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Gendlin, E.T. (1994). Response [Gendlin replies to four commentary articles on his work, which are in the same issue of this journal]. Human Studies, 17(3), 381-400. From

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E. T. Gendlin

Department of Behavioral Sciences, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637

If I could, I would emphasize and reiterate the many parts of these papers in which I recognize myself. My commentators treated me well and I thank them for it. I could make one complaint: They often used old terms and phrases to try to say what is new in my philosophy. In that form, what they said of it falls back into the very problems it actually resolves. So they could not show how we can move past the current dead-end and enter a large new arena. What is new must be allowed to let words work in new phrases, and to generate new concepts.

When forms or distinctions break down, they reveal an experiential and situational intricacy that can give rise to meanings of a type new to philosophy. Words can be permitted to work in (with, from . . .) the intricacy. Anything, large or small, is intricate beyond distinctions in this way. Since anything is more intricate than our concepts, any ordinary situation can let us use words in more intricate ways. Such more intricate saying can also lead to new concepts. But let us always take the implicit intricacy along as well, even with the most excellent new phrases and concepts. In this way we can speak and think with and from the intricacy.

For example, take a moment to sense your situation, now. You can attend to a bodily sense which at first might seem merely comfort or discomfort. Are you quite comfortable and at ease about life? What is the quality of your bodily aliveness now? It is perhaps a slight discomfort, but with a unique quality, the taste of now.

If you sense your life just now, you find yourself living in a number of situations, now still concerned with what happened this morning or all week, what is going on at home, at work, and in some other places. Among much more important situations, you also find my paper so far, and probably also the four papers to which I am responding. You are keeping your sense of them with you to see how I will answer.

You could not repeat every word of those papers, perhaps not repeat even one phrase. What they said exists in you now not as separate pieces, not as a [Page 382] set of quotations, but as you have lived it, as it has changed the mesh which we could call your "experience." Let the word "experience" change so that it speaks with and from this intricate mesh-experience.

Your sense of those papers includes some questions they left hanging. If I happened to mention one of those, you would recognize it. Those questions are also feelings—do you sense them there? You also have a sense about the whole discussion. You might find a word for that, perhaps "excitement," or "disgust," or "mild interest." But although you might use just one word, your sense of now is not just one thing. Your sense implicitly contains the whole discussion. No single word can mean all of that. So the word does not just fit or copy your feeling. On the other hand, your choice of a word is not arbitrary. You could not use any word you like. You cannot say "excitement" if it is mild interest or disgust that you find there. You might find the task of naming it quite exacting. "No, not excitement, rather, hum . . . . Maybe more like disbelief." Your sense is neither a fact that a word copies, nor is it just putty for interpretation by any word. Although the word doesn't copy, some words are clearly wrong; and there could also be just one that you would call "'the right word." That word would neither suppress nor muddy your initial sense, but would connect with it, sharpen it, carry it forward.

More words could speak from your sense, for example: "disbelief because . . . I don't think he can handle that (where the word 'that' is a way of saying a complex problem). I'd love to see him try to handle that. Nobody can handle that." Or, you might think, "Oh yes, that," which in more detail might be: "Oh, yes, shades of Kant." You could say vastly more, of course. Such a sense or so-called "feeling" implicitly contains not only the papers and my discussion but also your own years of reading and thinking. Obviously what I am calling "your sense" is not an opaque feeling, not just a feeling-tone. Right now you have philosophical feelings. If we do use the word "feeling" here, the meaning of the word changes. Now it means a feeling that is implicitly intricate.

We need to remark on this! What seems a single, bodily (so-called) "feeling" is implicitly one's living-in one's situations. No wonder we cannot put just any words on it, and have it so. If we could, we would all be happy and rich. And yet such a sense isn't form-fixed. It is more intricate than forms and distinctions.

What first comes as a bodily sense, a feeling, a mere quality of comfort or discomfort, turns out to be implicitly intricate. But the word "implicit" now means however it is that all these many aspects can emerge from such a feeling. Such an intricacy is not just internal, not just in the body; it is the situational intricacy we are living. It seems simple, just one discomfort. Yet it opens into countless facets, only a few of which we can separate out. It is a not-separated multiplicity. However, the facets are not side-by-side, but [Page 383] crossed: each is involved in what the others are. When we separate any one thing from all this and state it, we give it a form that would close out the others. But implicitly the facets function together. If we think of them as each having a form, then we also have to think of them as each opening the form that each of the others would have.

So the words "experience," "sense," and "feeling" change as they say this situational intricacy. So do the other words, when I say that such an implicitly intricate sense is a crossed, nonseparated multiplicitly, and that it is not subjective but situational. It is the sense of living in a situation. Situations then, are mainly nonseparated multiplicities. We can neither just represent those, nor interpret them arbitrarily. But there is a third alternative: certain special phrases and actions can carry them forward.

I have been using some familiar words, but using them in odd new phrases. How was that possible? Doesn't a word bring along its usual meaning, the usual way a situation is affected when that word is said? Yes, but the usual use is brought into this situation, now. Words do have their own way of working, which they mean in every situation. But if that were all, how would we know what situation we are actually in? For example, the word "you" occurs in thousands of situations and can mean anyone. How do you take it to mean YOU? That function is performed for you by your bodily sense of your situation.

