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Gendlin, E.T. (2006, November). In having more than one shape, the truth is more, but it isn't a shape. [Transcript]. Keynote address, Psychology of Trust and Feeling Conference, Stony Brook University, New York. From

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In having more than one shape, the truth is more, but it isn't a shape

Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

Keynote address, Psychology of Trust and Feeling Conference.
Stony Brook University, New York, November 17-18, 2006

Gendlin: That was much better than I expected.


Gendlin: Well, first, I want to say that this is not my usual voice. It hasn't quite come back yet. I'm recovering from an operation, and I'm really fine, but it'll take a while for everything to get normalized. Next, I want to say that right now, after Bob Scharff and the others, I'm well off. So it's at some risk that I talk at all.


Gendlin: If I disappoint you, go right back to whatever Bob and the others said.


Gendlin: So I don't usually use the words "trust" or "truth," because for me, the big words have so many different meanings that what I do when somebody uses ..... I love the big words, too, but when someone uses them, then I always want to know, "If this word could mean just exactly what you mean by it, what would it mean?" And I ask very gently, "What would it mean?" I don't say "Define your term."


Gendlin: Because if I ask it very gently, then typically, out come three or four very poetic, metaphorical, rich, fresh sentences, and those are very valuable. So that is a method that we've now developed, called Thinking at the Edge. Everything I say is much better on our webpage, so put in "Focusing" and click "Philosophy" and you'll see it all there.

So if I'm going to talk about truth, then I have to talk about, first of all, some phrase that I need. For example, "the implicit explicit truth", or "the implicit truth that includes also the explication, and then still has the implicit with it." Something like that. "The implicit explicit truth." Well, that's only one kind of truth, but truth is at least that. It can be many more things.

And this is a formula that I find very handy: I say, "Well, what I'm talking about is one kind of that." And so then I don't take away anybody's other things. I don't want to take anything away from anybody. And besides, I also have other kinds of truth, too, of course. Many. Operational results of experiments, or there's a kind of truth that, when I say.... when I'm in conflict, I say to myself, "Well, what I want is the truth," [Page 2] and that makes me all whole. I don't have any idea what it is, but I'm whole, because my wanting is whole.

So there are many kinds of truth that I care about. The one I want to talk to and know the most about is the "implicit explicit"—two terms you need for this one. And trust, similarly. I don't like "trust," because people keep saying, "Trust your feelings." I don't think you should.


Gendlin: I can't. And they say "Trust other people." Well, I trust other people to be the way that they've been. So however somebody's been, I pretty well trust them to go on being that way.


Gendlin: But that's not what they mean by "trust." So I don't use that word, but if I were to use it, I would say, then, "Trust not the feelings, but the process." And by the process—for short, "trust the process"—what I mean is that we want to receive every different feeling. We want to welcome every different feeling, no matter how horrible, gruesome, whatever it may be, say, "Oh, yeah, there you are." In Afghanistan, where they're teaching focusing, they do it via Rumi, who says that you own the guest house, and every feeling that comes is a guest. And welcome them at the door, no matter what they look like. It's a hospitality concept, you see.

What that means is that you are not your feelings. You're welcoming them, and in welcoming them, you sense yourself as none of those things. You have them. They're guests. You take them in and you give them a room in your guest house.

That's an important kind of "I" that I may not have time to come back to. It's the kind of "I" that's.... it's self-owned, and it's not a content. It has all the contents.

So I would say, "Trust the process by which you can go in and say, "Now, why is this feeling here?" And then you will see that with every feeling goes a larger cloud, sort of. An "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," and if you pay direct attention to that at-first-unclear larger sense, then little steps come. "Oh," you say, "that's right. I see how I got that. It was....." And, "Oh, yeah, another thing about it....." "Oh, yeah, it's because of this....." "Oh, yeah, it reminds me of that." And, "Oh, yeah, I need to do this and this."

So I would go on and say, "There is a process possible with little steps, and that process, you can trust." We can come back [Page 3] later and see where it ends, but you can trust it because at every step, you're glad you got that far. "Oh, yeah, I see." And so it helps you at each step, even though there are further steps. In that sense, the explicit implicit truth is never finished. And why would you want it to be finished?


