FIML and Bernard Lonergan’s GEM

One aspect of FIML that continues to delight me, even after years of practice, is how so little can give us so much. In a nutshell “all” FIML does is stabilize and clarify our communication with one other person.

FIML does this by removing error and resolving ambiguities between two people. FIML cannot do this perfectly, but it does it well-enough that partners will experience a level of mental and emotional clarity that had not been available to them before.

I don’t believe anyone can know everything and I don’t believe anyone can even know very much. We really do not know if we are in a sim or not, so how can anyone make claims to philosophical certainty about anything, be they physicalist, atheist, religious, or even hedonist claims?

I am open to an individual saying he or she knows something through revelation, but their knowing does not help me because how do I know if they are telling the truth? Science gives us truths but many of the most interesting questions are outside of the realm of science. The Buddhist tradition is very good in this context because it asks us to base our understanding of “truth” on our own experience (which can and should include scientific inquiry).

The work of Bernard Lonergan struck me this morning as saying something important about how we know things and how we live in a world that is hugely mysterious.

His “generalized empirical method” (GEM) was designed to help people deal with meaning, ambiguity, and the relative values of ethical and philosophical truths. Lonergan’s theory of cognition, which is part of GEM, describes four levels of consciousness—“experience of data, understanding the data, judgment that one’s understanding is correct, and decision to act on the resulting knowledge.” (Source for this is the link in the paragraph above.)

His theory fits very well with Buddhism and is good way to assess what FIML does.

In FIML practice, partners “experience the data” of interacting with each other; they “understand this data” by doing a FIML inquiry on some part of it; based on this inquiry they are better able to “judge if their understanding is correct”; and following that judgment, they will be in a good position to decide what to do with the “resulting knowledge.”

FIML takes the weakest parts of interpersonal communication—the ambiguous and emotionally difficult parts—and turns them into some of the best parts; parts where understanding and resolution have been deepened even beyond the other parts.

FIML cannot explain the origin of the universe or which philosophy will dominate the world one hundred years from now, but it can provide a very good level of mutual understanding between partners. And this level of understanding will have a beneficial influence on many other aspects of partners’ lives—emotional, cognitive, interpersonal, and philosophical.

Both Lonergan and the Buddha described methods that a fragile individual can use to sift through the mountains of data that surround us to find the best stuff. FIML was designed to be a method that helps partners know one another to the best of their human capacities. It is a method that partners can use within a Buddhist, or other, framework to arrive at a better understanding of who and what they are.

Edit: Here’s a good quote from Wikipedia on Lonergan: The key to Lonergan’s project is “self-appropriation,” that is, the personal discovery and personal embrace of the dynamic structure of inquiry, insight, judgment, and decision. By self-appropriation, one finds in one’s own intelligence, reasonableness, and responsibility the foundation of every kind of inquiry and the basic pattern of operations undergirding methodical investigation in every field. (Source)

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