Words bring their own situations along with them, but when I say them in the not-yet-separated multiplicity, they say how they work in it. They mean what saying them does here.

That is how my words work here. My words "bodily," "implicit," "intricacy", "feeling" "experience," "pre-separated multiplicity," "living in a situation," and "carrying forward" now speak from how they worked in my new phrases, if they made sense when said from your sense of your situation.

For example: With and from the mesh, one single facet is separated out and formulated by my phrase "pre-separated multiplicity." Look how the words change: "Multiplicity" usually means separate units; it seems that only separated units can be many. "Not separated" means all one. If taken as logical forms, they cancel each other out and mean limbo. But if you let yourself sense your situation just now, this very moment as you read this, then the phrase can say something with and from that.

If you let my phrase work here, in this example, the phrase makes sense. And so also "makes sense" means what the words do when they do precisely that. What words do is more intricate and precise than our philosophical concepts about what words do. But words about language can say what they do, when they actually just then do what they say. Then they can make sense in what they just did.

We are wise to use words not only logically but also for and from the [Page 384] situational intricacy that we sense. We can do it on any topic, but if our topic is how language works, then words say how they work.

If we let them work newly, they tell of their new working. They say the new sense they make.

* * *

With words that work in this new way, I can now discuss the issues my commentators raise. I do not just helplessly "warn" against falling into forms. I show that speaking never falls into forms. I also show how we can use this fact deliberately, to let words speak in and from what is sensed and is more than forms.

Philosophy is currently at a seeming dead-end: All forms and distinctions break down; meaning cannot be encompassed within forms; and yet—supposedly—we can speak only within forms. I have just shown that this is not so. Words work in what is more than forms. They work-in (make sense in, mean, say . . .) what exceeds them. Unlike Levinas, I do not say that the saying always falls into the said. I show how what is more than form is what is said.

In old phrases, my new terms and uses of words can seem to rest on one of two falsehoods: When Liberman says that I want "to capture meaning as experience actually has it," that sounds like a claim to copy experience, as if meanings were waiting there, finished and given. On the other hand, when he says that I let "words invent their significance," and "settle situations themselves," it sounds like an arbitrary play that words carry on among themselves. Those are the two familiar pitfalls.

If we could invent ourselves by words, we would all be rich, happy—and trivial. But what defeats our chosen narratives about our lives and our selves? Something feeds back to anything we try to impose, and is much more precise and capable of much more. Yet life is not a set of fixed facts. Then what gives the lie to what we might wish to say? I argue that it is the body which carries the past, remembered or not. And the bodily version of the past is what exceeds any set of definitions of life up to now and into this situation here. What we say must carry forward what "was"; but that is always more intricate than any confining form. Therefore, those rare statements that carry forward can remake what was.

Words neither copy experience nor do they make sense alone. They carry experience forward. When we say that these special phrases now are what was implicit before, we wrongly render the relationship as an equation. There is a relationship, but it is not an equation. It is a carrying forward of the situation (that where of we speak, that in or with which we speak, the context, the bodily-sensed experience . . .).

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Even arbitrary word-play—if it makes some sense—carries life-experience forward. Hatab is right that we are "not always getting at something," not always trying to carry forward from what is already so. A poet might playfully make phrases, then listen into the openness, to sense what unexpected meanings those phrases might say. There are all sorts of uses of words; but even when they seem most "alone," words are never alone. They always bring along their situations. They bring their own situations into our sentient situational mesh now, so that they say something here now.

The implicit multiplicity is never equal to formulations. It is always more precise, and will reject most easy phrases. Yet it can be carried forward by further living and by that special case of further living—speaking and thinking.

This order of situations (experience, bodily sensing, practice, language, thinking, . . .) has not yet been understood, as obvious as it is: Yes, it can be affected by interpretations you put on it, but it does not depend just on those. Most interpretations have no effect at all. Experience can remain inarticulate; sometimes it "does not budge." But when an interpretation makes sense, experience gives back more intricacy than could follow from the interpretation. And what it gives back is always exact: If you say this, it makes sense just this way. Approach with this hypothesis and you get just these findings. To a different interpretation it responds differently, but again exactly just so, and always with more intricacy than can follow just from the interpretation alone. Intricacy is very orderly in response to formulations, but it is neither this nor that formulation. It does not have a static "is." Rather, it is-for-carrying-forward. Although not as yet formed, it always very demandingly and precisely implies a next step. After a step of carrying forward, many more such steps can follow.

My commentators have used the words "flux" and "fluid", but the demanding precision of carrying forward is anything but what "flux" and "fluid" usually mean—just any change. For example, when one has a . . . . , one can change it by forgetting it, by saying the wrong thing and letting it shrivel. One can also let it keep hanging there unsatisfied and go to bed. One can wipe it out with a little alcohol, or talk it away. Only very special phrases or actions make steps of carrying forward.

If we speak from carrying forward, and if we let that alter what "flux" means, then that word can say what Liberman wanted it to say: that we need not remain with one formulation, or at one step. If we let implicit intricacy continue to play its role, it can always lead to further steps.