Gendlin: This is a question that I ask, "Why would you want to impoverish "being" to that extent that you want it to finish?" It doesn't finish. It creates and creates and creates. It creates us, and through us it creates, and it doesn't finish. Each new person is a whole new ballgame of creation. So why do you want it to be less than that? But even if you do, and you know why you want it to be less than that, it won't be. It's gonna go right on.

Now, I want to say that no concept, no logical form, no "shape," I said in my title, no picture, no explicit event is ever going to be "the Truth." But if you take the explicit event or the concept or the idea, the diagram, or whatever it is, if you take it together with where it comes from in you, if you take it together with what some people want to call "the context,"—which is pretty good, everything has an experienced context, that "cloud behind the feeling" that I was talking about—if you take any explicit, any logical form, any diagram, any picture, any concept, together with where it's speaking from, then you have something, some truth, some angle, some entry into what's going on.

If you wanted to say... or if I had said, "The truth is always implicit," I don't think that's right, either. It's always implicit, and has already created something from it. But if you go back into the implicit that comes with it, then the implicit becomes more. Oh, this thought that you've just has isn't only itself, it opens up the "where it comes from," so that it has made more than if you hadn't had the thought.

So we want to respect both the concept and the "where it comes from," because the "where it comes from" develops through the concept, through the creation, and the sharper the concept is, the more it develops.

So, as I know you said, the implicit is no invitation to be rounder or stay fuzzier, or look down on precise work. Just the opposite. The more precise your concepts are, the more they open the implicit further so that then you have even more to say.

But I am saying negatively, no concept, no logical picture, no form, is ever directly true of whatever is. There's always an [Page 4] implicit intricacy, I call it. You can call it whatever you want. There's always "that." Anything we study is really "that". Whatever big word you want, reality is always..... whatever we study as modest. Reality is very big. I don't care what you say, "the truth," "reality," whatever we study, the smallest specific detail, "what Plato meant by this sentence," large or small, it's always an implicit intricacy. But what is implicit intricacy? It's us, in a way. And that thing.

So we are always already in interaction with whatever we study before we start studying it, of course. So that.... a way of saying this fast is to say, "Interaction is first, then you sort it out. The implicit intricacy that you live is first, then you sort it out. But, of course, when we go to school, they make us learn all these finished conclusions, and so then we have to recover from that. Most people have to recover from what was called "thinking" in school.


Gendlin: So, by this time, people here will probably have already recovered from it. But it is important to see that, unfortunately, we start kids with the concepts first. They're supposed to learn these, and then they're supposed to monger around with them and rearrange them, but only a little or they won't get them right. And that way, thinking dies.

Fortunately, they don't start school 'til they're six or five or now four or something terrible. But anyhow, thinking starts.... real thinking starts from the implicit intricacy that you already are. And it's an interaction with things. I'll come back to saying, "What about the assumption that reality, or whatever we study, is already some fixed way; we're just confused about it." I'll be back to that.

Trust the process of steps, of opening, of explicating. Trust the implicit explicit truth. So it requires noticing that there is this "implicit," noticing that there is more with it, whatever it is you've said or thought. Just go back behind it and say, "Where'd that come from?" and "Uh." And don't be scared just because all you have is "Uh." Now, that's something worth talking about.


When you first do this—and I don't think that's true of any of you here. You probably do it whenever you think, anyhow—people who think are accustomed to the fact that the unfinished, uncomfortable, but pregnant sort of "uhh" is worth more than the 25 things that we could say off the top of our head if we had to say something, right? So maybe that's good enough.

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But if you don't know about Focusing, that's what we call "Focusing" now, is to spend time—and it might be ten seconds or 20 seconds—to spend time actually attending to this somewhat uncomfortable, but pregnant "uhhh," to know that something can come there. And then something will. And then it's, "Oh, yeah."

Once it comes, you're glad you didn't go with all the things off the top of your head that you already know. But until it comes, you feel sort of.... I mean, even after years of doing it, you know so many things, and you're so smart, and you have such beautiful things to say, do you really have to stand here in front of this gray wall and just be.... (gesture)? And the answer is "Yes, you do have to." That's the process to trust.

