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• Lonergan's Insight

3/31/2007: Empirical Residue

The seminar participants discussed Empirical Residue.

Click here for a PDF of this diagram.

Empirical Residue

The Empirical Residue


  1. The Notion: Its characteristics
    1. It possesses positive empirical data (data that can be named, identified)

                                                               i.      Contrast: a vacuum does not have such positive data nor is it intelligible.

                                                             ii.      Because it can be experienced and described, it can be pointed out, conceived, named, considered, discussed, affirmed, denied.

    1. It is denied an immanent intelligibility of its own.

                                                               i.      Immanent intelligibility is that which is obtained through a direct insight into the nature of a circle. (HENCE to have a true DIRECT INSIGHT into something would be the same as to know its INTELLIGIBILITY)

                                                             ii.      Denial of intelligibility is not a denial of experience or description.

    1. “It is connected with some compensating higher intelligibility of notable importance.”

                                                               i.      Inverse insight and empirical residue not exact correlatives.

1.      “Inverse insight is not characterized by a connection with ideas, principles, methods, or techniques of exceptional significance.”—note how this seems to be in direct contrast with the second sentence of the first paragraph in this section.  The difference is that while inverse insight as such is not characterized with this connection, the empirical residue is so characterized.   Inverse insight is connected, just not characterized.  The first paragraph under the previous section on INVERSE INSIGHT will give you the direct characteristics of inverse insight. The other thing to note is that Lonergan uses the word “seem” in the second sentence of this paragraph and I think that has significance.  At times, what inverse insight “discovers” is the empirical residue which then has this direct character or relation to a corresponding intelligibility in relation to which it is left “behind” as a residue (e.g., accelerations leaves behind constant velocity, etc.).  So, in a sense, the inverse insight is not itself, as such, directly connected with this higher corresponding insight, but rather opens the doors for that insight by differentiating experiences (or data) so that only that which is intelligible is given the attention of inquiry that seeks a direct insight.

    1. The empirical residue is a broader category than inverse insight.  Some of the experiences of the empirical residue are such that they lead one to think that an intelligibility should be had, and this requires inverse insight to overcome the mistake.  However, many times, no such intelligibility is expected, and thus, it requires a somewhat odd philosophical inquiry to uncover the empirical residue.



  1. THE EMPIRICAL RESIDUE: Particular Place and time
    1. The argument

                                                               i.      Position A is not position B.  Why?  Distance?

                                                             ii.      Not Distance.  Proof:  Equilateral Triangle A, B, C.  Why are AB, BC, CA different? 

1.      Not because of distance – that is the same for each.

2.      Not due to direction.

a.       One could do the same for equal length but parallel lines.  Same length, same “direction”.  Hence neither direction nor length “explains” the difference.

                                                            iii.      Simple “matter of fact”

                                                           iv.      Push the argument:  Use reference frames.

1.      A reference frame is an ordering of positions on a plane (let us say with a standard X-axis and a Y-axis).  This is the result of a direct insight.

2.      In this reference frame, one can locate A, B, C.  Coordinates would identify each position (A has its own X, Y coordinate, B has its own X, Y coordinate, and C has its own X, Y coordinate).  One could say that since these coordinates are different, therefore the positions are different (let us say that A is 1,1; B is 1,2; and C is 1.5, 1 + square root of ¾).  However, note that, though these coordinates are different than the positions as such, the positions as such are not explained by these coordinates. Rather the coordinates presuppose and are super-imposed on the positions.  Proof:  the reference frame could be moved and rotated in such a way that the coordinate for position B becomes position A, or A becomes B.  Now notice how one cannot use a different coordinate (say 1,1) to say that A is not B because the same coordinate can be used for either one, and thus the coordinate as a coordinate does not explain the difference.

    1. The ramifications

                                                               i.      Does not modify intelligibility:

1.      Because mere differences of place and time involve no intelligibility of such, they do not modify the intelligibility of events and occurrences at particular places and times.

a.       So, for example, let us say that a hydrogen atom is located in a reference frame at coordinate 4 cm, 5 cm, and then it is moved to 6 cm, 8 cm (I am not pretending one could actually control an atom in this way, but let us say this for the sake of the argument).  Now, since no intelligible difference exists between 4, 5 and 6, 8, the atom at both locations will possess the exact same intelligibility because neither location as such changes it.

b.      If a change of intelligibility does take place, then one can presume that something other than mere difference of place and time has caused the change.

c.       If place and time as such did add some kind of intelligibility, then every place and every time would have its own physics, chemistry, biology, etc. And this would of course destroy all the sciences.

                                                            ii.      Scientific Collaboration

1.      This unintelligibility of space and time allows for scientific collaboration.

2.      Scientists throughout the world and throughout the universe could study objects and mere difference of place and time will not hinder them from pooling their results and developing a common fund of knowledge.



  1. THE EMPIRICAL RESIDUE: Individuality
    1. The Notion of Individuality

                                                               i.      Not place and time: Individuality is different from place and time, because the same individual can be at different places at different times (though determining this for small particles can become impossible – Heisenberg uncertainty law)

                                                             ii.      What it means is that one individual as individual does not need to be explained differently from another individual that possess the same intelligible order of data.  Only significant differences in data will result in different direct insights, and the individuality as such does not need to be explained.  One hydrogen atom is not another, and this difference needs no explanation.  If an explanation is needed, then the difference between the two atoms is more than merely the fact that one is one individual and the other, another individual.  That more is an intelligible difference, something that can be explained. So, perhaps one hydrogen atom has a slightly higher mass than another, or the electron arrangement is different, then not only are they both individuals but they are individuals with a difference in intelligibility as well.

