Evolutionary Concepts in the Metaphysics of Quality by Dan Glover
with extracts from
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Any attempted understanding of evolutionary processes as we conceive of them today should start with reading The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. There is an online version here from which I have taken some excerpts from for comparison to the concept of evolution in Robert M. Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality. As this review cannot possibly do justice to such a profound idea as Darwin advanced in that book, the reader is urged to read The Origin of Species for themselves before forming opinions one way or the other with any comments here.

Darwin was a naturalist aboard the ship Beagle, which sailed around the world on a five-year surveying expedition. Darwin boarded the Beagle with Charles Lyell's 5 volume set, Principles of Geology, under his arm, which  was to become his "bible" on the voyage, as he wrote in his Journal, the second volume, which he dedicated to Lyell. From this, it may be assumed that Darwin felt the organic life forms abounding all over the world were directly related to the environment in which they were found.

Furthermore, he seemed to believe the evolution of diverse life forms could be understood by analyzing the evolution of geology and equating the two, known as the correspondance principle. However,  according to the Metaphysics of Quality each level, the inorganic and the biologic, do indeed evolve, but they are controlled by different Dynamic forces, and so they may not evolve in the same fashion. We would expect that if such a slow, gradual evolutionary process had indeed occurred in biology, the fossil record would let us confirm that this is exactly what took place. It does not. No place is there record of species alive today gradually descending from now extinct species. Pirsig calls this paradox a "platypus", and The Metaphysics of Quality solves this platypus very nicely by stating:

Biological and social and intellectual patterns are not the possession of substance. The laws that create and destroy these patterns are not the laws of electrons and protons, and other elementary particles. The forces that create and destroy these patterns are the forces of value. [1]
This first improvement the Metaphysics of Quality makes to Darwin's theory of evolution shows that Darwin was wrong to use the so-called correspondance principle between inorganic molecules and organic life forms. The forces of evolution, represented by Dynamic Quality, are not the same as the laws of electrons and protons. The slow, gradual evolutionary processes that Darwin envisioned can suddenly make Dynamic shifts, or jumps, that Darwin had no way to account for, other than to deny they ever happened. The biological level evolves from the inorganic level, but each level is controlled by seemingly contradictory forces.

The biological level is not presently producing new species, and yet the social level is constantly producing new memes, even new languages, by what Darwin called "inter-crossings" between biological individuals:

we may conclude that in many organic beings, a cross between two individuals is an obvious necessity for each birth; in many others it occurs perhaps only at long intervals; but in none, as I suspect, can self-fertilisation go on for perpetuity. [2]
The human race seems to evolve socially through memes the same way the biological level evolves through genes, according the Dawkins, who first coined the term. This may not be exactly true according to the Metaphysics of Quality, however, since the correspondance principle no longer applies between the biological and social patterns of value and their underlying Dynamic forces of evolution. Are these value forces really evolutionary forces? Pirsig writes:
It seems as though a society that is intolerant of all forms of degeneracy shuts off its own Dynamic growth and becomes static. But a society that tolerates all forms of degeneracy degenerates. Either direction can be dangerous...do you tell the saviors from the degenerates? Particularly when they look alike, talk alike and break all the rules alike? Freedoms that save the saviors also save the degenerates and allow them to tear the whole society apart. But restrictions that stop the degenerates also stop the creative Dynamic forces of evolution. [3]
Value forces in the Metaphysics of Quality are the same as evolutionary forces. It also seems clear by the fossil record that evolution is driven by extinction, or creation and destruction.
Getting back to Darwin, his five-year voyage aboard the Beagle was to be the only "field work" Darwin would perform and he relied upon his observations made during this voyage all his life. Darwin was an avid observer of the environment around him at all times, and much of his theory is drawn from everyday observations in his own garden and in his passion for raising pigeons. At the end of the introduction to The Origin of Species, Darwin wrote:
I am fully convinced that species are not immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification. [4]
Darwin's theory of natural selection challenged the long standing cultural belief of his day that all life sprang into being through the divine Creation of God. Lyell's vision of immense amounts of geological time appealed to Darwin, and seeing how the earth itself had been shaped over long eons of time, he felt biology could also be shaped in very small individual ways, which over time would add up greatly. He called this slow, gradual process Natural Selection. And he saw that not all circumstances favored natural selection.
 Circumstances favorable to Natural Selection
This is an extremely intricate subject. A large amount of inheritable and diversified variability is favorable, but I believe mere individual differences suffice for the work. A large number of individuals, by giving a better chance for the appearance within any given period of profitable variations, will compensate for a lesser amount of variability in each individual, and is, I believe, an extremely important element of success. Though nature grants vast periods of time for the work of natural selection, she does not grant an indefinite period; for as all organic beings are striving, it may be said, to seize on each place in the economy of nature, if any one species does not become modified and improved in a corresponding degree with its competitors, it will soon be exterminated. [5]
We can see here that Darwin was trapped in classical thinking, much like Niels Bohr. Both focused only on physical reality. Taking a page from Lyell's Principles in Geology Darwin assumed that it was not possible for a  process not currently occurring to be responsible for the origin of the various species of the world. He refused to consider the gaps in the fossil record as proof of anything, and instead hoped that one day the transitional fossil record of the gradual evolution of species would be discovered.