I come from Dilthey, also Merleau-Ponty, and from the American Pragmatists especially Dewey and McKeon. McKeon inherited Pragmatism without claiming the label. Pragmatism always was a pluralism of many systems and approaches—a "tool closet" full of various concepts and procedures. For Dewey concepts are tools; working with them brings feedback. Concepts are [Page 386] not true or false on their own. But how does one describe if the feedback is the resolution of a problem or not? What is true is what works; but how does one decide what "works" means? Dewey knew that the criteria arise within the feedback process itself, but he made that sound like arbitrary assumptions. Pragmatism fell because it seemed to consist of mere expediency governed by one's unexamined assumptions. Dewey did not further explore the various kinds of feedback internal to a process.

The continental tradition assumes determination in one direction only; it knows little of feedback—except for Dilthey. In Dilthey's "hermeneutic" process a change in one part can illuminate others. A textual passage that was a jumble can come to make sense, and can in turn unjumble other parts. Such criteria are internal to the process.

Dilthey provided another vital insight, one that is still not appreciated: Dilthey said that experiencing (living) is itself an understanding, rather than something that needs interpretation or understanding put on it. Most current philosophers follow Kant in assuming that experience is only derivative from pre-existing concepts.

Using Dilthey, we can turn Kant around: Living is inherently a kind of understanding not because concepts are at work in it; rather concepts are derived from how living makes sense. And there can be new living and new sense-making.

Experiencing is itself a kind of understanding, and we can also hold the converse: Understanding is never just an about; it is itself a kind of experiencing, a new further living.

Heidegger and Derrida assume that experience (events, situations, practice, speaking . . .) is wholly derivative, determined from the conceptual top, down. Then they can only posit a "source" or "gift" that brings something new.

Liberman is right that I criticize Derrida not for what he does but for where he stops. In the years before Derrida I was rarely understood. My work assumed that a variety of formulations is always possible and that all forms and distinctions break down. I went on from there. Derrida was right to see that this inherent breakdown of forms had first to be brought home. He says it will take 300 years. I think he overestimates that a little. I think he has already done it, and superbly. Now it turns out that all along I have been post-post-modern. It is well. Now that people are tired both of foundations and of limbo. I am now being heard and understood. I am ready with thirty years of work beyond those two oversimplifications.

No, my critique of Derrida is not the usual one. I regularly defend him. But he is wrong on two main counts: Firstly, he ought not to restore the old forms and "retract" each new use of a word. A new meaning cannot be "retracted" or "erased," as his practice assumes, because it will continue to func- [Page 387]tion in our experiential mesh once it has made sense. Making sense is a carrying forward of the mesh which cannot be undone. Secondly, he is wrong to see only contradiction and limbo when distinctions break open. What comes there is not just the undecidability of the forms.

Liberman rightly has me saying that there is a texture of life after deconstruction. Liberman says "we know little about what it is." Or, he asks, "do we know it very well?" But I argue that we can enter it; we can think into it.

I have pointed out that what is beyond form is not nothing, but experiential and situational intricacy. We need not lose that intricacy the moment we say something—it can never be traded in for what we say. It must be allowed to continue to function along with (in, as . . . .) whatever we say. Beyond form there is intricacy—more precise and more demanding than forms and distinctions. Beyond form is not a featureless concreteness, not just one Big Thing, not only one great openness at an outer edge. Rather, anything at all is also beyond form; anything is for carrying forward. Implicit intricacy is in anything, in the tiniest facet of any situation.

I would remind Liberman of a piece I heard him present some years ago, involving a half page transcript of dialogue, a native being questioned by a British colonial judge. To show what happened in those few exchanges, Liberman formulated ten or fifteen specific facets, all valuable for understanding this sort of situation. He could never have derived those facets from a set of generalizations. Of course, his statements of those facets are themselves (very specific) generalizations, but to find them, Liberman had to use the instance, his sense of that situation. So of course he knows—we all know—that in practice any situation has this sort of intricacy. We know that we need to be guided by our sense of the whole situation, not only by the few facets we can define and think separately. We know it would be foolhardy to treat any situation as if it were ordered only by our distinctions and generalizations.

One's sense of a situation is always an intricate mesh of myriad never-separated facets. We want to keep and use the best possible generalizations and distinctions too, of course. Logical implications add a power we do not want to do without; but we can also always dip back into the directly-sensed mesh. Otherwise the generalizations will mislead us.

Since we all know this in practice, why does this very familiar direct sense of situations disappear in philosophy? Why, in philosophy, is anything but distinctions said to be featureless? Why is what is more than form supposedly only at some outer edge? Don't we all know that it is everywhere, and in any little thing as well?

And why do Liberman, Heidegger and Levinas think we fall into form, if we speak? They assume that we will automatically drop our direct sense of anything as soon as we have a formulation. But we need not do that. In [Page 388] practice we never do that. What we say might consist of forms and distinctions, but we are never such fools as to act only on those. Of course we also hold on to the directly sensed intricacy of the situation, no matter how true what we can say might seem.

In philosophy too, we are fools to use only generalizations. We must take the experiential meaning along, so that we can dip into it at many further junctures, so that we can recognize when our generalization ought to break down.

More than that, we can make concepts for the relation between intricacy and forms, as I have begun to do. Thereby we can do more justice to any topic than if we render it only in forms and distinctions—or treat it as open to arbitrariness.

We always say more than form anyway, but if we do it knowingly, deliberately, we can do much more. So let us stop treating the openness that is more than form as if it were less than form. Let us stop talking of it negatively as the mere absence of form, as negativity, nothingness, ambiguity, undecidability, limbo—all words that only say not-form.