Okay. Now, noticing this—I mean "noticing this" I mean in three ways. First, I invite you just to follow me intellectually, because I have general philosophical things to say, and you can follow those. So even if you don't do anything with this Focusing stuff, you can follow me when I talk about that. "Oh, yeah, there is always a context, there is always an implicit, and there is an implicit-explicit relation, and there are complicated connections between implicit and explicit," and you can follow me.

But secondly, I would say privately, inside yourself, do see if it doesn't also apply there, really, to you, where you think. Especially where you think about something that you want to think about, something that you have a feel for, and you're not finished with. Because you can do that right away.

And thirdly, I would even invite you to explore either our training, or merely my assertion that if you spend a lot of time doing that, the space gets bigger and bigger there. You can do things after a while that you couldn't do at the beginning. There is a deepening that goes on there, and we have even a training for it. And you might even like to know about our training, even if you don't need it, because eventually.... never mind.


Gendlin: I was gonna joke and say "You'll send somebody else to it."


Gendlin: Now, this business about "no conclusion, no concept, no form, no diagram, no shape is ever directly true," which I'm asserting, has been a terrible block in philosophy, and still is in many circles today. Somehow, philosophers were taught to [Page 6] believe that philosophy is the conclusions. And it has become understood that no conclusion necessarily holds, so people are running around saying "Nothing holds. There's nothing at the bottom. It's all up to you." Even my classes, I used to argue with. "Any questions?" "Oh, it's up to you, you know." I say, "Well, if I call you at midnight for advice on a problem, you're gonna tell me it's up to me? I know it's up to me. Didn't you go to the University of Chicago? Don't you know something about how to think? I know the conclusion is up to me." But philosophy, I'm here to say, is not the conclusions. And never was.

All the way back to where philosophy—at least what we call philosophy—began back there with Heraclitus in.... what is it now, 3,500 years ago or something? How far ago? 800 or so B.C. or something? It's only... it's less than 3,000 years ago. It's been known that no concept, no set of words, no single thought necessarily holds. Consequently, even to say that doesn't necessarily hold.


Gendlin: You see? And that's been understood by philosophers, by all philosophers. So when you read a philosophy.... Now, there are two things to say. When you read a philosophy, what I advise is, "Go and stand where that philosopher is standing. And put yourself into doing what that philosopher is doing." Then you will discover where that philosopher gets the terms from, because every philosopher introduces new terms.

They use words like "truth" and "trust" and "being" and "beauty" and "self," and all those big words. But they always mean something by it, which you don't know right away when you start reading it. You have to read quite a bit of it before you say, "Oh, I see." Because the words.... Where does the philosophy get those different words? Well, they get them by dipping into the implicit somewhere and coming out of there again.

And so, you want to do two things, which, for me, come to the same thing, but you might want to do it differently. So what I'm sure of is: to understand the philosophy, stand where that philosopher is standing. And that's true of all of them, not just the most recent one.

You go back to Plato and see what he's doing, and you discover, "Oh, he uses different meanings in each dialogue." "Oh, he doesn't believe in the theory of forms that they teach us in school. He has this whole dialogue ridiculing the theory of forms." It's called the Parmenides, and they don't read it. Read the first half of the Parmenides. It's easy to read and it's [Page 7] fun. And Plato's making fun of Platonism there. We say, "Well, if that's not what he's doing, what is he doing? Where does he get his terms?" Well, then you see: right on the page, he gets them. All of a sudden, you see: in everything he's doing, he's making new terms.

Aristotle got a little impatient with him because there's different terms in every few paragraphs. Aristotle decided to save some of the good terms. But you see that when Aristotle did that, he knew why Plato was doing that other thing. So Aristotle puts the terms, but then he says "The things are not.... don't have the terms in them." Where we have three different things, we say, "A human being is an animal and a "this" and a "that." Those things are not in the thing. So again, you say, "Well.... Uh"—see what I mean?

He knows about the implicit intricacy. He's making sure that the terms remain not stupid, not cut-off conclusions, not assertions directly of reality, or of any single thing, even. The thing is one. Our definition..... So it goes on right through philosophy. And if you do that, you learn these tremendously valuable things from these old philosophers. It's not at all true that they are just whatever Heidegger or McKeon or somebody else tells you about them. Because that's just one more scheme.

