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Gendlin, E.T. (1992). Meaning prior to the separation of the five senses. In M. Stamenov (Ed.), Current advances in semantic theory, pp. 31-53. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins. From

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Meaning Prior to the Separation of the Five Senses

Eugene T Gendlin
University of Chicago

It seems obvious that colors differ from sounds, and seeing from hearing. After all, these sensations come to the body on different roads, vision through the eyes, tactile sensations through the skin. So, it seems that the senses are first separate, and only then together. This analysis is not false, but is not sufficiently basic. I will contrast it with another way in which living bodies organize and imply their environmental interactions, prior to the separation of the five senses.

I begin by rejecting a certain assumption: It is currently assumed that human behavior is organized only by externally imposed forms or patterns. Our experience is considered derivative from them. Kant made this assumption explicit in his Copernican Revolution. Why do mathematical patterns necessarily fit nature and experience? Because, he said, all our experience is itself ordered only by these forms. Currently these include Kant's rational forms, and also, broadly, all social forms.

So, for example, Freud (1949a:108, 189; 1936:24; 1949b:2) said that the body (the id) consists of "unorganized, chaotic drives" without discharge channels. Only externally imposed forms enable the bodily energies to interact in the environment. He assumes that the body has no behavioral order of its own.

With that assumption, it seems to be simple-minded, even to ask about meaning or nature before language. We seem to miss the point that our social training has already formed us by the time we ask and think.

Of course, it is true that we cannot speak before our language, our history, society, economic class, and our social and conceptual forms. These patterns are always implicit in our experiences and situations. But I will [Page 32] show that they are never the only order. There is a bodily, behavioral order that always exceeds all forms. That order still always functions for us, noticeably, with and after all our forms and patterns. It functions as more than all, already formed patterns. Let me give examples.

1. Poetry

According to Freudian metapsychology, poetry consists of primitive pre-ego material, on which artistic form is imposed. But poetry is not just imposed form. What the poet says is not always primitive and unreal. It can be more realistic, more true of the world, than the common sayings.

Consider the silence of the poet with an unfinished poem:

The already written lines want something more, but what? The poet may be only stuck and confused, trying this line and that; many lines come. Some seem good. The poet listens carefully into each, rejects it, and reads the written lines again—and again.

Soon, or all along, the poet hears (senses, knows, reads, .....) what these already written lines want, demand, mean, imply, ..... Now the poet's hand rotates in the air. The gesture says that. The lines that offer themselves try to say, but do not say—that. This blank seems to lack words, but no. The blank is very verbal: it knows the language well enough to understand—and reject—all the lines that come. The blank is not a bit pre-verbal; it knows what must be said, and it knows that the wrong lines don't say that.

The blank is vague, but it is also more precise than what was ever said before—in the history of the world.

But in another way, of course the blank is said—by the lines leading up to it. The poet can have (get, hear, feel, keep, .....) this blank only by re-reading and listening into the written lines—over and over. The sense of their saying implies, and can bring, what has never as yet been said.

The first concept I wish to present is this implying. You followed my sentences about the poet. Let the word mean what it implies, how it works for you, here, in these sentences.

When the next line comes at last, the poet says: "Ah, this now says what that ..... meant, what was implied in that stuck blank." The other lines that came left the blank unchanged, stuck as before. That is why the poet rejects them. This new line is accepted, because it opens and releases that blank. But the line came only now; it wasn't already there, in the blank. Yet it is somehow related to that blank. The new line carries the blank forward. This carrying forward is my second concept.

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Now, just what is this ..... which implies, and which is then also carried forward? How shall we answer? Since it implies words, the blank consists of language. But it is also the poet's felt body-sense. And it is also the poet's situation. The old distinctions do not hold, between language, body and situation. So, when I speak of the 'body', that word also brings language and situation. With and after the distinctions, we ourselves get here such a ..... in trying to define the ...... But this is not disorder. Rather, exceeding the old forms and distinctions, what functions here for us, is an order that is more intricate that the existing forms. Let me show that it is more intricate.

2. Practice

The ..... is not a poet's special capacity. We all know situations that demand a way we cannot find. Then we are stuck. Of course we could easily say and do a lot, but that is all rejected by the stuck ...... You see that the ..... is not subjective. It is our sense of the situation, our interactions with others, which implies a further step we cannot find. The blank is also not pre-verbal. It "knows" the language, since it knows why what I would I say, won't do. It is an implying of something that has not formed for me, perhaps not for anyone before. But it is not disorder; it includes all I know and could do, and is also more subtle and intricate, always just so, and more demanding than the existing forms.

The ..... is never only the sum of all that was already formed. My third concept is pre-separated multiplicity. That includes much that was already formed, but it is also further specifiable in many new ways. You can always find it, if you attend physically in a certain way (Gendlin 1981). At first it seems to be a single, vague body-sense, but soon you find the pre-separated multiplicity. For example:

What is happening now, as you sit there—using your time in this way, having decided not to do those other things, having decided to let me in? Here is also the past history of your intellectual-practical situation, what might come of it, the thinking and writing you might do, how you might use what I say, with whom you will talk about it, the patience, expectancy, disdain or excitement you have for it, so far—a cluster called your 'attitude' as if that were one thing—and also your readiness for your next situation after this, which is coming up, and building in you all this while. You also find certain other personal situations that your body is holding and keeping, all along. Also you sense the spot in which you are sitting, the living you have done here already, who else is here, and not here, and so on .....