Making sense is an implicit function; it is not reducible to relations of forms, already cut units, or general concepts alone. When those break open, we find a more intricate order, not limbo or nothingness.

Hatab still says—along with Heidegger—that what is beyond the different cultural forms is "nothingness." Other than culturally formed, humans are nothing, they say. But Hatab feels what he says very differently than Heidegger did.

I always defend Heidegger when Heideggerians attack him about his nazism. They adopt his philosophy and want to split it from his person. They don't understand that his philosophy belongs to a century-long strand of thought—especially German thought—which held that humans are nothing but products of culture, so that German culture is the only sacred value. Not culture,—German culture. This was the conviction not only of Heidegger, but also of Ranke, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Rilke, Spengler, Scheler, as well as Dostoyevsky, D'Annuncio, and many others. To understand Heidegger's nazism we have to grasp this whole strand of thought. And let us not say that this view is only their problem. If we do not share their conviction, then it is our problem to formulate ours. Surely we should not take their view as our own, and then be shocked when we discover that they meant it seriously.

Americans have trouble understanding that strand of thought. I don't say that we cannot, because that would instance the assumption that humans are nothing but culture. I think we can understand this strand of thought, and I will try to explain it.

Hatab is correct in saying that this strand of thought rejects "Enlightenment universalism." But he says quite wrongly that it rejects this in favor of [Page 389] "celebrating differences," which he says brings "the danger of tribalism." No, not at all. Once there is a "celebration of differences," there is no danger of tribalism. To Hatab (and myself) the different cultures all seem roughly equal; but that is felt as offensive, and seen as misunderstanding, hopelessly superficial, by those who hold their culture sacred. They would only feel pity for us as lost creatures who lack any deep culture.

Heidegger did not celebrate differences. He thought that the destiny of the world lay in German culture. He seriously thought that philosophy could be carried on only in German or Greek. Ranke said that to be a significant historian one had to be a German historian. Dostoyevsky thought that only Russians have any depth of soul. In his novels, all Poles, Jews, and Germans are portrayed as flat, soulless. The Italians who belonged to this strand of thought called it their "sacred selfishness."

Since this assumption that only one's own culture is sacred appeared in each culture, an urban middle-class American easily thinks of this view as if it held that each culture were sacred and that each creates fully human beings. Not so! Only German culture is sacred.

Hatab thinks of that whole century-long rebellion against the Enlightenment as if it were a celebration of differences. It is rather the deep sense that human nature is nothing, a gap, a void, so that those who lack my culture share nothing with me; they are not even the same species of animal. An animal species shares one characteristic way of living, nesting, and infant care. We empty creatures share only the merest vegetative "biologism," as Heidegger put it. A dog has a certain nature. You might think twice before killing a dog, but there is nothing at all in people of another culture except that other culture. And Americans? Those don't even have another culture!

This conviction that there is no human nature led to the murder of millions of people (Armenians, Gypsies, Volga Germans, Jews and many others, now Bosnians). But to call it "tribalism" is to look down on it without first understanding it. Some of the thinkers and poets we most value came from this line of thought which assumes that the human being is purely a cultural creation. They found a deeper human being than the rational unity that Kant had proposed. Of course we find a great deal of value in the thinkers who went deeper. But their dreadful error was to think of humans as mere creations of culture, created out of nothingness.

In America the cross-cultural human being is so obvious that its assumption is not even noticed. But it is unavowed because there has not been a way to state it. I argue that we should avow it; and more: I offer a way of using words and making concepts that can articulate it.

Common in American philosophy and social science is a stated cultural particularism. I have argued for years that one should not use this formulation if it says what one does not mean. I am now impatient when my [Page 390] Heideggerian friends are shocked at revelations of Heidegger's nazism. It turns out that all along they assumed—while verbally denying—a real and valuable humanity holding across all cultures. That is the unstated basis of their outrage. And even now they continue to assert that nothing holds across different cultures. Yet,—taken seriously—it shocks them. They require that one silently assume the universal value of all humans, and they see it as a problem about Heidegger that he did not. Heidegger did not think beyond cultural particularism, but he also did not feel beyond it. If we feel beyond it, it is our problem to think beyond it. Instead, my friends repeat Heidegger's view. Then they are shocked by Heidegger while sensing no problem of their own.

When Hatab thinks of what is other than culture as nothing, as an abyss, he only means that it is not something formed, and that we want to be free of anything formed. He assumes that a recognition of the abyss will somehow engender compassion. But the abyss can and has engendered quite the opposite. Compassion shows rather (as James Watson says) that the abyss is a lie. You feel the other people—isn't that what com-passion is? But while this is a vital step, we need to articulate what this compassion knows.

If culture really made humans in and from nothingness, then our next step of speech, thought or action would always have to remain within the given cultural forms. There being nothing else, nothing could open them. We could individualize this only in details subsumable under the cultural forms. It is not so. Rather, with and after culture, humans are-for carrying forward, implicitly open for further steps that can open all the determinants. We see this when we criticize our culture from within it, as we have all done at times. We could do this only from the vantage of another culture, if it were true that there is nothing to human beings but what their culture gives them.

