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SOM Primer
(This is a living document.)
by Doug Renselle
based on Robert M. Pirsig's works
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,
Subjects, Objects, Data, and Values,
Quantum Science
Acronyms and symbols used in the SOM Primer:
 ISMs  - Realism, Idealism, Empiricism, Positivism, etc.
 MoQ  - Metaphysics of Quality (Pirsig)
 O  - Object (substance, matter)
 S  - Subject (nonsubstance, mind)
 SODV  - Subjects, Objects, Data, & Values
 SOM  - Subject-Object Metaphysics
 ZMM  - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

 - [in] Interrelationship(s) [with]

Definition of SOM - What is SOM?

Description of SOM - How can we describe SOM?

Some ISMs of SOM - See the SOM ISMs page.

The Birth of SOM

Probably no one has written about the birth of SOM better than Robert M. Pirsig. He did it in Chapter 29 of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, especially the last several pages of that chapter. Portions of those pages are reproduced here for your edification. In Quantonics, this is crux. In Quantonics, this is foundation — this is must-read material.

Be aware, as you read this, that in Western culture Sophism reigned for 10+ millennia before the birth of SOM. Also, be aware that SOM probably won its war with Sophism because 2.5 millennia ago, at the time of the birth of SOM, Sophism then was essentially relativism. SOM easily defeated relativism!

Caveat: Sophism then was not equivalent to what we call cultural relativism today. Sophism then held honor, righteousness, integrity, morality, good, value, and aretê above what it perceived as the weaker, relative truth. Pirsig tells us in his treatise on the birth of SOM that the Sophists believed Qualtiy was absolute!

See: The Birth of SOM.

The Subsumption of SOM

Pirsig’s MoQ is NOT relativism. To see the differences among SOM, the MoQ, and relativism read the Birth of SOM above and also see the MoQ Credo.

Each of the three philosophies we want to distinguish in Quantonics claim that among groups that believe in them:

  1. Cultural relativism both truth and value are relative.
  2. SOM logical objective truth is absolute and subjective value is relative.
  3. MoQ Quality/Value is absolute and that there are many classes of truth (Boolean, quantum, Galois, the physical system logical hierarchy (see David J. Foulis', et al., publications), etc.).

Pirsig claims that pre-SOM, sophism reigned for greater than 12 millennia. He calls that period "Romantic." Sophism of that romantic period was not the sophism denigrated by the SOMites of today. Sophism then revered excellence, righteousness, aretê, etc. the sophists felt that Quality was absolute! In ZMM, Pirsig says to arrive at 'good,' "Both classic and romantic understandings of Quality must be combined." p. 262 of the Bantam paperback. Item 3, MoQ above is that combination:  absolute Quality combined with many truths.

Pirsig's MoQ subsumes SOM as just one of its many truths.

SOM Thinking - Biformal Thought, Centric Thought, etc.

SOM thinking is biformal. SOM language contains many biforms and biform connectives. Examples are numerous including these few listed here:

ambi-, and, bi-, black-white, bicameral, bifurcate, bilateral, bisect, both, branch, complement, conjugate, contradict, demi-, di-, dichotomy, disjoin, double, dual, dyadic, either, good-bad, hemi, male-female, not, oppose, or, pair, right-wrong, schism, semi-, split, supplement, true-false, twin, up-down, versus, et al.

the most primal origins of the biforms are uncertain, but we can speculate. Simplicity certainly played a role. Efficiency played a role. Survival played a role. One clear and obvious source is the quasi-symmetry in our known world. This symmetry manifests in many ways.

An observable source of symmetry is us. Each of us has two: arms, hands, legs, feet, eyes, ears, nostrils, gonads, tonsils, kidneys, lungs, a biformal digestive tract, and perhaps most significant for how we think — we have two brain lobes.

So our biological infrastructure contains many biforms. We can see a biformal bias in the essence of our Homo sapiens architecture. But that bias appears in many other known life forms too. Thus we see inherent structural preferences in the design of Earth life forms. If we examine our sub-atomic and quantum infrastructure we similarly observe more biforms like: electron-energy level pairing in atoms, two classes of known forms called fermions (matter) and bosons (v, or interrelationships), wave-particle dualities, conjugate interrelationships, and so on… Note that the biforms are not exclusive. There are non-biformal patterns in life and the sub-atomic world too, but we see significant use of biforms throughout the architecture and infrastructure of our known world. We see significant use of biforms which affect our propensity to SOM's biformal thinking.