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As I say each of these things, they may seem separable, but only some of them were ever separate, before. Each may seem one item, but each can again function as a pre-separated multiplicity. In each bit some forms, patterns, and distinctions, do function, but not by keeping their form. A further step can be inconsistent with them, and break any of them. Whatever you find there can be further specified (made, found, differentiated, synthesized, lifted out, constellated .....). The ..... is not just a sum of what was previously formed.

We can also notice the function of that greater order in practice: We think not only with forms and patterns. We think events and situational detail directly. We also think with examples. Let us do it now: For example, consider the 'case study method' of teaching (used at the School of Business and the Kennedy School of Government, both at Harvard). The method consists in discussing actual cases. It is recognized that practice is always organized more richly than by extant generalizations. Events are always richer (more intricate, more complex, more specific .....). The law cannot govern alone; rather, the precedents determine the law. Just now, we too, are using this method. You are thinking my examples. How the examples exceed explanatory forms is thinkable.

Experienced practitioners 'know in their bones' more than they can explain. Pilots fly 'by the seat of their pants'. Clearly this behavioral function of the body is highly ordered. It includes, but is always more than, the forms and distinctions. Theory is a precious further development, but it always functions again within that wider bodily order. And, as you see, we can devise theoretical concepts to say that.

Let me give another example, from a special practice.

3. Psychotherapy research

Therapy, poetry, and ordinary action bring quite different changes. Even a tiny step of therapy can change the whole way a situation exists. It can shift the whole mood. If a poet experienced a bit of therapy-change, that might utterly dissolve the mood of the poem. Then the poem could not be finished. Steps of therapy differ from steps of poetry.

Psychoanalytic theory makes it seem that the patient is nothing but the result of bad socialization. Improvement can only be a more effective [Page 35] socialization, and only by the therapist's one-way imposition of a better order. But, in practice the patient's novel intricacy is vivid, essential, and not imposed or decided by either person. It arises from the body.

In the following excerpt, notice that the steps are new, and not invented by either person. They come from the silence, the stuckness, the ..... which comes between each step and the next.

P: I want to leave Chicago. The noise outside bothers me.

T is silent.

P: You don't think that's real. I can tell.

T: The noise is crowding in on you, coming into your far-in place.

P: It's like darts hitting my body. I can't stand it.

T: It really hurts!

P: (silence) ..... I keep feeling a sense of no meaning in my life.

P: (silence) ..... I just want to leave everything. It's that same spot where I want to die. My wanting to live and to die are so close, these days. That's why I haven't been able to touch this place. It gets misty there, still. It's real foggy.

T: You can feel wanting to live and, also, wanting to die, both right there, in the same inside spot, and that spot gets foggy, too.

P: (silence) ..... I don't want to relate with anyone. I wish there were no people to see. They don't mean anything to me. There is no meaning. When will my life ever have meaning? It feels like it never will. And I need meaning, right now.

P: (silence) ..... I also feel hesitant about relating to you. I know you're there for me, but it's like I'm not allowed to want that.

T: Is that, what you said before, about your father?

P: (silence) ..... No, uhm. But I am glad you said that about my father, because, uhm, I can feel that this is not with him. This is different. It's not like with my father.

T: It is not about him.

P: (silence) ..... Um, I can hardly touch it. It's—I can't want ..... my mother. I, I can hardly say it.

T: You can't want—her.

P: (silence) ..... That is where I feel the noises like darts.

(silence) ..... It's real early, real early.

T: It feels like a very, very early experience.

P: (silence) ..... I can't want—anything.

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(silence) ..... This needs to rest, and it can't. If it lets down and rests it will die. It needs to keep up its guard.

T: There is such a big need and longing, to rest, to let down, to ease, but somehow also, this part of you can't rest. It feels that it will die if it stops being on guard.

P: (silence) ..... What comes is: maybe it could—if I could trust something.

T: It could rest, if you could trust something.

P: No, no: Maybe it could rest, I could trust something.

T: It's important to say "maybe." Maybe it could rest, if you could trust something.

P: (silence) ..... Now, suddenly, it feels like a house on stilts that go into the earth. All of me on top, where the noise is, that's a house and it's on stilts. It got lifted off of this sore place. Now the sore place is like a layer, and it can breathe. Do you know those steel posts they put into the ground, to hold up a building? These stilts are like that. (T: Umhm) All the noise and coming and going is in the house, and the house is on stilts, lifted off, and the stilts go into the ground.

T: Those steel stilts go into the ground. You feel them lifting the whole house up, off of you. And underneath, that sore place can breathe.

P: (silence) ..... Yea, (breath), now it's breathing.
(silence) ..... It's bathing in warm water.

Later, she (P) said:
When I was little I played a lot with stilts. I used to go between the power wires on them. It was dangerous, but it was play! I used to make taller and taller ones, and go on them there. Stilts! I haven't thought of those for years. Play, and danger. How does this process do that? It uses all these things to make something that wasn't there before.