Humans seem to float on nothingness, to lack a nature, because of the assumption (from Kant and Hegel) that nature is only a machine. Hegel wrote before Darwin; nature seemed static and repetitious. Hegel said that only humans change the essences and make real time—historical time, which splits humans off from nature. This assumption still underlies current thinking. But mechanistic logic depends on fixed units. It is humanly made graph-paper. Machines are concrete graph paper. Nature is not a machine. It is intricate and opens into all sorts of novelty. Single cells and their relations are vastly complex. Animals live complicated lives. Human sense-making is just as nature-emergent as the animals are. We can use the word "nature" to say that nature develops into animals and human beings. That seems obvious—since we are here. We can understand nature's kind of order from our own new sense-making, rather than by assuming a logical machine.

Very little is left as nature, if we take away everything that the cultures carry forward in various ways. The cultures elaborate eating, sleep, procrea- [Page 391]tion, and human relations differently, so it seems that human "nature" is autistic and without modes of life at all. No creature could have stayed alive with only such a nature. I have called this the fallacy of the "remnant body," what seems to be left as common, if what the cultures vary is removed. Obviously human nature is what cultures carry forward in various ways. It is not a form or content common across cultures.

Hatab is right to oppose the old notion of a "universal human nature," a form or content that a colonial administrator could try to impose on another culture. What is universally human exists only as carried forward by some variant of culture and also still open for further carrying forward. The variety does not make for bridgeless differences because further carrying forward is not determined by its present form. In living further, implicit intricacy governs and can open all the forms that function in it.

That is the human nature which Hatab unconsciously assumes—whatever makes people of other cultures such that he can care about them in spite of their otherness. That human nature can be articulated, but only in the kind of theoretical terms that come from letting words work-in that very kind of nature—the implicit intricacy we do share, which is-for carrying forward—in various cultural and individual ways. The way to fashion such terms is just what I offer.

Once we can speak of what is not fixed-formed but can be carried forward in many ways, then we can say how great is that which is shared, although variously carried forward—much greater than the differences made by the variety. Then we can celebrate our differences.

On any topic (including human nature) we can have (think, say, feel, be . . .) the . . . that comes after the variety. After the string of variants, each is implicit in our understanding of what it can be, to be human. They are all implicitly at work, crossing and opening each other so that all help to shape, and do not confine, our next step of speech, thought, and action.

Wallulis reads me as saying that the change-effect runs only from the individual body to the social level; consequently he points out quite rightly, that the change can also move in the other direction. I do assert both. From the social to the individual is the only direction Liberman finds in my work. He thinks I am corroborated by his experience after returning from another culture, when he found that here in the U.S. he could only be his U.S. self. Of course he could not be just as he was in the other culture, and that does corroborate my saying that we are interactional beings. But I don't agree with him that he has just two disparate cultural natures, and nothing else. That would be so only if we were nothing but the social forms.

We are a thicker experiential intricacy. Culture elaborates and acts in something that is much more than culture. I think that Liberman's two cultures have "crossed" in him, so that his second culture enabled him to feel and [Page 392] understand his U.S. culture better than before he went. We get a . . . , a crossing, when we have lived in two cultures, or when we have two philosophies, or several words that make sense in the slot of any one. Then how we mean one of the words is implicitly crossed and informed by the others. Considered just as forms they would exclude each other. But in experiential intricacy, they cross.

There is a crossing not only of cultures but also across individuals. The more different people we come to know, the more easily we understand a new person who is again different from those. That is because understanding is a function of our implicit experiential mesh. It is what makes us say, "Oh . . . I see . . . " The more people have crossed with each other there, the more do we bring to making sense of the next person. The old forms don't determine the new sense. Rather, they are opened by participating in new sense-making.

The social forms do not function deterministically. They elaborate a mesh of implicit intricacy; what further happens can be novel; it need not be consistent with existing forms.

I think Wallulis is right that we do not now have a deliberate political change-avenue that begins on the social level. It is a vital open question just now. The question is not to be answered in general. We must neither accept theories that make socially-based change seem impossible, nor can we be content just with denying such theories. We have to enter into the intricacy of just when and how people do overcome imposed controls, and how that could further happen.

I have shown in great detail how a certain experiential process moves beyond explicit and implicit socially imposed concepts and values. But I also pointed out the sort of controls that such a process alone does not resolve. For example, I showed exactly how articulating one's bodily felt sense leads one not only to find, but also to reject, the socially-imposed shame and guilt of finding no job; but from the bodily felt sense one will not come upon why the Federal Reserve Bank keeps the money supply low and jobs scarce, weakening the unions, and engendering a reactionary political climate.

Of course I believe in social channels of change. Otherwise I would not be writing—writing employs social channels. I have also developed (with the help of others) an experiential practice called "focusing," in which people are now widely taught how to find the kind of bodily sensing which is implicitly one's situation, and which lets one think and act from it. This work is part of an ongoing social change: Long ago people identified with their roles. Later, people felt their roles as roles, but this realization left them feeling empty, as if they were nothing. Currently, many people identify with their feelings—which is still limiting, compared to sensing (not identifying with) the intricacy which is-for carrying forward. Finding experiential [Page 393] intricacy is both an individual, and a social development.

Everything human is always both individual and social. But the change-effect can begin in either way. Novelty may begin with new social and economic arrangements, in which we must live in new ways. But since living vastly exceeds forms and arrangements, our bodily living soon talks back, and does so more intricately than could follow just from the social forms alone. And human individuals also make new trouble and new openings, whatever the forms. Individuals are inherently social, but that doesn't mean everything must come from society, and be imposed on us. Rather, it means that what is individual is also social.