Okay, I want to combine two things that I already said. When you allow the sharp concepts that these people create, when you allow the sharp concepts to work in the implicit, it opens the implicit more. But when you stand in between the assertions and the implicit, you can go from there in ways that that philosopher didn't go.

And that's really what's exciting. It's not all that exciting to see what Plato did. It's exciting to see that I can do that, too. I can take any concepts and play with them until it opens, and then.... And Plato, you know, refused to write without at least a fictional character. For Plato's method, you have to have a person, because the contradiction doesn't do anything; it just cancels out. "You said this, and now, see, it comes to that." And you're just lost, that's all. The only way you can go on with the dialectic is if you have a person who says, "What the hell did I mean? I didn't mean this contradiction."


And he goes back in there, and he uses that to improve what he's trying to say, because the sharpness of the concept opens his implicit.

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Now, I have to go very fast and apologize, because now I'm gonna do something bad. I'm gonna just do a lot of assertions, a lot of conclusions. All right? But I will say that most of my philosophy is on the web page. It's all there. You can pull it down, you can give it to anybody. You have my permission to use it in any form whatsoever, or argue with, do anything with it.

Okay, so my second little unit here: Today, we have constructivism and objectivism, right? And they're both right about each other.


Gendlin: They know that they're talking nonsense, but they also know that the opponents are even worse, and so it's okay. But constructivism and objectivism share the assumption that I'm attacking. Namely, that the organized, clear, conceptual stuff is the only order that there is. I'm saying, "No, the implicit intricacy that we are in interaction with everything, this is a greater order, a more precise order, and a different order. So that if all the concepts and all the objective entities that are measured collapse or change all the time, that's all right, because that's not the only order.

So, to me, objectivism and constructivism are the same thing. They both assume that you've gotta believe—and you can't—these entities, these forms, these concepts, these already-finished things, cut off from the making of them. Somebody like Dennet wants to make a computer and then jump into it. Well—

Audience: Well, I wish him well. We would be rid of him.

[Crosstalk, Laughter]

Gendlin: Well, I want to say, about trust, that science—well, let me say first that the habits of bad philosophy—well, I don't know if there is such a thing as bad philosophy. Then it's not really philosophy. But the habits that people have, they're in the habit of taking the conclusion, as if there has to be a conclusion by itself—and, "Oh, my God, there isn't"—that you can trust.

And so, also the so-called objectivists, the people who want to say "Trust science," want you to trust this year's science. Last year already, they said something else, and next year, they're gonna say a lot more in different terms, so obviously, trust the science of a hundred years from now or, as my slogan goes, trust the process. The process of science you can trust, actually.

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But if you look closely, you see that science doesn't trust it's concepts. They're all busy changing them right now. Science trusts the results of experiments. Well, what is an experiment? An experiment is an interaction. It's like you build something out of your concepts, but then, as that wonderful cartoon a couple of years ago has a woman standing, and the whole place is full of huge machinery and computers, and she's got the plug in her hand, and she says, "Well, I guess since we have to plug it in, we're still in control."


Gendlin: So an experiment is taking the best that we know right now, the explicit concepts, build the machines from it, the entities that we know—it's taking that and putting it into interaction, in "reality," you want to say, or in "the world," or in "nature" maybe, whatever word you like for that. "In the truth," we could say.

Because one meaning of "truth"—always at least one meaning of those big words—one meaning of "truth" is that we live in the truth.... already. Then what we say might be false, but we already live in the truth. So we don't want to treat nature as if it were only something out there that we puzzle about. By that time, we're adult or, as one of my friends says about Piaget, "He thinks the child is a little scientist all by itself."


Gendlin: No, we live, period? There's already the truth, and there's already interaction. But when the scientists take their conclusions and their machines and turn them on—and Bob (where did you go?) has these delightful stories about this, which maybe he will tell one later—what then happens can surprise you. And it can surprise you not only in the terms that you wanted to be surprised, it can also surprise you in a totally different way. It can blow up or it can make noise, it can do all kinds of different things. So that even though they don't call it that, for science, too, interaction is primary.

Then I have a very careful, very hard-to-read paper called The Responsive Order, in which I argue that this should be taken into how we think about empiricism, instead of some people saying you trust the results, and some people saying, "No, you made up the hypotheses so, therefore, you can't trust anything."