Note that the new intricacy comes from that unclear bodily sense, the ..... , which precedes each new step. Such steps are not imposed by the therapist, nor do they already exist in the patient. They are not the common social forms.

Steps of this sort can occur in any human process, if feedback from the bodily sense is looked for, and received (Gendlin 1970, 1973, 1981, 1984, 1986).

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With and after the learned patterns functioning, the body-sense still implies more. It implies new images, and new speech beyond stock phrases.

The steps can include much from the past. Here, the problem with mother, and the play with stilts in the danger zone, are from the past. But the past doesn't merely repeat. It functions in new steps, in a new, more intricate way of physical, bodily being.

Such steps can not be designed deliberately. They are not imposed on someone, or on oneself. In retrospect we can say, yes, this is just what was needed: The body produced the mothering which was lacking. It came in the interaction with the therapist. But it has to be made physically, from inside, by the body. Nothing can be just imposed. The therapist did not get even his one interpretation right. Though wrong, it helped: A new step came as feedback to it. The steps come from her body. The therapist could not invent or impose such intricate arrangement of stilts that are physically felt as supporting her, lifting the pressure off, so that something deeper could breathe.

What makes such steps observable is their sequence—how each follows from the previous. On tape recordings and transcripts, these sequences can be reliably distinguished from inferential sequences, event-reporting, emotional catharsis, and other common kinds of speech in therapy. Many research studies have now found and replicated, that a high incidence of such steps is correlated with success in psychotherapy (Klein, Mathieu-Coughlin & Greenberg 1985; Gendlin 1970, 1973, 1981, 1982, 1984).

The previous step does function in the coming of the next, but not by imposing its form on the text. Carrying forward alters LaPlace's series. He thought there was only one possible series, so that everything could be predicted, if one moment was known. But, we find that a step can also change the whole forward-implied series. More can happen, than follows from formed forms alone.

You can see this order also in science. Last year's assertions are discarded, as hosts of new specifics arise. New formulations are then read back, from which the new, findings are supposed to derive. But this shows an order that is not formulations, old or new. The order is how forms function in that which breaks the forms by responding with more.

The fact that forms can change in functioning has been noticed before, by Plato and Hegel for instance. But what brings the novelty was missed. The credit was always given to the forms. The novelty was said to come [Page 38] from forms, from their contradictions. Today's Post-structuralists do that still: All order is still only forms, their self-negation, their ruptures. Since the human subject has no fixed forms, they say "there is no subject." But, we are an order greater than formed forms. We are an order of carrying forward—a very demanding order that can get us stuck, can reject formed forms, and can bring a new intricacy that could not follow from the forms.

In these steps the patient's body newly phrases the language. The steps are not already there in either person. They come in the on-going interaction with the therapist. Each step is implied by the body's pre-separated multiplicity, but one must wait for the step to come, from there.

The role of the body-sense is most noticeable when time is spent, directly sensing it. For creativity, decision-making, and many other purposes, it is very important to learn this special process of attending to an, at first unclear bodily sense of a situation. But in a different and lesser way, the body implies behavior also without such direct attention to a body sense.

We can think about this body-sense; indeed—we cannot think without it. This body-sense functions in the coming of our thoughts and words. We don't usually prepare our words ahead of time; rather, we have a sense of what to say. I open my mouth and words come. As I hear it, what I say carries my body forward so that the next words come. If they seem wrong, I can only apologize and try again. We act, speak, and think with and from the body-sense. It functions in a highly orderly way. In most situations we would be lost without it. All logical concepts involve this wider, implicit sense of how to use them. Intellectual processes also carry our bodies forward. Right now you probably have a very bodily sense of my discussion, so far. This is not a mere reaction, not just excitement or discomfort. Rather, it is an implicit complexity. You can physically sense your body now implying more intricacy than you could formulate.

4. Meaning as bodily implying

I have also called this body-sense 'felt sense' or 'felt meaning' (Gendlin 1962). The living body is an ongoing body-environment interaction. As we just saw, even our most felt meanings which seem internal, concern how we are bodily living our seemingly external situations. Later we must discuss this seeming distinction between external and internal. But, all life-processes are interactions. To let a felt meaning come, and to specify it, the body [Page 39] interacts in a special further way with our attentional actions and symbols. We must think of the body not as a fixed, formed thing, but as ongoing interaction.

If we think of the body in this way, then certainly there is meaning before and also beyond language. Living bodies imply (they mean) their further environmental interactions. With a broad bodily process (including its muscles, nerves, glands, and circulation) the body implies its continuation, and thereby also the objects, things, words, involved in this next step. When these objects occur, they mean how they carry body-life forward. We might then observe only the objects, things, or words, or only the movement in space which the body performs with these objects. We might notice what is "explicit", and thereby miss broader implicit meaning, the carrying forward of the whole bodily interaction.

Please notice this relation between the three concepts: Meaning is how a next step carries forward that whole bodily multiplicity which implied a next step. Even when no next step has ever been formed, before, the body implies such a step.

