You are on page 1of 3

Hermstad 1

Alex Hermstad
Prof. Johnston
English 1B
9 February 2013
Word Count: 655
Essay #1, Prompt #1: Gravity as a Ghost
Pirsig's way of describing the law of gravity as being a ghost may seem abstract on the
surface, but with a little digging and observation, his ideas become clear. First, it is important to
look at Pirsig's definition of a ghost. In response to whether or not he believes in ghosts, Pirsig
writes 'They contain no matter,' I continue, 'and they have no energy and therefore, according to
the laws of science, do not exist except in people's minds' (30). From this quote, we extract that
Pirsig believes that the properties of a ghost include having no matter or energy. With this
definition, Pirsig already broadens what a ghost could be, past the traditional, spooky meaning.
Pirsig then makes the distinction between European ghosts and Native American ghosts. He
writes here that Indians sometimes have a different way of looking at things, and that Science
isn't part of the Indian tradition (31). Here, Pirsig is saying that in Indian culture, ghosts are a
substitute for science. Pirsig now begins to relate how ghosts could be representative of a type of
scientific framework. Pirsig's idea is that Indians used ghosts to explain natural occurrences,
while the standard explanation is scientific laws and theories.
After thoroughly examining what Pirsig defines as ghosts, it becomes easier to see why
he classifies some things as ghosts. When describing some examples of ghosts, Pirsig writes
'Oh, the laws of physics and of logic... the number system... the principle of algebraic
substitution. These are ghosts. We just believe in them so thoroughly they seem real' (32). Here,
Pirsig takes his definition of a ghost, and applies it to not only scientific laws, but to any

Hermstad 2
prevalent, believed in idea. While this may seem strange or illogical, if we look back to what
Pirsig's basic definition of a ghost is, we see that these ideas and laws fit his criteria
perfectly. Some may say that the law of gravity is not a ghost, and is real, as without gravity we
would not be able to exist on our planet. To this, Pirsig refutes by asking if the law of gravity
existed before humans had even became a part of earth. While this question might not have an
easy, yes or no answer, the fact that it can even be asked supports Pirsig's argument. What Pirsig
is saying, is that while the effects of our self proclaimed law of gravity may have existed
before we made the law, the law of gravity itself did not exist before Issac Newton (33).
Chris' reaction to the narrator's explanation, while seemingly small and meaningless, is
actually crucial to Pirsig's argument. Before the ghost segment is over, Pirsig explains that the
ghost of gravity is only so widely believed in as, mass hypnosis. In a very orthodox form known
as 'education' is used (33). Chris, who is eleven years old, would be right in the center of being
educated about these ideas. When Pirsig is done explaining what ghosts are, and the group is
going to sleep, Chris asks Pirsig if he would tell him a ghost story. When Pirsig replies that he
already did, Chris replies with I mean a real ghost story (35). Here, Chris represents the
product of the hypnosis Pirsig had mentioned earlier. By including Chris' reaction, Pirsig
shows us not only how a child may react to Pirsig's ghost concept, but also the reaction some of
us may have as well. To understand the Pirsig's unique idea here, it is important not to get caught
up in the traditional meaning of a word. After accepting the fact that the word ghost could be
interpreted in a number of ways, Pirsig's thoughts are not so hard to grasp.

Hermstad 3
Works Cited
Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 12th Printing ed. New York City:
William Morrow and Company, 1975. Print.