That's not true. None of my constructivist friends would like to get on an airplane that wasn't tested, you know?


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Gendlin: Even though that can crash, too, of course. We know that. So then we test it, then we build further and we think further and we try this and we try that, and we make new words and new things, and we do more and more. And pretty soon, the old stuff doesn't work anymore and then you've got a new set of terms, and if you go back and look for what was true 30 years ago, you can't even find it in the library. It's over in the "History of Science" section, because now, the terms are all completely different.

So, trust the process, I'm saying, and don't mind the fact that it's never finished, because why do you want it finished? But I do have to say one more thing, and my time is going away, so I've gotta say it real fast.

There is an error that pervades Western philosophy. It's the error of thinking that the map, the finished concepts, the clarity, is basic to the operations. I'm arguing that the operations are basic, and the clarity changes every few years. But they want to say it, because the clarity "explains." So you have to look and see what "explains" is. And I haven't got time to go into it, but you all have the experience of what "explains" is, and it's a very precious experience. "Oh," you say, "that's how it works." Yes, the concepts are very precious. Yes, the machines are very precious, because they explain and they let us do things. All right?

We couldn't be six billion people on this earth right now if it weren't for science and all the machines and all the explaining. So the explaining is extremely legitimate. It's just that it changes every few years, and the interaction is what controls change. So you have to know that the scientific concepts and the entities and what we build and what we make is very precious, and very legitimate. It's just that you can't forget that you're here, too, and that all the science is going on in this wider context.

And every scientist really knows that, because they try to revise every theory when it doesn't work. And what do they do when they revise a theory? Well, they "focus." They go in and say, "Now, what else do I know here?" and "How can I find the way that still correlates everything else with...?"—and so I don't have a lot to say about that.

But the mistake I want to point to—the big mistake—is just to think the map is basic to the operations. But that's very technical. The mistake I'm talking about is that logic is precious, right? It's sacred. It creates. But it depends on the units. To have logic, you have to already have these discrete entities that have nothing inside but themselves, sort of like. [Page 11] They're all made of lead or butter, right through, and they have only external relations.

Logic, the way it is understood—and I question that—but logic, the way it is understood, is only external relations, also known as "formal relations." Much of Western philosophy wants to know why logic—and mathematics, which is also like logic—why it applies to nature.

Well, it applies because we make entities. And we make entities and build the world with it. So don't put that down. But we make them. So, pay attention to the making of the entities, the making of the logical units, the way we unitize so that we can then use logic.

And so I'm saying both that it's legitimate and sacred, and also, that it happens within the wider interaction that we are, already, before we even start to think. After all, we don't only study things, we also walk around on things, right? And we live with things and we eat things and we inhale things. We don't just only observe them or interpret them. The interaction was always first.

Now, I want to tell you that I have a great deal of detail. First of all,—and here, I can just throw things out and stop. The basic terms need to be different. I have what is perhaps a crude, but after all, the first—I always say this about Heidegger, but now, I'm going to say it about myself.


Gendlin: I always say about Heidegger, "Well, pioneers can't give you finished products. So take where he opens things and don't worry about the fact that he contradicts himself someplace or falls back in again. Well, that's what you expect from pioneers. So treat my process model the same way, please. It's the first attempt, and it works to some extent, to set up primitive terms that are both implicit-explicit. The basic terms of which I start are "implying" and "occurring." That we can start without assuming static "is-es"; that we can start with a living process instead of "is-es" that we interpret in various ways.

"It"—reality, nature, you, me, the dog, anything we study, one sentence of Plato's, anything—"it" is both a particular shape and an implicit, an implying. If you start with something that's both, then the terms become—are—different than the usual terms. And yet, I have a way of reducing it back to the usual terms. If you need to link with all the data that we have, that's all captured in the usual terms.

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With that model, I can do a lot of things. One of the things that I can do—and I'm going to talk a little fast now—is to derive the way we make logical units, and that's Chapter 7. But I recommend you looking at it, because it's my favorite chapter.

I can derive the empty space and these entities, these closed, fixed entities. These entities, you know, they only move because they're patterned, and you have to think of "What is actually a logical form or a pattern?" A pattern is something that can move just as the pattern, and ignore everything else. When it ignores everything else, it makes something interesting.