All living bodies organize, pre-figure, and imply their processes (cf. Gendlin 1962, 1981). How can we think further about this bodily implying? Current science lacks this concept. We can see this lack, when we recall that all the scientific variables involve space-time locations, which are relative to an observer. For example, a particle has an identity only as it is the same one here, which earlier, was there. The observer provides the continuity for all the measures, comparisons, differences. But this observer is then left out. The observer cannot be studied in terms of differences that would be relative to yet another observer. In asking about bodily implying, we need a concept of a process that provides its own continuity; living bodies imply their own continuation, in both old and new ways.

Currently, everything is studied in terms of formed forms, patterned patterns. Patterns are passive, observed but not observing, seen but not seeing, organized but not self-organizing, implied but not implying. But, patterns are products of human bodies. Of course, all our thinking involves patterns, but this isn't the impossible epistemological problem it has been taken to be. Of course humans can only think humanly. But, that doesn't mean we need to attribute human patterns to the self-organizing of living processes at stages before such patterns.

For example, we explain the growth of a plant in terms of patterns we sense and construct. We are not tempted to assume that the plant lives by [Page 40] sensing these patterns. But then we have no concept at all, about how the plant organizes itself and implies its own further life-process. If we want to assert that, then we need new concepts.

We need concepts of an order, and a self-ordering, that doesn't consist of formed patterns. I showed that we do, of course, know and think with such a functioning, with and all the patterns. But before we can think about such a functioning before patterns, we have to think what patterns are, and how they come about.

As I will now show, patterns come about together with the separation of the five senses. Yes, the five senses are not just distinct. In the body they are always together. I will show that their seemingly obvious separation develops only at that stage at which patterns develop. Let me begin with the visual, and then discuss the others.

5. The purely visual does not exist alone

Something purely visual does not exist separately. To think of an image as existing on its own, we must add something: We think of the image as light waves. If it is a hallucination, we add the nerves that fire. Or, the image may be printed on a cardboard. Something that is only seen does not exist.

What we see exists either on its usual thing, or on something else. We know that the visual can be separate from the other ways we sense the thing, because its image can exist on some other thing, for example, it may be reflected in the water, or it may be printed on a piece of cardboard.

Let us say we have the picture of a cat's head with its two big ears. The picture is visually a cat, but it is also a piece of cardboard. We humans can have this doubled perception: We react to both at once—we see the cat, but as a picture; we would not think of petting the picture.

We only see the cat, but we touch, hold, and of course we also see the cardboard. The purely visual is a second seeing, built on top of a first seeing that is together with the other senses.

Notice that both seeings are bodily processes, and both in a way involve all senses. You see and hold the card, but your body also feels how soft and cuddly the cat is. The picture of a beautiful mountain can give you a big breath. Your body supplies the other senses to the purely visual, as well as holding the postcard with all sensations together.

The animal body pre-figures and implies its interactions with concrete things. We might say it only sees, but, like us its body implies behavior [Page 41] with a concrete cat, and with a concrete cardboard. The only difference is that we can sense both at once. Thereby we sense the cuddly cat as only visual—the one concrete object only seen on the other concrete object.

This duality of pictures can be brought home, if we recall that animals cannot respond to pictures as pictures. A bird cannot react to both at once: The bird reacts either by pecking at the piece of cardboard, or—with fear—by fleeing from an actual cat. There is no way to tell the bird that it's a picture of a cat.

Now let us think what pictures are. How is this doubled responding to pictures even possible? How is it that a piece of cardboard can be the picture of a cat? The picture is flat and the cat is not. The picture is made of cardboard and the cat is not. The picture is just a head, impossible alone. It can also be of any size. What makes it the picture of a cat? The answer is of course, that it has the proportions of the cat. If not, it doesn't look-like a cat.

Proportions are relations between many parts, the vertical length of the ears in relation to the curve between them, and both in relation to the eyes. Such a set of proportional relations between parts is called a pattern.

Animal psychologists have found that a bird will take flight, and also warn the other birds, if it merely sees the linear drawing of a cat's head. A real cat is not necessary, nor the smell or feel of a cat. Just the visual pattern of two triangles with a curve between is enough to elicit the fleeing and warning behavior. The psychologists conclude that birds respond to that visual pattern of two triangles with a curve between.

It is not wrong, to attribute this effect to a pattern. Indeed, in some species they found that the perfect geometric pattern which only humans can draw is even more effective than the varying patterns found in nature. So they can prove that a pattern, and indeed a purely visual one, produce this effect. And yet, I will argue that this truth is not sufficiently basic.

In spite of the fact that patterns do elicit the response, it is also obvious that the bird's response is to an actual cat. We can be quite clear about this contrast: The visual pattern produces the bird's response, but it is the response to a cat, not to a pattern. So we want to think further about both.

6. Separated senses require responding to patterns as such

There are indeed patterns in nature. For example, purely visual patterns are reflected in the water. But, let us ask what is required to see them [Page 42] there. To see something that is only visual requires the doubled response, responding both to the water, and also to the pattern as a pattern of something other than water.

It is as patterns, that is to say as doubled perceptions, that the five senses become capable of being sensed separately.

The visual is separable, because the sight of one thing exists on another thing. So the visual is separable because it is transferable; it can happen here or there. But what is transferable is the pattern, a set of proportions. Let us see what is involved in responding to a set of proportions as such.