In living, our bodies generate, imply, and enact language and culture; but with and after those, our bodies imply (project, experience, sense, practice, demand . . .) more. What they imply is inherently interactional and social, but it is more precise and implies what has never as yet formed and happened.

Currently many philosophers say that language works by forms and distinctions, and they also say that all forms and distinctions break. So it seems that we can only break open all assertions, but not hold anything. So I am asked: Can anything be held? What should we hold?

  • 1. First, we can say that any situation is always an intricacy into which we can enter. We can let it function in theory and in philosophy, if we let words work in new ways. When old phrases and distinctions fail, supposedly we are in limbo. Actually we sense (live in, have, are . . .) the intricacy. We can let it function also when we have excellent phrases, formulations and explications.
  • 2. The nature of language is much more than forms and rules. If "nature" has meant form, then the word changes if this sentence makes sense. When words work (what I call) "nakedly," they can say more (with more precision) than they can when we try to keep them within forms. When words make intricate new sense, they are retrieved from their old schemes. This possibility lies in the nature of language.
  • 3. We can set out many necessary functions in language which implicit intricacy provides. Some of them have been involved in what I said so far (for example: implying, carrying forward, making sense, taking a word or sentence in one way rather than another). Elsewhere (1962, 1973, 1992a) I discuss some twenty or thirty of those functions. Of course there cannot be just one list.
  • 4. Words about language can say and mean how they work in language, when we deliberately let implicit intricacy play its roles. It lets us state these roles, if it actually plays the role we state just then. In this way words can speak about how they work—in the intricacy. Words can say how implicit intricacy functions. I have shown this in detail elsewhere. [Page 394]
  • 5. In these and other ways we can enter the intricacy and let it generate many concepts of a new type/
  • 6. Among such concepts so far, I would emphasize: "intricate," "implying" and "carrying forward," "unseparated multiplicity," and "crossing." These concepts are more complex patterns than the usual concepts, and they are keepabout (and involve) implicit functions.
  • 7. Concepts formed in this way can also articulate this way of thinking and this way of making concepts. Other strategies of such thinking can be set out as they happen. [1992a]
  • 8. On any topic, we can make such concepts from ordinary situations (from experience, events, practice . . .) because anything actual is far more intricate than the usual concepts. Such concepts work as logical patterns, and they also work in the implicit sense-making which exceeds logic.
  • 9. If we let a word be used in relation to implicit intricacy (feeling, bodily, sense, living-in situations . . . .), we can then say how the new use is different. The words in which we say this will also change. It leads to a re-conceptualization of the whole topic.

For example, if it makes sense to say that implicit intricacy is a bodily sense, then the word "body" works in a new way—a way it could not work according to the current theories of the body as a machine [1993]. The functions of the implicit enable us to change the concepts. I have built a cluster of concepts concerning the body, behavior, situations, and language in a long work I will soon publish (A Process Model).

Such concepts can have the usual logical relations to each other, and thus the power to generate further steps logically. But they also keep their implicit sense. If we bring that along, these concepts do not confine our further steps. From the implicit sense they make, we can always move in steps that are different from logical inferences.

Once the conceptual work is done, we can also make certain pithy statements on reconceptualized topics. I will do that here regarding the body:

  • a) When the body senses itself it thereby also senses the environment, since a living body is an interaction with an environment.
  • b) If plants sensed themselves, they would thereby also sense the earth, the water and the light, and not as separate but as part of their bodily living and next-step-implying. Even without the input of the five external senses, a living body knows its situation by being it [1992b].
  • c) I hold that we have plant-bodies: Our bodies are (their interaction with) their environments. Our bodies don't just react to how we think about a situation. Often, the body "knows" more about the situation than we consciously know. That is because we set up and live in our situations in a bodily way. And that is why human situations are unseparated multiplicities. [Page 395]
  • d) We have situational bodies. The body-sense implicitly contains the situation. But not just statically; rather:
  • e) Our bodies imply a next step, which gives us the . . . . , the sense of the next-implied step. Often that sense is more precise than we can yet say or enact.
  • f) Humans have animal and linguistically elaborated bodies. Human life does not float, as if it were merely historical, imposed on us from the top down. I am rightly said to deny Foucault's statement that the body is totally destroyed or transformed by history. With and after history, the body implies further and more intricately.
  • g) Now I can say that I have explained why the implicit can play these roles–because our plant-bodies are environmental interaction and because life-process organizes, implies and when possible enacts its next bit of life. Now we can let "explain" mean what it does here, when it says how these concepts first emerge from, and then make sense about, how they can come about in this way.

To explain "explain" in this way (to make an "aha!", to make sense about, to understand) is neither something there and waiting, nor just the play of words among words; rather, to explain is to carry forward our bodily implying. It is a next step of living-on.

Experiential-situational intricacy is a whole new arena we can enter.