This is the second improvement that the Metaphysics of Quality makes to Darwin's theory. By not ignoring this very fundamental division of reality, as Darwin and Bohr did by refusing to acknowledge it, the Metaphysics of Quality begins by separating that which we are aware of from that which we are not, and stating that these are complementary in nature. One cannot exist without the complementary other, and both effect the other in seemingly non deterministic ways. Hence the rise of uncertainty, the nature of which only becomes apparent when size is at issue.
Darwin was convinced that "individual differences" formed the foundation for natural selection. He reasoned that if these individual differences were to be such a driving force, they would need immense amounts of time to accumulate into the diversity he saw all around him. Yet, being trapped in classical thinking, he was unable to let go of the notion of "time" as an independently existing reality in the universe. The difficulty in this classical line of reasoning was also encountered by Einstein. In a sense, Darwin and Einstein were both attempting to analyze a full cup by pouring more tea into it.

If individual differences make up the totality of reality, this implies the notion of locality. And this is exactly the way we perceive our reality, through this sense of locality, of individual experience. This is where all concepts begin, with time and space. Darwin's sense of time was colored by his own individuality. He saw time as possessing a nature of an independent reality, forever plodding along just as he himself observed it. However, Niels Bohr realized that time was merely a concept of a phenomenal reality, thus giving a more expanded viewpoint. It wasn't that Darwin was wrong so much as it was the path he followed in formulating his theory of natural selection that restricted his point of view and the beauty of Darwin's words still shine through the restricted viewpoint he was afforded. From chapter four, he sums up natural selection like this:

The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. [6]
Certainly evolution has been represented like this since Darwin's time. From this conceptual map of generation upon generation of individuals, it is supposed that time runs forever forward, regardless of whether anyone is observing this progression. It is inferred that an independent reality of time lies behind our conceptual map of time. This notion of an independent reality stays in firm place as long as anything that exists outside of our conceptual notions is completely ignored. This is what Bohr realized when he conceived of his complementarity. By focusing only upon the great tree, Darwin failed to acknowledge all that was not the tree. As if such a tree grew in splendid isolation.

In chapter 6, Darwin addresses what he sees as problems with his theory of natural selection. He addresses four problems at the beginning of the chapter, then proceeds to answer each. The first problem is interesting as it points to the origins of the species, something Darwin had great difficulty with coming to grips with. He writes:

These difficulties and objections may be classed under the following heads:-Firstly, why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined? [7]
As Darwin sought to marry the geological record with that of the evolution of the species, this particular problem must have seemed particularly daunting to him. Nowhere did these "insensibly fine graduations" appear in the fossil record. Darwin had hopes that the fossil record was simply misunderstood, and that one day we would see these graduations. Still, this fact coupled with the fact that no new species are presently evolving must have weighed heavily on his mind.

These are valuable clues to apply to the concept of evolution in the Metaphysics of Quality. Because static quality reality has the ability to latch, some sort of "punctuated equilibrium" must be involved for higher static ratcheting. In the Metaphysics of Quality, there is no "in-between the levels" as we conceive of as in-between in ordinary everyday reality. Much the same point of view was apparent in Bohr's conceptual map of the atomic system as well.  Dynamic forces of creation and destruction drive biological evolution in a different fashion than they do the inorganic patterns of value. Darwin assumed differently. Because these biological latches are so tightly bound, only a catastrophic environmental situation would allow such an occurrence as a new static ratcheting resultant in a new species. The geological record seems to confirm this point of view in that we see massive global extinction followed shortly thereafter with a profusion of new life forms, seemingly from out of nowhere. This is the third problem of Darwin's theory of natural selection that the Metaphysics of Quality sheds greater light on.

Darwin sums up chapter six like this:

It is generally acknowledged that all organic beings have been formed on two great laws Unity of Type, and the Conditions of Existence. By unity of type is meant that fundamental agreement in structure, which we see in organic beings of the same class, and which is quite independent of their habits of life. On my theory, unity of type is explained by unity of descent. The expression of conditions of existence, so often insisted on by the illustrious Cuvier, is fully embraced by the principle of natural selection. For natural selection acts by either now adapting the varying parts of each being to its organic and inorganic conditions of life; or by having adapted them during long-past periods of time: the adaptations being aided in some cases by use and disuse, being slightly affected by the direct action of the external conditions of life, and being in all cases subjected to the several laws of growth. Hence, in fact, the law of the Conditions of Existence is the higher law; as it includes, through the inheritance of former adaptations, that of Unity of Type. [8]
Here we see Darwin was completely immersed in subject/object classical thinking processes. It is interesting though to see the way he arrived at his conclusions. "Unity of type" would seem to refer to the subjective "me", individualistic entities making up each species in existence, while "conditions of existence" would refer to the environment which that individual inhabited. Darwin has effectively divided reality into subjects and objects here. He then goes on to state that "Conditions of Existence is the higher law" and that the subject is merely part of those conditions of existence. I find this remarkably astute, yet I wonder why he didn't apply this to his tree analogy I mentioned earlier in this review?

