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Gendlin, E.T. (1999). A new model. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(2-3), 232-237. From

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E. T Gendlin, Dept. of Psychology, University of Chicago, 5848 South University Avenue, Chicago IL 60637, USA.

Varela and Shear invite:

  • (1) re-examination of the notion of 'consciousness';
  • (2) attention to change in content;
  • (3) distinguishing content / process;
  • (4) systematic first-person methodology;
  • (5) somatic transformations;
  • (6) linking first-, second- and third-person.

At home the scientist looks into the eyes of the child, and the child looks back. But the scientist thinks: 'Isn't it sad that you are really just a machine!' This would not happen if one recognized that our science uses a certain approach, the model in which anything studied is cut up into stable, well-defined units, and then reconstructed. We say that we have 'explained' something when we can reconstruct it out of the units. This is the most successful model in history so far, but it is only one model. There are others.

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We now have a successful second model, not replacing but interacting with the first. Ecology takes the opposite view: everything is part of the whole. You cannot know any unit because it plays some part in the whole and you can never fully know the whole, so don't touch these fish. It might change everything.

It is not sad that we seem to disappear when we are reduced, and reconstructed as machines. This is simply an obvious characteristic of the unit model. Neither need we complain that the holistic model evaporates us into the cosmos. To include ourselves, we can add a third model next to these two. The basic terms need not be units nor the whole; the basic terms can be processes.

In the new model, a process does not consist of stable units which are located in unit times that determine the future from the past. Process makes a series of always freshly created new wholes. It puts the holistic model on wheels, so to speak. It makes itself as a string of wholes that cannot be predicted, deduced, or constructed from previous ones because the process makes its own next steps. Its 'contents' are not separate from it; they derive from the process which makes and re-makes them.

Like the other models, this one can be used to study anything. New concepts for a process physics with 'retroactive time' can solve some anomalies (Gendlin & Lemke, 1983; Gendlin, 1997b, IV). Rather than reducing living bodies to the current biology, we can create a new biology to study what the other models miss in every kind of living body (Gendlin, 1997b, V; Matsuno, 1989). We humans live from bodies which are self-conscious of situations. Notice the 'odd' phrase 'self-conscious of situations'. 'Consciousness', 'self' and 'situation' are not three objects with separate logical definitions. With current habits the absence of such definitions may seem to make everything arbitrary, but that isn't so. Instead of differentiating units and objects, we can be very precise about different kinds of processes, how to enable them to happen, and their different effects. We do not predict the future from the past, but we can say very exactly in what way the steps of each kind of process are not arbitrary.

We must recognize that the same words and phrases have different meanings in different models. 300 years of reductive success have given most words a unit-model meaning. By using words in new ways we can change this.

1. Let us re-examine 'consciousness'

Currently this notion is shaped and cut to fit the unit model. We can see this if we compare it to a pre-modern notion. For example, Aristotle's: 'When we see (colour, shape or motion), we also see that we see (colour, shape or motion).' In modern times the perceptions are set up as if they were independent 'objects' that exist alone in advance. The consciousness-of-red is split into two components: The 'red object' is taken away and seems to exist independently (red light and brain events as third-person things existing alone over there), leaving consciousness to be the mere 'of', which now adds nothing. We can become perplexed, trying to think about this empty half, this mere left-over, which can no longer make any difference. So let us not accept the project of showing that this consciousness makes a difference, once its contents (which it really makes and re-makes) seem independent. Let us redefine 'consciousness' in a model of process: consciousness is the self-sentience of making and re-making itself-and-its-environment. It is an organismic-environmental interaction process.

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2. Contents change in process

Let us not fall into the misleading discussion of 'qualia', as if we should find 'stable' contents, internal objects, static entities modelled on third-person 'objects'.

The manner of process determines the contents produced. For example, if one's attitude is welcoming, even long-fixated memories come as part of fresh living forward, rather than as constriction and stoppage. The philosophy of experiencing has long rejected the old assumptions. Experiential content does not lie there, waiting to 'become conscious'. It does not consist of 'objects' that precede attention and are unchanged by it. Just the contrary! Process should make and change the 'objects'.

3. Contents arise in bodily process

The third-person unit model makes objects from perceptions, but let us not begin with perception. A more deep-going approach starts with the body. The living body is an interaction with its environment. A plant's body 'knows' light, earth, and water because it makes itself with those. Animals do more; they interact with each other. Human bodies are interactions in language-elaborated situations. Our bodies sense themselves and thereby their situations. The next bit of action forms out of that (Sheets-Johnstone, 1998). Let us begin with the body, rather than the five senses. Your body senses what is behind your back right now, without seeing, hearing, or smelling it. You sense not just the things there, but your situation, what would happen if you suddenly turned around, or if you pounded on the wall where your neighbours live.

The body senses the situation more encompassingly than cognition. If an experienced pilot says 'I don't know why, but I'm not comfortable about the weather', don't go.