7. Separated sense-perceptions are symbolic

Patterns (or proportional relations) are inherently separable from things. A pattern is the sort of thing that can be copied. Even if some pattern happens to exist only in one place in the universe, still, as a pattern it could exist in other places as well. What a pattern is, is separable.

Patterns are what we call 'universals'. A thing is this one, but the pattern-of a thing occurs also on other things of that kind. But only patterns make a kind. Only when a pattern can be responded to as such, on something else, for example in the water, can things come to be in kinds. Then there is a distinction between particulars and kinds. Then the patterns make kinds of thing.

For us there are not only trees, but also the pattern-of a tree. We see both this actual tree, and that it is a tree. So do animals, but the distinction is not there as yet. A dog might urinate against any tree, so we can say the dog treats trees as universals. We can say it recognizes a tree. Or, urinating against it, the dog treats trees as particulars. Like us the dog responds both to a tree and to this tree, but for the dog there is not yet the distinction. The dog's body has no doubled response to just a visual pattern, seemingly visual alone because it is on something else.

The separated senses are therefore inherently symbolic. A purely visual seeing sees patterns, and a pattern is always the pattern-of—something. Once that sophisticated human capacity has developed, then of course we can also see new patterns which don't belong to anything. Then we also see the ordinary things as having separable sense-patterns.

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8. Empty space comes from patterns

Something that can happen in more than one place is inherently independent of this or that place. Notice that proportions are inherently independent of where they are. Here they are on flesh, there on cardboard. In the two places the lengths are also different, but in both this length is a much greater than that length. A pattern is a set of relations that are inherently separable from their surroundings. The relations that make a picture are spatial relations. The pattern makes the same spatial relations regardless of what is there. Its relations are in a space with nothing in it—empty space. Wherever they occur, patterns make their own, purely relational, empty space.

I want to propose to you, that our familiar empty space is brought about by our capacity to respond to patterns as patterns. Seeing patterns as patterns is to see them in an empty space.

The empty space, to which we are so accustomed, is actually pattern-space. It is an aspect of the possibility of reacting to patterns as patterns, as proportions, as relations of sheer locations—never mind where. That is to say, pattern-recognition also brings empty space, the space of spatial relations as such, never mind where.

9. Human making and mechanics; the scientist/bird contrast

Humans see objects within the empty space of sense-pattern. Tourists mostly see the mountain-picture they will photograph. But, mountaineers chiefly act from their body-sense of possible actions on a mountain, to survive there. But both sense both. The mountaineer's animal's body-sense is elaborated by the capacity to sense things as patterns, and to rearrange them as patterns. A rope strung from here to here, a stone sharpened to make a tool, these are operations in terms of patterns.

In terms of movable patterns, humans make one thing out of another. Monkeys can't even put two sticks together to make one long stick that would reach a banana they want. They cannot treat the sticks as length-shapes, because they do not see length-patterns as such. Animals make quite complex things, nests and spider webs, but human making is so special because it is in terms of such patterns.

The scientific operational and exploratory power is part of human making. That doesn't mean it lacks truth. There is truth: Our making does [Page 44] indeed work. The two sticks are one long together. The rope from here to there does hold the mountaineer. Similarly, the scientific analysis works, and enables us to pinpoint the body's mechanics. But, that mechanical order is not the one which the body projects and implies from the start. Nor, as I have shown, do our own human bodies ever project only an order of existing patterns, alone. We can also think and form concepts about the wider behavioral order which it does project, and how it functions before, with, and after patterns as such. My three concepts so far: 'implying', 'pre-separated multiplicity', and 'carrying forward'.

Now we can clarify how our scientific analysis contrasts with the bird. The difference is that as scientists we impose the empty space of time and space patterns, and thereby make-and-discover the mechanical causes. The triangle and curve pattern is the mechanical cause of the response, but we find that. The bird body implies, and responds to a cat.

10. Sound-patterns, and movements in empty-space

What I said of seeing can be said of the tactile, smells and sounds. The cat hears a bird, not a sound. Sound as sound is symbolic, a doubled sensing: Sound-patterns carry forward, not just sound but our whole bodily sense of the world. That is what music does. A melody is a set of relations, a sequence, the same pattern in any key. The pattern makes an empty time, just of relations. "Language sounds are obviously doubled; each syllable is a pattern as well as their succession." [1]

There are interesting complications about how sound separates, which indicate something about why language develops as sounds. Analytically we correlate all five, but when patterns are first developing, sounds are more separate than the rest. The first sound-patterns differ from the rest. Seeing and touching have the same patterns of shape and size, and they also move together. A seen pattern-change leads us to expect the same change tangibility, and vice versa. But, sound-changes may not go along with these. Sounds can have their own pattern-change. Their sequence can be independent of whatever else goes on. Such a sequence makes an empty time. It is a time of sequential relations, regardless of anything in it. When sequence-pattern can be responded to, and had as such, then anything else can also appear to have a sequential pattern.

Now let us consider movement. The bird flies from the cat, up in a curve and then away. In a space-pattern? But it curves to warn the other [Page 45] birds, then flies-to a safe place. The animal moves in behavior-context, a space filled with other animals and things. It does not fly from one observationally-defined point to another in our empty space and time.