What about our environment? What affects show or encourage biformal bias in our evolutionary process? Perhaps the largest environmental agent of our known world’s biformal bias is species survival. Survival requires simplicity, speed, and efficiency in multiple ways. Two good examples are: acquisition of food, and threat avoidance. Without attending the seamy details, primal beings probably practiced biformal thought to decide to eat (yes/no) and to decide what to eat (a threat, or a non-threat) when (now/later). Similarly our ancestors needed security and practiced flight to escape based on very fast biformal decisions.

This discussion is vastly oversimplified, but it gives a glimmer of some possible sources of our latent biformal predilections.

Some derivatives of biformal thought are static thinking, centric thinking and Boolean logic.

Static thinking is the stuff of extinction. It says, "Status quo is the way to go." Why? Because it is easier. Why would you want to change? You like things the way they are. Besides change requires effort. And damn that change — its outcome is so uncertain, and if we don't change our future will be more certain… Ahhh…the siren song of static musing.

Glaring examples of the ills of centric thinking are:

the list of centrism biforms appears endless. Classical biformal thought continues its seduction and havoc-wreaking even as we see new light on our metaphysical horizons.

Author’s notes:

As Pirsig might say, "An antidote to centrism is an understanding of 'Mu.’"

Pirsig says, "The [SOM] dualistic mind tends to think of Mu occurrences in nature as a kind of contextual cheating, or irrelevance...It's a great mistake, a kind of dishonesty, to sweep nature's Mu answers under the [SOM] carpet."

Mu says, "Choose a context or be quiet." Once you choose a context, if it is too small, some questions may have to be answered, "Mu."

See Mu letter.

SOM dualistic Boolean logic is a tool of classical set theory. At its foundation is the presumption of separable and isolable sets of things. Our great scientists learned their Boolean logic well and it further enhanced their penchant for more extreme kinds of biformal thinking. One problem was that practitioners supposed Boolean logic as a general mathematical tool. But the Boolean logic depended upon the untrue presumption that our world is classical.

Now we know ours is not a classical world.

Our best knowledge today says we are co-within a quantum world. Things in our quantum world do not, in general adhere Boolean logical rules, indeed they extend minimally at least to an amalgam of Boolean and Quantum logical rules. In fact, we know now that classical Boolean logic is naïve. Other logics including Quantum logic and generalized Galois logics (AKA gaggles) bring better answers to the solubles of our quantum world.


One of our greatest scientists, Albert Einstein, believed biformally in a classical, deterministic world. It was his downfall, and now we know that he probably failed to make progress in the latter years of his life because he was stuck in a biformal thinking trap. Strangely he unified mass-energy, space-time, etc. But he refused to accept quantum uncertainty and quantum action at a distance. Others succumbed to the biformal siren song. Some still do. It is seductive.

SOM's biformality is only one of its tiny illusions of reality.

SOM Importance to MoQ

SOM and its 2500 year legacy are critical to the emergence of a new way of thinking, a new philosophy, Pirsig’s MoQ, the Metaphysics of Quality.

SOM went as far as it could in a classical perception of reality. Then it manifested its innate incapability to deal generally with our expanded quantum view of reality. SOM science failed. SOM’s most eminent practitioners failed in their endeavors to accurately know our physical world. SOM showed us that we need a new philosophy. SOM prepares for subsumption now, just as a new philosophy is born.

SOM’s great successes, its peak in the 19th century, and its subsequent inadequacies in describing the subatomic world at the end of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries forced evolution and emergence of Pirsig’s MoQ. the MoQ subsumes SOM as a limited set of threads in its greater fabric of reality.

SOM’s rise and fall provoked emergence of the MoQ.

Pirsig's MoQ is a paradigm ascension for Millennium III.

Thanks for reading, and Mtty, J

Doug Renselle.

Please send comments and suggestions to:
©Quantonics, Inc., 1998-2006 Rev. 19Dec2001  PDR — Created 20May98 PDR
(8Mar2001 rev - Add link to our new MoQ, CR, & SOM comparison table.)
(8Mar2001 rev - Italicize all occurrences of 'the.' Illustrates Doug's own legacy
(19Dec2001 rev - Add top of page frame-breaker.)
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