it will always be this way, a house divided against itself. No one wants it really - despite what his antagonists in the other dimension might think.

The reconciliation would not come in the external world which only reflected the internal split between my conscious rational self and shadow Intuitive Self. Until I healed the split within, I would see the world as Pirsig's alter ego, Phadrus, had seen it. The split was so severe for Phadrus that he was locked up in a mental institution. In my milder form, the seed for reconciliation was in the esthetic beauty of the flow charts and decision tables.