For example, a researcher pursues 'an idea'. It's not really an idea. It's a pregnant bodily sense acquired in the lab. If it is new, the bodily sense is at first inarticulate. 'It' will be carried forward by many odd thoughts and moves in the lab, until 'it' develops into a feasible project. 'It' stays stable only when nothing comes to carry 'it' forward. 'Carrying forward' is a useful concept, because so many processes are neither predictable from pre-existing units, nor arbitrary. Einstein's autobiography reports that for fifteen years he was 'guided by a feeling for the answer'. Obviously the feeling didn't contain the finished theory. No wise scientist or programmer ignores such a 'sense'. It does not consist of logical units, but new logical units can be derived from it. Every computer program 'crashes' (becomes unworkable) eventually. Then the programmer must 'dip into' an as yet unclear sense, to develop another program (Sterner, 1998). When we think freshly, we pursue an experiential sense that leads to steps of 'carrying forward'. Later we say that this sense 'was' the experiment we now design, or the theory we write in thirty pages, but earlier we could not explicitly say what we 'meant'. We could think to a certain juncture, and after that we had only '. . .' There is not even a word in the language for such a '. . .', such a 'dot-dot-dot,' which is our plant-animal-human body's self-sensing of a situation.

Implicit sensing can never be equated with its eventual verbal explication. The process of explicating is itself a further experiencing which develops and changes 'the content'. Explicating is not like representing, not like picture-taking. It always makes more parts and terms than we had before. We can explicate the process of explicating. This is only one kind of process, but it is of special interest. 'Carrying forward' is one of many concepts that can be made from the process. This philosophy [Page 235] holds that experiencing is 'non-numerical' and 'multischematic'. It is an active ordering that can create and respond to many schemes and is more intricate than a scheme. When it functions in relation to logical inferences, it has certain odd but precise 'characteristics,' and performs many indispensable functions in all cognition (Gendlin, 1997a; Levin, 1997).

4. Systematic methodology

We can measure the role of experiencing in certain kinds of processes. As just one example, consider the Experiencing Scale. It describes seven modes of verbal expressions. In studies of psychotherapy it correlates with successful outcome (according to therapist, client, and psychometric measures). Random four-minute segments of tape-recorded therapy hours are rated. The method needed improvement. In each group of raters they were reliable with each other, but another group of raters on the same data might not correlate with the first. Raters must not work in the same room; their comments influence each other. Now, with standard training segments, each trains and rates alone. Only the Scale determines the ratings. The process is now reliably measured by raters anywhere (Klein et al., 1989).

Therapists are said to respond to 'feelings'. They hear anger, sadness, and joy, but when therapy goes well, they hear '. . .' followed by uncategorizable intricacies like those on this transcript:

Silence . . . 'I wish my big energy channel didn't always have to be only sexual . . .'

(Therapist responses after each step, omitted.)

Silence . . . 'Saying this is very hard for me, but that feels like the right place . . .'

Silence . . . 'There's some way that I don't want to let go of it only being sexual . . .'

Silence . . . 'Like . . . maybe then I won't have that big energy at all . . . That's where it is' (begins to cry).

Silence . . . 'It's so important to have a channel at all' (sobs).

Silence . . . 'There's more there . . . What is that? . . . why is that so scary?'

A large step now:

Silence . . . (sobs) 'I could live in relation to that energy all the time. I've always been hidden. It's saying, "don't do that anymore. Look! Let your energy be visible, live in it".'

Silence . . . 'That would be such a change in who I am! Be in it in the daylight.'

Silence . . . (big sigh) (crying) 'Take it seriously . . . ' (big sigh, breath, quieter).

Silence . . . (Laughs) . . . 'That old way still wants to pull me down and back into that dark hole, but it's a little more free now. It's moved a little. It's like, "Oh, maybe there is a road".'

5. Somatic transformations

Many little steps of carrying forward lead to a large one. Such a step is both a physical evaluation and a physical relief. (If not, the process continues.) Such steps change how the body carries the situation. They are bits of physical change.

Life-process implies and enacts its own next steps. If its implying cannot be carried forward, the living body continues to imply some way forward, until a new step can [Page 236] form. This capacity for new life-forwarding steps is one of the most important and least known facts that the process-methodology has shown so far.

Where does her attention go in the silence between steps? As client (first-person) I attend to the dot-dot-dot, that murky physically-sensed edge of what I have been saying. For the rater (third-person) these verbalizations are recognizable as '7' on the Scale. These sentences are linked neither by reasoning nor narrative; they have their well-defined observable characteristics.

From this philosophy a world-wide network has developed to teach this bodily explicating, popularly called 'focusing' (Gendlin, 1981). People locate and speak from (carry forward) more of what they are living through, which they physically sense but at first cannot say. New steps and phrases that are more intricate than the usual language 'come' from the murky bodily 'sense'.

More than 60 (small and major) studies have found that the Scale predicts success or failure already at an early stage of therapy, and that focusing instructions can reverse a failure-prediction. Standard measures show whether focusing was learned, or not. Focusing also correlates with measures of health, lack of psychosomatic complaints, better immune system functioning, and other variables (Hendricks, in press).

