Bernard Lonergan stated, “[i]n the main it is not by introspection but by reflecting on our living in common with others that we come to know ourselves.” Through a continual process of “self-constituting,” he argues, we communicate what we are to others, and this communication becomes collaboration and brings upon us more learning experiences of who we are (not of what we know). He believes that self-introspection is less effective than communicating/collaboration with individuals. For when we communicate with others and interrogate our beliefs and truths, we can discover mistakes of knowing and being. These mistakes are not solitary, but connected through divergent webs that constitute our being. Human understanding, whether it is negative or positive, is based upon the fundamental knowledge and beliefs of those before us. In theory, then, we can evolve according to our understanding of the world. Therefore, through understanding the world, we disentangle our mistakes. His understanding of self-knowledge conflicts with the teachings of many Eastern spiritual paths, which state the path of self-knowledge can only be obtained through self-introspection/meditation.
Lonergan believes removing mistakes from our consciousness and beliefs “takes as its starting-point and clue the discovery of some precise issue on which undoubtedly one was mistaken. It advances by inquiring into the sources that may have contributed to that error and, perhaps, contributed to other errors as well.” The process of correcting mistaken beliefs is not obtained by explicit self-analysis whereby we systematically go through our beliefs or read books that prescribe to a certain form of thought. Lonergan says that it has taken a lifetime to become the person we are now, so spending our time analyzing ourselves would require two more lifetimes because we would have to assess both the truth and falsities of our beliefs. Lonergan believes this process, instead, “begins with the conviction that one has made one bad mistake, and it proceeds along the structural lines of one’s own mentality, and through the spontaneous and cumulative operations of the mind that alone can deal successfully with concrete issues.” He asks us to delve deeper into our analysis. If we have a propensity for a negative action, and can acknowledge it, we must ask ourselves what are the underlying influences that lead to this action? There will surely be a web of beliefs and understandings that lead to that single mistake. This is the process of self-correction and actualization through constant attentiveness to actions and thoughts – as perceived through the outside, not the inside. For one realizes their mistake through activity not in-activity.
This reminds me of the story of the young man who has spent the last 10 years traveling the world. He as learned many languages and debated with philosophers from different sects and religions. He has seen the eight wonders of the world and tasted the finest foods. One day, during his travels, he comes upon a skinny and worn man meditating under a tree. He asks him “how long have you been here?” To which the man replies, “I have been meditating here for 10 years. I live off the food and water the villagers bring me.” Completely awestruck and surprised the young man shouts, “how can you do this when there is such a beautiful world to discover!? You must come with me now and travel across the world and see the beauty that you have deprived yourself. You have missed too much by sitting alone under this tree.” To which the meditating man replies, “you may have seen the marvels of the world, but there is a whole universe inside you that you know nothing about. We are both explorers my friend, but on two different paths.”