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“Almost every sentence is worth underlining”

“Almost every sentence is worth underlining”

Required reading

Who: Arie van der Lugt, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience

Book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

Target group: “Students interested in philosophy and abstraction”

“No other book has changed me as much as this one has. One could underline almost every sentence because of the idea that is behind it or the image that it conjures up. It is so beautiful,” says Arie van der Lugt about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974).  “I read it for the first time when I was in the second year of my study. A lecturer, Louk Fleischhacker, my tutor in logic was the one who suggested it to me.  He used a quotation from the book in his lectures. I now use the same quotation in my ‘Critical Thinking’ course.”

The book is based on a true story about a trip that Pirsig made with his son; they travelled across America on an old motorbike. “Pirsig was a lecturer of philosophy at a university, a contrary thinker. In the end he went completely mad. He was admitted to a psychiatric institution where he was subjected to shock therapy. The kind we know from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Afterwards he went on this journey and wrote this book. The breakdown was for him also a kind of revelation. The book is a personal quest for the truth, a quest for quality.”

In doing so, Pirsig tries to find a balance between a romantic and a rationalistic approach. “You can see that in the title. I recognise that struggle between the head and the heart in my work. He has tremendous insight into how we are all searching for the truth. The book is about philosophical issues, but it is written in a lucid style. He does not only share his own ideas, but helps you to refine your own thoughts.”

Another theme in the book is the relationship between father and son. “Especially the distance between the two. Literally; they have to shout so they can understand each other while on the motorbike. But also in perception. While riding, the father sees a flock of blackbirds rising up from a bush. He sees it as something beautiful, is completely caught up in the moment. ‘Look, blackbirds!’ he calls out to his son. ‘I know,’ says the son uninterestedly. ‘I have seen them before.’ Chris, the son, thought that the book was terrible. He viewed the journey as a period in which the relationship with his father had been very close.”

According to Van der Lugt, the great thing about this book is that you can read it in many different ways. “I have read it about three times and each time I get something different from it. Now I am very touched by the epilogue. A few years after the book was published, Chris was murdered. Pirsig wrote a beautiful philosophical epilogue about this. It provides an image of what the future is. Very moving, especially now that I have become a father myself. When I read the book the first time, my perception was between that of the father and the son. I have clearly moved up to the front of the motorbike.”

In this column lecturers recommend a novel that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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