We plot its course, let us say it is a curved trajectory and then a turn at an upward angle. We can then draw this pattern on paper and take it home. To be able to respond to such spatial movements is not really the simple process it seems. The spatial pattern seems to exist alone, but it involves a doubled sensing: a body-interaction with a bird's motion, and also, the simple movement-pattern of a bird, which we could then fit to something else as well.

11. Actual sensations are not alone; they modify the implied sensations

The animal body has not only the actual sensations that come from the outside. The body also pre-figures and implies certain behaviors. By implying a behavior the body also implies and pre-figures the concrete objects with which the behavior will occur. These objects are implied with all sensations which the behavior involves.

Therefore, when I said that the birds sees not a pattern but a cat, I assert that the bird's body has not only the actual visual sensation which comes in now, but also an implied and pre-figured cat that is part of the fleeing behavior. That implied cat has all the sense modalities as well as how a cat moves. Then, the cat which the bird actually sees, modifies and specifies the cat in the implied behavior. The actual perception may be only visual; it modifies the implied cat in all the sense-modalities.

But it happens also with us, and it is familiar. When we actually only see the picture of a cat, we also see it as soft and cuddly. Conversely, if we stroke the cat in the dark, we also see its size and shape. The actual sensation affects the behavior our bodies imply with the concrete object. For us the behavior is stroking the cat.

Of course, the fleeing bird wouldn't stroke the cat. So, that is not the implicit tactile sensation when the bird sees the cat's ears. The implied objects are implied as they function in behavior, not as neutrally observed. The bird's visual sensation modifies the behaviorally implied cat that could move, and could come and not softly touch the bird.

I distinguish between two kinds of sensations here: The implied sensation that is part of the implied behavior, and the actual sensation which newly comes in. What newly comes in may be merely visual, but it enters [Page 46] into, and changes the way that the concrete object is implied. The behavior object is implied as moving, tactile, smelled, and heard, as well as seen. All these are modified by an actual sensation in any mode.

Therefore the animal doesn't behave on the basis of separated visual and other sensation, which it must first combine. Rather, the environmental things are implied as their function in behavior.

12. How the body implies behavior

Traditionally, patterns were thought to be the only order. Even thinking was said to be only pattern-manipulation. So it seemed that we simply cannot think of an order that doesn't consist just of patterns. But we can, and do so, here. We also do it often in any practice. Of course, for humans, patterns are always involved as well. But, we can think—and devise conceptual patterns—without assuming that patterns are prior.

We can miss the bodily implying in plants, if we take them as objects of our observations. But in animals we can clearly distinguish: They are objects of our patterns and constructions, yet they also have a bodily implying of their own, and that does not yet consist of our patterns.

I argue that the plant does imply its environmental interactions. Its body is ready with a complex life-process, which marks out a role for soil and light—just so much light, and just in certain periods.

The plant's body pre-figures, implies, and recognizes the light, but not as something visual. Rather, the plant pre-figures and implies its own further process and thereby it implies the light as it will concretely function in its process.

In the case of the plant we are not tempted to ask how it unifies the light's visual and tactile sensations. Rather, the plant implies a concrete role for the light, quite without sensation.

Now I make the (not very daring) assumption that an animal's body is no less able to do that. It also implies its further tissue-process including behavior. Sensations are part of the further interactions which its body implies. The animal does not act just on the basis of sensation. It implies behavior also with its tissues, glands, muscles, circulation, and its whole body. Sensation happens as part of the wider, bodily process.

The body implies the behavioral objects in all the sense-modalities that the behavior will involve. Therefore the single sensations that actually occur, are never alone. They are received as modifications of the way concrete thing is implied by the body in all sense-modalities.

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All this is not mysterious, if there are indeed such bodily implied behavior sequences. And, there are:

13. Inherited behavior and objects

Animal psychologists have now found inherited behavior sequences in all species. They inherit the behavior along with their bodies. At a certain age a frog jumps at a fly, without ever having seen one before. Frogs inherit not just their bodily jumping muscles, but also the complex jumping action. We inherit not just our lungs, but also the breathing behavior. We inherit not just our legs, but also crawling and walking. Infants all crawl eventually; they do not learn that from the adults.

For example, when an egg rolls out of a duck's nest, she rolls it back in with her bill. It is hard to do; she has to adjust to the unpredictable unevenness of the ground, steering the egg now left, now right. This behavior is implied by her body, and so strongly, that if no egg ever rolls out, she performs this eventually anyway, without an egg. But in that case she moves her bill easily, in a straight line. We see from this that the actual sensations from the actual egg are not alone. Rather, they come into the inherited behavior and modify and specify it.

14. Confirmation from the study of infants

Recently this whole way of thinking received a great corroboration by Stern's (1985) report of the recent findings with human infants. Infants can distinguish faces from other things, already on the second day. The infants are shown a cardboard oval with horizontal lines for eyes and mouth. They look significantly longer at these, than at similar ovals in which the lines are vertical. They seem to respond to the purely visual pattern of a face.

Infants can also distinguish smells. They look much longer at a cloth dipped in their own mother's milk, than that from another mother. The investigators think it is the pure smell, which the infant recognizes. I disagree. I say the infants recognize their mothers. But they seem to respond just to the smell.

