Friday, March 26, 2021

Levels of Development and Robert Pirsig’s Quest for Quality

When we are discussing the development of life, what does “levels” mean? I am stimulated to compare meanings for “levels” by a new YouTube in the A Quality Existence channel. In this YouTube, titled “Lila - An Inquiry into Morals by Robert M Pirsig - Commentary on Chapter 17” (dated March 23, 2021), the hostess discusses levels of life as levels of emergent order, a view drawing in part from Robert Pirsig’s novels. This is a fine way of using “levels”. But, since this usage differs from my own usage in writing about the Resource-Patterns Model of Life in this blog, I write now to highlight differences that I notice. I hope for a bridge between the two usages.

For your information, the referenced YouTube is 38 minutes long and most of the usages of “level” occur between minutes 13 and 27. In that discussion each higher level is less material and more intellectual, reaching from sub-atomic particles, up through multicellular organisms, toward quality at the top. By contrast, as I sketch below, each level in the Resource-Patterns Model of Life (RPM) may contain all of those: material, intellectual, and quality.



Each level in RPM owes its viability to a pattern of material supplies on that scale. Examples range from molecular-sized supplies to human-sized supplies to astronomical-sized supplies. Each level, as such, hosts (or might host) Living Things (LTs) feeding from the supplies on that level.

On a given level, the LTs tend to be roughly the same size as the supplies, called Resource Patterns (RPs), because the LTs must be able to sense and grasp the RPs upon which they feed, and the nibbles obtained must be sufficient to maintain the metabolisms of the LTs.

For examples, think of the four levels of material RPs which must be available to feed these four levels of LTs:

  1. prokaryotes (e.g. bacteria);
  2. eukaryotes (e.g. paramecia);
  3. multi-cellular organisms (e.g. humans);
  4. groups of humans acting together (families, firms, states).


Concerning intellectual development in RPM, each level has its own, because each level needs its own scheme of organization. Each succeeding level comes to be occupied by groups of Living Things from the prior, lower level. These groups must be well organized so as to be able through cooperative effort to sense, grasp, and feed from the larger RPs in the level toward which the groups are growing, the larger RPs that is which had been beyond the ability of any of the lower-level LTs to exploit through individual action. So, in order to achieve this organization, something like intelligence or Darwinian experimentation over a long time is needed.


In RPM the LTs in each level may grow their own senses of quality. This is because the environment which we assume to exist offers greater abundance of resources to LTs which can discover new patterns of behavior. Such new patterns of behavior must be particularly shaped to exploit previously untapped RPs in the environment. But the LTs which stand thus to gain probably lack the information-processing capabilities (sensing, remembering, deciding, communicating) which they need to carry out these new patterns of behavior, because their lives before this time have not needed such capabilities. If we assume a sort of Darwinian experimentation with additional capabilities and instincts, we expect that some of these additional capabilities and instincts will be reinforced by success in the environment. Let us call one of these successful instincts a sense of quality.

I will quit now while my language still contains adequate margins of ambiguity.

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