I have not read Heidegger's discussion of Goethe's poem, which Levin quotes. Nor should we try to deal quickly with Heidegger's question of being, which is involved here. But in trying out various words in the slot of the word "is," Heidegger is not quite right to look for "a strand of common meaning" which he says "does run through them all." Nor ought he to say that those other words "won't do." Rather, when another word is put instead of "peace is over all the summits," when he says "peace abides" or "prevails" or "lies" over the summits, I argue that the different words do each time say some way peace is. Some sense can always be made by a great many words, if we let them work in the slot made by a word in a sentence (in this case "is"). Shall we say the stillness "philosophizes" over the summits? Then it is a cosmic nous. Instead of "peace lies" we could even say "peace stands over all the summits," or "peace screams over all the summits," or peace "cooks" over them. (See 1992a and 1962): Anything can cross with anything, characteristics 7 and 8.)

In the traditional theory, metaphor was accounted for by pre-existing similarities. Against that theory, I argue that we generate the similarities and differences from the metaphor [1991]. For example, first we sense how a [Page 396] silence can be a screaming, then we derive what they have in common: not a sound but an intense, piercing, insistent quality.

A different word can make sense in another's slot, not because they always had something in common. Rather first we feel immediately what sense a new word makes in that slot, if it does. From the sense it makes we can then—slowly—generate a long chain of commonalities between its usual meaning and its new meaning here (and differences to say what it does not mean here). Those similarities do not yet exist as such. The sense-making does not consist of commonalities and differences. Making sense is an implicit function. We generate the commonalities from it.

Each word brings its own meanings into the slot, but there it means differently and more. If, like Heidegger, we don't accept what more each new word means in the slot of "is," then we will not find what "is" means. Of course we need not accept what a word now does not say, here. But we need to accept and keep what each does say here. Each of them crosses with what is already implicit in the slot. Once it has worked there, each is implicit and crosses with whatever further words make sense in the slot.

If we try to prohibit this crossing (which happens anyway), if we try to limit each word to the forms or distinctions it brings, then "stands" will cancel "lies." Each new word will seem to cancel the earlier ones. Canceling everything will leave very little: only Heidegger's "thin common strand." But it is a mistake to think that they make a commonality. Instead, each successive word that works there crosses with the work of previous ones, and thickens what opens behind the "is". Being is not one thing, for which the others are metaphors. Each is also being.

Each word and thing is already intricate and never just the form it seems to have. A word implicitly means how it can and cannot make sense with all the other words. A concept of any definite thing only seems to exclude everything else. Actually it brings a whole mesh, and works in that mesh, if it makes sense at all. Anything is an intricacy and not only something distinguished by a generic classifying concept. Generic concepts are powerful, but they are not the only order, not the order of situations and experience.

Still, even today it is held that everything is by being differentiated from what it is not. We find that this is not so at all, if we think from intricacy, from next step implying. We find that we generate commonalities and differences from already having the meaning. First something makes intricate sense implicitly. Then we can generate commonalities and differences. Anything, however small, is already a crossed, pre-separated multiplicity. When we make sense with words or concepts, the implicit mesh is not dropped out. The mesh is vastly more than a cut or collection of cuts, as if anything is only by someone's comparing it, as if anything exists only by not-being-the-others, or by how it is-and-is-not the others.

[Page 397]

Heidegger still thought of concepts as "gatherings", groupings by something in common. As he does so often, Heidegger brilliantly opens something by saying what he does not want; but then he goes on with that nevertheless, because he finds no alternative. We need terms of an altogether new kind here: a whole new arena of terms that work with and from implicit functions.

Heidegger does not want to render being as if it were a thing or class of things, one among others. But that happens if "is" is a strand of meaning in common with, and differing from, other meanings.

Heidegger ought not to look for what "does run through," to drop out what other words bring, what doesn't "fit" the "is." Instead, he should have let a thousand words work and cross in that slot, to say how is is.

Heidegger says that the human being, is "the shepherd of being." But in different places he also says that "being rapes" humans, and that "being gives"; and he speaks of it also as "a source," like the spot just above a brook where there is no brook. It would be an error to look for a thin strand of meaning common to all those. Rather, he might have used a great many more things and situations to cross with those, until our sense of being got very thick. It would have turned out that anything is a metaphor for being—already. And so, how anything is, provides a metaphor for thinking of being.

Implicitly, we know immediately much of what each of Heidegger's metaphors can and cannot mean. We could try to state some of those commonalities and differences: he does not mean that Being is something on the ground (although if that were also said, then the word "ground" would change and could mean something). But he does mean that you don't see any source, anything special, just above the brook. He means that it looks like nothing, yet it is the source. Now we could take "nothing" and say its commonalities and differences with being. Heidegger doesn't mean a nothing which you can just ignore; but he does mean that it is not a thing. Then, "thing" would need the same treatment, and so on. Each time we must generate the commonalities and differences from how the word implicitly makes new sense. They are not yet there as such.

In this way being would be one thing, similar to and different from all others. Shall we say that Being is (or its relation to us is) what these have in common? It would be a mistake.

Anything can open out into an ontology. Of course each thing is special in its way. Each thing is an irreplaceable monad. This explains, for example, Levin's lovely way of developing an ontology of breathing, seeing, hearing, listening, gesturing, and moving. But ontology is very different from a full mere description of breathing. That would not be ontology. Or, as Husserl said of Scheler's "phenomenology of love," it is not (philosophical) phenomenology. But can we think in what special way something functions as a [Page 398] metaphor of being? And is it the same being, or the same openness in each thing? If we ask for a commonality, then openness becomes a very simple little pattern. Instead, we have to let each thing be being, be openness in its special way. We have to let it teach us something special about being, as Levin does in his ontological studies.