More important for us here, the infants, one day after birth, can visually recognize something they have only felt in a tactile way. If one of two differently-shaped nipples is put in their mouth, while blindfolded, they can pick out which one it was, when the blindfold is removed, and they see the [Page 48] two nipples side-by-side. They look much longer at the one they just had in their mouths.

The finding is an anomaly for current theories, because it seems to involve correlating the tactile sensation with the visual one, a unity which it is assumed they must first develop. Stern, in a puzzled way, call this 'amodal perception', the very name expresses the mystery. It seems puzzling, because we can trace the path by which visual stimuli reach the infant, and surely it isn't the mouth. The infant has never seen the nipple. How can it recognize by sight which one it sensed by touch?

The mystery about correlating the senses assumes that the body has only what comes in, and must put that together. Actually, what needs to be questioned is how a separated, purely visual perception develops. One should not assume that infants come able to respond to those.

Before birth, the infant's body implies finely pre-figured interactions with a concrete mother, and with a concrete nipple. The infant's body implies nursing behavior which includes how a nipple will be seen, touched, tasted, and smelled. Then, at birth the actual sensations happen into that concrete implying, and modify it. Therefore an actual tactile sensation modifies how the body implies that the nipple will be seen, as well as touched.

The old theory assumes that human bodies have no behavioral order, and obtain such an order from the outside. This may be so with objects that are not part of the bodily implied interactions. Most studies had used such patterns. So it seemed that the infants would have nothing to go on, with a nipple or the mother, except the actual sensations that come in. Since these come along separate avenues, it seemed that the infant must first have them, in order to learn which ones go together. But, there is an implied interaction with mothers. An actual sensation in any one sense only specifies how she is already implied in all five senses.

15. Two kinds of space and objects

How does empty space differ from 'behavior space'—filled space?

When an animal is at a given spot, (we can define the spot in our empty space), the animal's body senses the many behaviors that are possible from that spot. The cat's muscles are crouched, ready to jump up at the bird in the tree. It feels the space as a filled mesh of possible behaviors. For the animal a spot is what it can do from there—a thousand things.

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When the animal moves, that changes the whole mesh. Some of what it could do before is now no longer possible, or would be done differently. To jump on the bird from here is a different movement, than it was from there. For example, the cat moves to a spot from which it can no longer see or jump up to the bird, but from which it can climb the tree. That also changes many other behavior-sequences its body implies. [2]

What seems a mere change in position is really a very big change for the bodily implying. We live so largely in our empty space of patterns, that it is hard to appreciate this bodily fact. Seemingly simple motions change the vast mesh of possible behaviors, which the body feels.

We can recognize this in situations which are still physical for us humans. For example, in some drinking place someone moves toward you, with his arm raised, to hit you. Now you sense many possibilities at once. You see the ways the man might move, and what could happen. You see and feel your paths to some of the windows and doors. You notice a table that might give you some protection, and it is also something you could jump up on, so as to attack your opponent from above. If you move to the door, you cannot use the table. If you keep it between you and him, you won't be up high. Any one of these moves changes how you would do some of the others. You don't have time to think each of these. You move. Your body computes the many sequences into one move. Of course, your bodily computing isn't perfect; it might omit some moves you see only later. But it computes many sequences, what would ensue from each, and how each changes the others. Your body gets the single move from this bodily implying of that mesh. I call it a 'mesh' because they aren't implied separately. Each is a change in the others. Each is a series of changes in the whole mesh. That is what I call 'filled space'.

Contrast this with most human situations. All our actions involve patterns, but more importantly, most actions are just patterns, usually speaking, and writing. Yet, as with the animals, any one of these can change our whole bodily implying. For example, you are sitting in the audience, listening to a lecture. Your body feels at ease, you are free to let your mind wander, occasionally rejoining the lecture. You do have some disagreements with the talk, but you will voice these later, if at all.

Now, suppose you decide to interrupt, to raise you arm up as soon as the speaker pauses for a second. What a change comes in your body, even just pretending that you will do that. Your whole body changes. It feels—not just one arm-raising behavior, but how that will transform what can [Page 50] come after that. The speaker will stop, everyone will look at you, you will have to speak, and handle the speaker's response. You might have to say more and more. Afterwards everyone will talk to you, and to the people at home about it. That arm-motion changes your whole peaceful situation. What we call 'situation' is the mesh of implied behaviors and events.

Now, what is the difference? For both humans and animals one behavior can change how the body implies the whole mesh. But, usually, for humans, that change is not made by the move. Your raised arm doesn't change anything up there, where it reaches. The arm isn't part of the behavior that will follow. Human action-possibilities are mostly not connected physically. Your arm does not interrupt the speaker physically. The speaker's body doesn't expect you to hit him. We forget your arm—we call it 'raising your hand'. The raised arm has no physical effect.

We live mostly with our tongues and fingers, by speaking, signing checks, and making seemingly simple motions. Each of these does change how the others are possible. But they do not change each other physically.

We do eventually also eat, sleep, and have sexual intercourse. But these now happen only in certain patterns, and not in others. This is not 'the mind'. In some patterns our bodies lose our appetites.

