In my copy of The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, it says:

Within that context of thought, ghosts and spirits are quite as real as atoms, particles, photons and quants are to a modern man.

I chuckled at that typo, imagining finance guys as a fundamental building block of the universe. I searched Google to see if anyone else caught it, though, and none of the results seemed to notice it.

I'm not going crazy, am I? The author clearly meant "quarks" unless there's some meaning from the seventies I'm not aware of, correct?

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    Since the quark was discovered just a few years before Zen and the Art was written, it's quite possible you're right. Another possibility is that the intended word was quanta, but either Pirsig or the publisher decided to use a variant plural form of the word for some reason. I expect (but haven't researched) the usage of quants meaning quantitative analysts in finance is more recent than Zen and the Art.
    – The Photon
    Commented Apr 23, 2020 at 2:22

2 Answers 2


The word “quants” is used in quantum physics, usually in the phrase “light quants”. Here is an example from 1932:

The light energy..always remains concentrated in the form of ‘light quants’, or grains.

Castelfranchi's Rec. Adv. Atomic Physics

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    Light quant(s) is no longer used by physicists; it hasn't been used much since around 1970 (roughly when Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was written). See Ngram. The current terminology is light quantum/quanta.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 22:15
  • @PeterShor The OED says it’s “now rare” and gives an example from 2002 in a journal that admittedly doesn’t sound very scientific. I can also find a few examples on Google Scholar from sources that look more physics related and reputable. So idk.
    – Laurel
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 22:29
  • Looking at Google Scholar, it looks like some biochemists might still be using "light quants", although it seems to appear only in biology-related articles. So it hasn't completely died out.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 23:30

In Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (New York: William Morrow, 1990), Ron L. DiSanto and Tom J. Steele included a section with notes to Pirsig's novel. There is also a note on the term "quants" (page 368):

"quants". This is a variation of "quanta", most often found in the singular in the phrase "light quant".

(For those who want to look up the context of the quote: see Part I, chapter 3 in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Or see page 31 in the 40th anniversary edition, Vintage, 2004.)

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