When a pattern moves from this to that—you see, the monkeys can't figure out how to even make a length out of two sticks that fit into each other. They begin to, they're close to it, but they can't. Whereas a person says, "Oh, this is too far for this stick and this stick and they don't fit. I need something this long." And can think this thing that's this long, and looks up in the tree and says, "Oh, there's one," and pulls it down and strips it off and has a length.

What is that? Well, that's a pattern, by which I mean it ignores the leaves and it ignores all the tree and it ignores everything, and it just moves the pattern from here, where it's missing, to there, where I see it. You following me?

Now, that's how things "only move." Everybody that I have read assumes that "only moving" is basic, but "only moving" is not basic. "Only moving" is a human, symbolic creation, a very complicated mathematical creation in which you're dealing with quantities, with length, with patterns. And I can do .....? Or I have. Or if you don't like how I did it, you can do it better.

It's important to know, though, that the empty space and the linear time are not basic. Well, Heidegger already said that, and so did many other people, but I will say this. You do—we do, as a society—maybe you don't, but we, as a society need to understand logic and the creation of lengths and of empty space and so forth. We need to understand it, because we have no way right now to use science. There are people who—they prefer 25 herbs mixed, as long as they don't know what they are, because they won't have anything to do with science. And then there are the other people who trust science and think that they themselves are the neurological cell firings. You know what I mean?

Well, I'm here to say, "No, no. You are not the atoms and you're not the organic chemistry that people said I was when I was a student. And now, you're not the neurology either, [Page 13] dear." Those are unit screens, unit creations, but we're very grateful for them, and they can cure things that we couldn't cure before, so I'm not putting it down. No, no, no.

Twenty years from now, they'll have an even different screen. But we need a society-wide understanding, because the critique alone is helpless. We've had the critique now for a hundred years or more and logic has gone on and changed the entire world, right under our feet. Changed how we write our critique, even, on the computers now. Right? How do my friends critique science... (inaudible)


Gendlin: Anyway, we need to understand both the legitimacy and the limitations of logic and science so that we can use them as a society, instead of each person sort of fumbling around, "Would I rather have Chinese herbs or go to the doctor?"

Well, I have to say that I have a lot of methodological stuff, some of which you might like, about how the implicit and the explicit carry each other forward, what they do to each other, what happens to dialectic, what happens to logic, what happens to various other ways of conceptualizing, if you put them into this zigzag where you increase the implicit by the sharp concepts, and then you come up with new sharp concepts. You might want to see some of that.

I want to say, again, that having just looked at stuff about "being" and "truth," that "being" and "truth" can't very well be much less than you and me are; don't you think?


Gendlin: The universe can't possibly just be an external, something observed from a distance, because we're here, and where would this be? I mean, isn't this the universe, too?


Gendlin: So, anything, really, that you take—not just the big universe—anything, any little thing, opens up into all sorts of possibilities that go further.

This creativity is never finished, and it shouldn't be. I think a really simple way is to say, "Some people want to blame concepts or language for getting stuck. And you all know what that's like, because we have a beautiful thought and we tell it to a certain person, and we analyze it, and it's dead, and we go home and wonder what we thought was so exciting. That happens. But it also happens the other way. There's that rare person where, if you tell it to them, it opens up and then there's [Page 14] more, and then there's still more, and then you think of more, and then you wonder, did you have all that at the beginning?


Gendlin: That's right. Both of these can happen, and they're both language. So the power of language to open things up, to make fresh sentences from what seemed to you vague, is what I want to emphasize. So don't blame language. There's a lot of this stuff now where they think language just consists of the public meanings, and so if you say anything, then you have "fallen into language."

This is very stylish to say, but I think it's very dumb, because didn't this person ever say something fresh from what they felt or thought or experienced or saw or lived, or what? Because if you do that, it comes out metaphorical. It comes out words—the same 600,000 English words—but saying new things, new combinations, in new ways, and you can do that.

The way to prevent it from killing is to check inside every moment. "Does this carry forward what I had there?" And if it says, "No, [Speaker makes noise]," say "Okay, never mind. Throw that out. That—I didn't mean that." And it recovers, and then after a while, you say another thing. You say [Speaker makes noise]. Okay, okay, that not either.