We act and perceive objects within patterns. We sense ourselves in their empty space and we call that the 'outside'. Since the patterns are not physically connected there, in space, we do not see our mesh of possible actions there, as the cat does. But we do feel our mesh of actions; therefore we think of it as 'inside'. Empty symbolic space brings this division between external and internal. It seems 'inner', because most of our moves seem to be simple patterns, like talking or singing our names. But actually, the patterns are doubled. Each is a change in the whole mesh of our possibilities which our bodies imply.

I have distinguished: two sorts of objects: cats and patterns; two kinds of behaviors: fleeing-a-cat, and raising your hand.

Although patterns are always involved in our thinking, we need not attribute these to bodies that live in behavior-space, and do not imply patterns.

We can also think about, and with, that bodily behavioral implying which includes the patterns, and always also exceeds them.

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16. The creation of meaning

I am often misunderstood, when I emphasize the role of the body in thought and language. I am taken to propose a fixed, biological determinism. No, just the opposite: It is precisely the body that produces novelty. It is patterns that bring logical consistency and make it seems that nothing new can follow. Logical consistency is a pattern-continuity. But there are other kinds of continuity, as in a poem or in steps of therapy. These follow, but they are not logically consistent. The patterns constrain; the body produces novelty.

Bodies are not fixed. If you change the surface, the animal immediately walks as it never did before. Its walk is already formed, but in interaction with the new surface, it comes out differently. The new walk may also be more intricate than the old one.

Dream-images are another example. They are products of the body, often so novel and original that we could not have invented them deliberately. By a further process different from dreaming we can often get new steps of personal development and new modes of action from them (1981).

What I call 'carrying forward' is that kind of change which we (later) say was what the body implied. But, a step of carrying forward does not always come. We can stay stuck, get killed, or do much else. We can lie, and say that this, now, 'was' what was implied. But we cannot impose meaning on events. We can try to 'reframe' the unresolved events in our lives, and view them in a more attractive way—but then we must wait to see if the new meaning carries our bodies forward. If it does not shift the tension, the constriction, or the heavy weight with which our bodies sense the events, then we better try for another way. We can recognize carrying forward. When we are hungry, we can do many things. What tells us which of these doings carry forward? We know because after those that do not, we are still hungry. The difference does not depend on an imposed value system.

These concepts I presented involve patterns, as all concepts do. But they let us think of a bodily implying that is always, again, more than the patterns. But, all concepts, even those that deny it, bring an implicit complexity along with them. That is so in all thinking and all speech. Let me end with speech: Each sentence makes a bodily implying of what might come next. And that is so, also within each sentence: The first part of a sentence—.....

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[1]. Early expressive sound-patterns probably occurred as behavior. New behavior brought new sounds and sound-changes into language. At a certain point in language-development, each short sound-sequence (syllabic pattern) began to carry the body forward. At that point language closes. After that early point, every language develops further only by combinations, and by metaphor (cf. Gendlin 1962), without admitting any more new sounds. This is also the point at which behavior is implied and understood within the wider carrying forward of language. (I say more about this in Gendlin, unpublished VII B)

[2]. The bird isn't just there, as a steady object. Rather, it is by the behavior of stalking and chasing the bird, that the cat keeps the bird steady as an object in front of it. As it chases the bird, everything else whizzes by. The cat's body feels the many rapidly changing possibilities, although it always does just one: Sensing the many moves it might make, it avoids these rocks by running to the left of them. That changes the whole scene of possible behaviors. Its body computes them all, the spots to which they would lead, and what could be further done from all those spots. It is that whole mesh, which leads the cat to jump up on this fence, and climb that tree. And it is from that mesh, that the bird continuouly falls out as a steady object.


Freud, Sigmund. 1936. The Problem of Anxiety. New York: Norton.

–––––. 1949a. Outline of Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton

–––––. 1949b. Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. New York: Liveright.

Gendlin, Eugene T. 1962. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning. New York: Free Press-Macmillan.

–––––. 1970. "A Theory of Personality Change". New Directions in Client-Centered Therapy ed. by Joe Hart & Thomas Tomlison, 64-87. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

–––––. 1973. "Experiential Phenomenology". Phenomenology and the Social Sciences ed. by Maurice Natanson, 123-144. Evanston: Northwestern Univ. Press.

–––––. 1981. Focusing. New York: Bantam Books.

–––––. 1982. "Two Phenomenologists do not Disagree". Phenomenology, Dialogues and Bridges ed. by Ronald Bruzina & Bruce Wilshire, 44-58. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

–––––. 1984. "The Client's Client: The edge of awareness". Client-Centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach ed. by John M. Shlien & Ronald Levant, 212-241. New York: Praeger.

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–––––. 1986a. Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. Wilmette. Ill.: Chiron.

–––––. 1986b. "What Comes after Traditional Psychotherapy Research?". American Psychologist 41.131-136.

–––––. Unpublished. A Process Model. Unpublished book draft.

Klein, Margorie H., Philippa Mathieu-Coughlin & D.J. Kiesler. 1985. "The Experiencing Scales". The Psychotherapeutic Process: A research handbook ed. by W.P. Pinsof & L.S. Greenberg, 33-47. New York: Guilford.

Stern, Daniel. 1985. The Interpersonal World of the Infant. New York: Basic Books.

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