This is the fourth problem the Metaphysics of Quality solves in Darwin's theory. By no longer focusing upon the subject or the object as independently existing realities, Conditions of Existence play a much more profound role than do Unity of Types. The highest moral value is not contained within static patterns of value, but in Dynamic Quality, something that is undefinable. To the extent that we view evolution as a static quality gradually evolving process, we will be correct in saying the universe is evolving from a state of low quality to a state of high quality organization.

On the other hand, to the extent we view evolution as a Dynamic force of value, we see that Darwin's concept of evolution was only one complementary point of view, albeit an amazingly astute and correct one. Looking at evolution as Dynamic forces of creation and destruction, leaving in their wake static quality patterns of value, we can see the universe is already what it is seemingly evolving into. That is the completeness that Bohr attributed to his complementarity. Neither point of view is correct without the other as a complement.

In chapter 13, Darwin uses language analogy to explain his gradual process of natural selection on the biological level:

It may be worth while to illustrate this view of classification, by taking the case of languages. If we possessed a perfect pedigree of mankind, a genealogical arrangement of the races of man would afford the best classification of the various languages now spoken throughout the world; and if all extinct languages, and all intermediate and slowly changing dialects, had to be included, such an arrangement would, I think, be the only possible one. Yet it might be that some very ancient language had altered little, and had given rise to few new languages, whilst others (owing to the spreading and subsequent isolation and states of civilisation of the several races, descended from a common race) had altered much, and had given rise to many new languages and dialects. [7]
Darwin uses this analogy in part to bolster his theory of natural selection against criticisms it doesn't provide for why all forms of life have not evolved into higher forms of life. The creationists were his chief antagonists to his new theory, and this formed the core of their argument against gradual evolutionary processes occurring now, or at any time in the past, which would result in entirely new species coming into being. Creation had to occur in a spontaneous manner. Darwin felt that if languages indeed evolved into new languages, then the biological entities could be expected to do the same. The Metaphysics of Quality states that these are two different levels however, each in seeming contradiction to the other, and yet each is complementary to the other as well.


The Metaphysics of Quality says that both views are correct, from their own perspective. Bohr's complementarity also subscribes to this point of view. In the above analogy, the Metaphysics of Quality and complementarity both would consider language a social pattern of value or an unambiguous means to communicate with others. As such, it is not controlled by the same moral code as the biological level, although it "evolved" from it. Coming from Darwin's point of view, it certainly seems an apt analogy though. Using the Metaphysics of Quality, we see that languages are created by a perceived need to communicate with others and it has nothing at all to do with the biological functions. The body just "acts".

The Metaphysics of Quality makes these points about Darwin's theory of evolution:

1) Inference to biological evolution cannot be drawn from the inorganic or the social level, as Darwin presumed.

2) The notion of time is not applicable to biological evolution any more than it is applicable to quantum theory. Species seem to originate in nonspace and imaginary time, and not in space and time as we normally conceive of them.

3) Gradual advancement alone would not overcome the structural integrity of the form, as explained in the Metaphysics of Quality by the notion of static latching. For this latching to be overcome, some outside influence must be brought into play. By only focusing on physicality, Darwin failed to recognize "punctuated equilibrium" as a viable evolutionary process.

4) The Metaphysics of Quality starts with different underlying assumptions about an independent reality than does Darwin. Darwin begins as a classical thinker, dividing reality into subject and object. His remarkable acheivement seems to be in capturing the essence of his profound observations in a manner which was conducive to unambiguous communication.

The Origin of Species is well worth reading, although it contains many irrelevant observations by today's standards. The Metaphysics of Quality seems to make use of the concepts of classical Darwin thinking from a static quality point of view, but because of the potentiality of Dynamic Quality, existing as a non-event complement to every actuality, the static quality point of view is only a special condition of our perceptions of reality.

This ends this short review. As time permits, I will add to this page. Thanks for reading!


Perceptions of Quality


[1] Lila, pp. 178

[2] The Origin of Species, chapter 4

[3] Lila, pp. 224

[3] The Origin of Species, Introduction

[4] Ibid., chapter 1

[5] Ibid., chapter 4

[6] Ibid., chapter 6

[7] Ibid., chapter 13

[8] Ibid., chapter 13