And you think with the "not-yet-spoken," and of course, all the things that.... all the words that come, until you get one that takes it, carries it further, and that's the one you keep. Then you go on from there. If you do that, then it never kills it. Are you following me? Even with a person that doesn't understand it, you go back and you say, "There"—like with a child, you say, "There, there, there. That man doesn't understand. That's okay. Let's go this way." And keep your... protect your beginning place there.

We have a very well worked out set of steps called Thinking at the Edge, which I would like you to look at. We teach those steps. Once you know the steps, of course, the hell with the steps. Same with Focusing or anything else. Steps are for teaching, to help a person find it. Once they find it—see, that's why I don't like "Gendlin's-whatever-you-said."


Gendlin: It can't be "Gendlin's dot, dot, dot," because it's yours, and there is nobody else has it. Oh, yeah, that's another thing. Many of us are terribly private and shy about what we think, and that's fine, but you do have to know that if you don't think from there, it's lost, because nobody else has your "dot, dot, [Page 15] dot." Now, that may burden you with responsibility, or excite you. I don't know, but it's true. Each person is a different take. Leibnitz already said it very well. Each person is a different take on whatever you studied, that sentence or the universe or whatever it is.

Okay, now I have two minutes to say.... back to—I want to just own that I come from—and I made a list, and of course, it's incomplete, but again, it's at least—where's my list? It's here somewhere. Oh, I know where it is. It's right here. I come at least from Plato, Aristotle, Leibnitz, pragmatism, like Dewey, Dilthey, Whitehead, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Wittgenstein. Without any of those, I couldn't be here this way. There's probably more than—there's at least those. And I have learned different things from them, not the same thing. But they all dip into the implicit in a way that you might want to see. And more important, where they stand will open up for you more than they say, and more than I say.

So I think it wants to be my last message here—and I'm on time—to say "Don't treat a philosopher as a bunch of conclusions, cut off from the process." That isn't philosophy. Philosophy is a way of coming from.... it's a way of opening where we come from. It's a way of dealing with the fact that you can't ever really say anything if you're gonna take what you say as the final conclusion. That's been known throughout philosophy. So you'll want to know, "How does this philosophy deal with that? What was this philosopher's strategy? Where did this philosopher dip in and come out to get those new terms?" Or "Did Heidegger just sit down and type out Being and Time," and just start with that.


Gendlin: Because if you do that, then these philosophers become alive, and philosophy becomes alive, and you become alive. Again, people who came to this, well, you're already thinking, but so many people rediscover thinking. They haven't had "thinking" since they were four or three or something. In our TAE they rediscover thinking, and they're so excited, because they can think, and they wanted always to be able to, and they couldn't.

So let any philosopher—if you've already mastered any one text, then take that one, of course, because the sharper you've mastered it, the more it will do—and let it show you where it comes from, because that's also what it opens. And there, you can think further. Heidegger said—Heidegger pleaded with people to do this, just what I'm saying—"Please think further. Please think further." When Frings started The Heidegger Circle, Heidegger was still alive. He wrote Frings a letter and said, "Please don't call it the Heidegger Circle. Please call it [Page 16] the Circle for the Question of Being or the Question of What Is, or something like that." Of course, it was called The Heidegger Circle, of course. And it repeats what Heidegger said year in, year out, except for references to current events or other philosophers, you could shuffle the papers and they're all about Heidegger's finger, if you see what I mean.


Gendlin: Well, it's very important to study his finger, because his finger points—and by his finger, I mean the precise concepts that he laid down. It's very valuable to study the precision of those concepts, but it's also deadly to cut them off from where that whole thing is pointed. That's why he kept saying that. He said "A philosopher can't jump over his own shadow." He meant himself. He said, "It's too much to ask of me to now overcome what I've brought. I can't do that. You have to do that."

So I want to say that orthodoxy, in that sense, is very important and precious, because it keeps the precision, but it also kills what it preserves. So we need both. Okay? We need to go on from where these philosophers have opened things, and we also need to, of course, preserve them or keep them, so that other people can go on from there.

And there, I stop. Right on time.

[End of Audio]

ŠEugene T. Gendlin

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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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