When people learn to contact this bodily level, they do it for many purposes, for example to reduce tension, to become open for the next task, to discover why something is scary, unpleasant or difficult, to find what's going wrong in a situation, to pursue an 'idea', but especially to live and speak 'from there'.

The process is easier and deeper with a focusing partner who pays attention but puts nothing in. Partners take turns; each is both a first and a second person. Our network offers partnerships. Focusing is now used in very diverse settings (e.g. Boukydis, 1990; Grindler, 1984; McMahon, 1993; Perl, 1994).

An industrial chemist comes to learn focusing. We teach him to find the bodily sense of the project he is working on. After one round of focusing he runs out on the porch. What is he doing there? He is on his mobile phone to his lab assistants with new instructions! He comes back vastly enthusiastic. Now he'd like to focus on his other project. Again he runs out to call. Since then we are founding a company together to bring focusing to scientists.

All this is just one example of existing knowledge which can be had only in the model of process. This model is needed for knowledge about many other kinds of processes.

6. Third-person procedures can be employed by any model

They can give objectivity to first-person processes. When I came to research as a philosopher, I was told that objective research is impossible on something so 'subjective'. I asked the therapists: 'Do you notice when clients sense something and cannot yet say it?' They all said 'yes'. I said, 'In that case it has observable marks and we can 'operationalize' it.

First- and third-person can both contribute to observable operational procedures. We should doubt all theories, but procedures and results have a truth apart from theories (Gendlin, 1995; 1997c). If someone says 'I don't get all this subjective stuff', fine, but these scale-numbers predict those other numbers. Once this is found and many times replicated, people get interested in how you developed this. Suddenly they understand what before they insisted they could not.

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I do not agree that validation is always by third-person measures of first-person measures. Validation is needed equally in the other direction. Current theoretical rationales of 'objective' measures are often quite poor. I advise students to test themselves on any measure they use. It is the only way to find out what the measure measures, and whether one's theoretical predictions would apply to it. First- and third-person calibrate and add to each other.

What the different models bring is truly different. If they were largely correlated, we would not need more than one model. They will not, and need not correlate except at a few junctures. Neurological engineering can look like 'science' alone, because our other knowledge does not (and should not) easily relate to it. Social policy must not be based on unit-model science standing alone, as if it were the only science about human bodies.

Unit-model scientists are redesigning the plants, the animals, and now us. Your great-grandchild may stay alive indefinitely when they take out the genes that cause aging, but who knows what else they will take out? I don't denigrate our wonderful unit-science; I wouldn't write against it on a computer! But bodily human beings are capable of an immense variety of kinds of processes, and thereby also kinds of 'self', kinds of 'contents', and kinds of observable results. In certain kinds of process we find that the body has a capacity to generate new life-forwarding steps. This must not be lost. Before the unit-model scientists redesign us without even wanting to understand how human beings (they) are, let us establish a first-person science not within but around third-person science.


Boukydis, C.F.Z. (1990), 'Client-centered / experiential practice with parents and infants', in Client-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapy in the Nineties, ed. G. Lietar, J. Rombauts R. VanBalen (Leuven: University of Leuven Press).

Corea, G. (1985), The Mother Machine (New York: Harper and Row).

Gendlin, E.T. (1981), Focusing (New York: Bantam Books).

Gendlin, E.T. (1995), 'Crossing and dipping: some terms for approaching the interface between natural understanding and logical formation', Minds and Machines, 5 (4), pp. 383-411.

Gendlin, E.T. (I 997a), Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (New York: Free Press [hbk]; Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press [pbk]).

Gendlin, E.T. (1997b), A Process Model IV, V (, and printed from Focusing Institute, in eight parts).

Gendlin, E.T. (1997c), 'The responsive order: A new empiricism', Man and World, 30, pp. 383-411.

Gendlin, E.T. and Lemke, J. (1983), 'A critique of relativity and localization', Mathematical Modeling, 4, pp. 61-72.

Grindler, D. (1984) 'Focusing with a cancer patient', in Imagination and Healing, ed. A.A. Sheikh (New York: Baywood).

Hendricks, M. (in press), 'Research basis of focusing-oriented / experiential psychotherapy', in Research Bases of Humanistic Psychotherapy, ed. D. Cian & J. Seeman (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association).

Klein, M.H., Mathieu, P.L., Kiesler, D.J. and Gendlin (1989), The Experiencing Scale: A Research and Training Manual (Madison: Bureau of Audio-Visual Instruction, The University of Wisconsin).

Levin, D.M., (ed. 1997), Language Beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press).

Matsuno, K. (1989), Protobiology (Boca Ratan: CRC Press).

McMahon, E.M. (1993), Beyond the Myth of Dominance (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward).

Perl, S. (1994), 'A writer's way of knowing', in Writing and the Domain Beyond the Cognitive, ed. A. Brand and R. Graves (Portsmouth: Boynton-Cook Press).

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (1998), 'Consciousness: A natural history', Journal of Consciousness Studies, 5 (2), pp. 260-94.

Sterner, W. (1997), 'Logical meaning creation', delivered at 'After Postmodernism' Conference (

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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