Had Heidegger gone on to a great many more metaphors, it would have become obvious that being is not the thin strand in common. Rather, each is an implicitly crossed totality of them all. Each is a special instance of being. a special openness is in each.

We do not lose the openness when we use a patterns to speak of it—if we sense the pattern working-in the implicitly crossed fullness. Openness is not empty without a common pattern.

For example, young people often ask: "What is love? By what mark can I be sure I love this person?" We smile because we know that love is not a single thing, definition, or pattern. Yet that doesn't mean that love does not exist. It is rather a mesh of crossed instances. An actual relationship with someone might carry that mesh forward in some way and to some extent. If we take such instances, we can generate a great many commonalities but not one commonality between any two of them, and certainly no single commonality between them all.

When Socrates asks what makes them all "love," it won't be a floating idea that does that. He makes fun of those in the Parmenides. He knows that every formed definition will break down. Commonality-patterns make it seem that things are first in groupings of their own, as if they only then crossed as in metaphors to make a mesh. The world would consist of classified things. But human situations are not made up of things like that. They are rather always already a crossed mesh, in which further events are a further crossing and sense-making. Experiencing or eventing is a sense-making, an understanding-crossing; the next word or event happens into the mesh and carries (some of) it forward. A situation is always already-crossed.

As a logical pattern the word "crossing" suggests that there are separates first; then they cross. But here "already-crossed" says what exceeds its logical pattern (as "unseparated multiplicity" says what exceeds its logical pattern). A whole arena of such terms opens.

By happening already-crossed, situations do come in kinds, (love, perhaps), but this kind of kind is a crossed mesh, not a common pattern. (We have to ask how common patterns form. See A Process Model.) So love is a crossed mesh, and some events may carry that love-mesh forward as they can, as they truly can and just did. No situation carries forward "all" of it. That is why we often doubt if it is love. There is no "all." Also, further events keep happening. Each new crossing makes its own new "all."

And that is also how it is with generosity, liberty, wisdom, human nature, [Page 399] and other Big Things. They are not the sort of things that have a single pattern that can be drawn in empty space and time, as a chair, a mountain, or the new moon can be.

Patterns and things like the new moon are a later development, and they are never alone; they always bring and work within a crossed situational texture. That is why the words that name those things can also work in new and more intricate ways, as we saw. We need not lose the pattern's power for inferring next steps logically; but we need not remain only within the pattern The mountains can be the chair of the silence, or the silence can be the new moon over them.

The open is not nothingness but an implicit intricacy. We can notice it in a poem. The new phrases of every good poem involve listening into an open realm, (as the poet Henry Rago said.) Of course, the open is not nothing, since the old words can make new sense in it.

Heidegger lacks the function of implicit crossing. That is why during his middle years his efforts to formulate being all break down. One cannot speak of being only in terms of forms and nothingness. In his last years what he says about "dwelling" attempts to restore the implicit. (See my Befindlichkeit and Dwelling.)

But love and being are each a different crossed cluster. If Heidegger wants to say that being is in some way the whole, then that can be neither one gathered class, nor can it be one cluster, even a cluster of everything crossing with everything. There are many crossings of everything by everything. Indeed, any moment is a new one. There is no single set of everything. Nor do "one" and "many" mean only their logical patterns in this use.

Crossing always makes more; that is why it is never caught in forms. The body and situations enable novelty; logical forms would not. Contradictions only cancel out; but the body-world interaction always responds with more. Human nature is like a "V", its arms extending ever further, and not like a closed diamond.


Gendlin, E.T. (1962). Experiencing and the creation of meaning. New York: Free Press, Macmillan.

Gendlin. E.T (1965). What are the grounds of explication? A basic problem in linguistic analysis and phenomenology. Monist 49(1). Reprinted in Analytic philosophy and phenomenology, Ed. H.A. Durfee. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1976.

Gendlin, E.T. (1973). Experiential phenomenology. In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the social sciences. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Gendlin, E.T. (1978–1979). Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the philosophy of psychology. Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry 16: 1-3.

Gendlin, E.T. (1982). Two phenomenologists do not disagree. In F. Bruzina and B. Wilshire [Page 400] (Eds.), Albany: State University of New York.

Gendlin, E.T. (1983). Dwelling. In R.C. Scharff (Ed.), Proceedings, Heidegger conference. University of New Hampshire.

Gendlin, E.T. (1984). Time's dependence on space: Kant's statements and their misconstrual by Heidegger. In T.R. Seebohm and J.J. Kockelmans (Eds.), Kant and Phenomenology. University Press of America.

Gendlin, E.T (1991). Crossing and dipping. In M. Galbraith and W.J. Rapaport. (Eds.), Subjectivity and the debate over computational cognitive science. Technical report, 91.01 Center for Cognitive Science, University of Buffalo.

Gendlin, E.T. (1992a). Thinking beyond patterns: Body, language, and situations. In B. den Ouden and M. Moen (Eds.), The presence of feeling in thought. New York: Peter Lang.

Gendlin, E.T. (1992b). The primacy of the body, not the primacy of perception. Man and World.

Gendlin, E.T. (1993). Words can say how they work. In R.P. Crease (Ed.), Proceedings, Heidegger conference. State University of New York at Stony Brook. 4–6 June.

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