Historically mystics have claimed that for a true understanding of reality
metaphysics is too "scientific." Metaphysics is not reality. Metaphysics is
names about reality. Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a
thirty-thousand page menu and no food.
Phaedrus thought it portended very well for his Metaphysics of Quality that
both mysticism and science reject metaphysics for completely opposite
reasons. It suggested that if there is a bridge between the two, between the
understanding of the Indians and the understanding of the anthropologists,
metaphysics is where that bridge is located.
Of the two kinds of hostility to metaphysics he considered the mystics'
hostility the more formidable. Mystics will tell you that once you've opened
the door to metaphysics you can say good-bye to any genuine understanding
of reality. Thought is not a path to reality. It sets obstacles in that path
because when you try to use thought to approach something that is prior to
thought your thinking does not carry you toward that something. It carries you
away from it. To define something is to subordinate it to a tangle of intellectual
relationships. And when you do that you destroy real understanding.
The central reality of mysticism, the reality that Phaedrus had called "Quality"
in his first book, is not a metaphysical chess piece. Quality doesn't have to be
defined. You understand it without definition, ahead of definition. Quality is a
direct experience independent of and prior to intellectual abstractions.
Quality is indivisible, undefinable and unknowable in the sense that there is a
knower and a known, but a metaphysics can be none of these things. A
metaphysics must be divisible, definable, and know able, or there isn't any
metaphysics. Since a metaphysics is essentially a kind of dialectical
definition and since Quality is essentially outside definition, this means that a
"Metaphysics of Quality" is essentially a contradiction in terms, a logical
It would be almost like a mathematical definition of randomness. The more
you try to say what randomness is the less random it becomes. Or "zero," or
"space" for that matter. Today these terms have almost nothing to do with
"nothing." "Zero" and "space" are complex relationships of "somethingness." If
he said anything about the scientific nature of mystic understanding, science
might benefit but the actual mystic understanding would, if anything, be
injured. If he really wanted to do Quality a favor he should just leave it alone.
What made all this so formidable to Phaedrus was that he himself had
insisted in his book that Quality cannot be defined. Yet here he was about to
define it. Was this some kind of a sell-out? His mind went over this many
A part of it said, "Don't do it. You'll get into nothing but trouble. You're just
going to start up a thousand dumb arguments about something that was
perfectly clear until you came along. You're going to make ten thousand
opponents and zero friends because the moment you open your mouth to say
one thing about the nature of reality you automatically have a whole set of
enemies who've already said reality is something else."
The trouble was, this was only one part of himself talking. There was another
part that kept saying, "Ahh, do it anyway. It's interesting." This was the
intellectual part that didn't like undefined things, and telling it not to define
Quality was like telling a fat man to stay out of the refrigerator, or an alcoholic
to stay out of bars. To the intellect the process of defining Quality has a
compulsive quality of its own. It produces a certain excitement even though it
leaves a hangover afterward, like too many cigarettes, or a party that has
lasted too long. Or Lila last night. It isn't anything of lasting beauty; no joy
forever. What would you call it? Degeneracy, he guessed. Writing a
metaphysics is, in the strictest mystic sense, a degenerate activity.
But the answer to all this, he thought, was that a ruthless, doctrinaire
avoidance of degeneracy is a degeneracy of another sort. That's the
degeneracy fanatics are made of. Purity, identified, ceases to be purity.
Objections to pollution are a form of pollution. The only person who doesn't
pollute the mystic reality of the world with fixed metaphysical meanings is a
person who hasn't yet been born-and to whose birth no thought has been
given. The rest of us have to settle for being something less pure. Getting
drunk and picking up bar-ladies and writing metaphysics is a part of life.
That was all he had to say to the mystic objections to a Metaphysics of
So why is the Metaphysics of Quality NOT a thirty-thousand page menu with no