1.      This brings up a simple point: some things can be distinguished because they are different kinds of things as well, e.g., a dog and a car.  Things can be of a different species or a different nature.  However, they are also different individuals as well as different kinds of individuals.

                                                            iii.      Sometimes cognitively knowing whether one thing is a distinct individual different from another requires that the each object be in recognizably different places at the same time.  (this does not, though, make individuality the same as place and time).  For example, let us say there are two exactly identical David Alexanders, and that one of them is in a room while the other is hiding in the closet.  Then, the observer leaves the room and the two switch.  Coming back into the room, the observer would not recognize that there are two individuals (assuming they are exactly identical in all physical, emotion, cognitive, etc ways).  Such a recognition would only be possible if the observer observed the one in the closet and the one in the room as “occupying” two different regions of space at the same time (and here we are presupposing the absence of “twinning” as one finds with the light of a star passing around an extremely strong gravitational object—e.g., a black hole).

    1. Individuality and the meaning of NUMERICAL difference

                                                               i.      Theoretically: If one has fully explained a set of data, then another distinct set of data that is completely identical would possess the same exact complete explanation.

1.      Basis: Numerical difference in the data does NOT exist when the same act of understanding  arises for a second time if one returns to the same set of data as used in the first place, however it does arise when one turns to a second set of data that is different from the first, yet is like the first in all relevant manners (save those facets of the data that belong to the empirical reside).  In this second instance of the same insight one finds numerical difference in the data from the first but not intelligible difference. In respect to intelligibility, both are the same. The difference is simply a "matter of fact", of individuality. Lonergan uses for example two sets of data that manifest the same identical shade of red (one would expect the same wavelengths, etc., hence the same intelligibility, yet they are not the same, why?, because of individuality)

                                                             ii.      Factually: If a set of data has been fully explained, only a complete exhaustive tour of the universe would establish that there is not another set of data similar in all respects.

1.      NOT an assertion that there are actually different sets of data completely identical in all respects.

2.      NOT a denial of unique instances: of instances for which a unique complete explanation is required that is not, or may never be used in its entirety again.

a.       A complete explanation of something or some process is made up of general or universal intelligibilities combined together to explain all the relevant data, and this explanation may only be used once in this universe. However, this “unique explanation” (or intelligibility) is still not the meaning of “individuality.”  One could create, for example, a unique instance of an extremely complex, rare, and unstable protein, a protein that is never to be repeated again in this universe, and though rare, it possesses its intelligible combination of amino acids, its arrangements of sub-atomic particles, its quarks, etc.  Throughout, this unique intelligibility is an intelligibility.  What makes it unique is that it happens only once. Yet this unique intelligibility is not the same as its being an individual which exists as an individual instance of this unique intelligible protein.  And, theoretically, this intelligibility could exist in exactly the same amino acid configuration, the same sub-atomic configuration, the same quark configuration, with all of the same states of the quarks, the sub-atomic particles, etc., and it would be a distinct individual from the first instance of this same protein.

b.      Lonergan uses the example of evolution:  even if a comprehensive theory of evolution were to explain differently every instance of life on this planet, it would not explain the individualness of each instance of life on this planet.

    1. Ramifications

                                                               i.      Individuality as such does not change the intelligibility of something.

                                                             ii.      Allows for scientific generalization.



  1. Other examples of the empirical residue
    1. Coincidental Aggregates of events (basis of statistical methods) and
    2. human surds of unintelligent opinions, choices, conduct (basis of dialectical methods) –IN OTHER WORDS, SIN and ULTIMATE evil, as we had discussed 2 weeks ago.
    3. These will be treated later.



  1. Abstraction and the Empirical Residue
    1. Different meanings of abstraction that Lonergan does NOT mean.

                                                               i.      Not a sensible Gestalt: which is a sensible representation of the object, and because it is not a perfect representation, it is “abstract”.

                                                             ii.      Not the use of common names (e.g., “Red” for the “abstract” idea of “redness”)

                                                            iii.      Not attending to one question at a time and prescinding from or ignoring others.  E.g., ask about a person’s hair color and not about their shoe size.

    1. What does Lonergan mean by abstraction?

                                                               i.      To grasp the relevant and to disregard the irrelevant through the mediation of direct insight. Hence, he bases the notion of “abstraction” on insight. E.g., in understanding a circle, much about the cart-wheel is not relevant.

1.      What is relevant and irrelevant (I have modified Lonergan a bit on this both to make it a bit clearer and to add some nuances not in the text).

a.       Relative to a particular insight or cluster of insights:

                                                                                                                                       i.      Relevant aspects of data needed for the insights or cluster of insights and set of related concepts necessary for the expression of the insight or insights.

                                                                                                                                     ii.      Irrelevant: 

1.      aspects of data not relevant to this insight or cluster of insights, but may be relevant for other facets of the science,

2.      or may not be relevant to the science but may belong to another science. E.g., data not relevant to physics (in a moving object) may be relevant to chemistry.

3.      or may not be relevant to any field of study whatsoever (then it belongs to the empirical residue).

b.      Full Development of a science

                                                                                                                                       i.      Relevant: Aspects of all the data necessary for the all the insights in a particular range or subject area and the set of related concepts that express all of the insights in the science.

                                                                                                                                     ii.      Irrelevant:

1.      aspects of data that belong to another science.

2.      or aspect of data that may not be relevant to any other science whatsoever (then it belongs to the empirical residue).

c.       Full development of all sciences

                                                                                                                                       i.      Relevant:  aspects of all data that are necessary for the insights in all ranges of sciences and the related concepts that express all insights in all ranges of sciences.

                                                                                                                                     ii.      Irrelevant:  The empirical residue.



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