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Gendlin, Eugene T. (1977). Eternal return and experiential meaning. Paper presented at the Heidegger Conference, New Orleans, LA. From

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Eternal Return and Experiential Meaning

Eugene T. Gendlin, University of Chicago

We are honoring Heidegger by responding to his letter asking us to think on the question of technology as related to the question of being.

Heidegger says that technology sets nature up for production and delivery (Gestell, herstellen, bestellen). Technology sets things up to be available for delivery. Not only does it set the beautiful river to deliver electric power, but through roads and travel agencies it also sets the river's scenic beauty up for delivery. At last it even sets up people for delivery to its needs as a technological machine. [1]

Tom is considering graduate schools. Physics has been his love throughout college, and still is. But he feels that he must now go into bio-physics, a new breakthrough area in which jobs are sure. The gene structure of living things has been successfully technologized and people are wanted to fill increasing numbers of slots. The production of odd life forms is frightening beyond conception. That it will be done by people whose love and genuine inquiry lay elsewhere, people who were delivered to it by technological demand, makes it even more frightening.

The danger of technology lies in our helplessness in regard to it. Heidegger says that we are helpless because we do not grasp the essence of what technology really is. We would become free if we grasped this. [1]

Heidegger has shown that any truth, in how it structures anything, also hides other truths. [2] We must see not just [Page 2] technology's truth, but how it hides the truth of the inter-relatedness of being and human. Being needs humans to reveal being. Humans build a tower and only then does the wind howl around it. [5]

But, in response to our activities nature does not do whatever we wish, only just what it does do. We disclose its own being. Similarly for Heidegger, the essence of the human being is as discloser of being. Humans only exist outside themselves in a world, and world-making is the human side of the interplay.

Heidegger asks us not to forget that each side has its independent role. "Independent" is too strong a word, but the human's own nature is to disclose how nature shows itself, not just anything we please, in response.

If we are forgetful of the human being as discloser, we become first mere operators of the technological machine, and then not even that, we become deliverable material for it.

If we forget that nature responds as it will, we lose nature altogether and have not even an object over against us. We then have only what we produced, the thing cut off and abandoned from its backdrop in nature. [1]

Heidegger asks us to return to this wider interplay between humans and nature. He asks us to "indwell closely, as natives, the realm of heavens and earth, mortal and divine, so that we belong into that realm in an earlier and more original way." "Wohnen wir einheimisch in der Nähe, so dass wir anfänglich in das Geviert von Himmel und Erde gehören. (page 46). [1]

Heidegger is rightly pointing out that much of the basic way humans belong in nature is lost in technology.

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My way of putting this is that technology lets humans have nature only in front of them, as something to interplay with. Technology forgets that nature is also behind us, in us and is in our desires and valuing, our purposes and needs, not just something we disclose from an independent standpoint. Heidegger never abandons this totally separate standpoint of humans facing nature. Yet this is his intent, and it is the direction into which he asks us to look, to indwell heaven and earth in an earlier more original native way.

As we try to move further in the direction into which he points us, we will have to reexamine, and understand very much further, this original belonging of humans in nature. The core of my paper will be to develop a new and more specific way in which we can regain our belonging. It cannot be by simply resurrecting the old human.

Let us now take some more specific steps from the directives Heidegger gives us.

Heidegger points out that there is already something technological in our Western natural science even before it visibly became a science of operations with complex apparatus.

The axiomatic mathematical method begins by the daring, seemingly insane assumption that all reality can be reduced to numbers. Numbers are the simple thought steps of our own thinking. Numbers are: "one," "another one" and "another one" and "another one," inherently nothing but thought steps. All axiomatic systems are elaborations of this. Reason, in modern science, reduces to mathematical thought-steps. Units are kept constant [Page 4] so that they can be rearranged. This kind of science reduces nature to our own thought-operations. [3]

Then science as technology expands its "operational" method. Science doesn't study nature, only our own experimental procedures and their results. Our thinking and apparatus determine the experiments. As Heidegger says, Nature is allowed only a yes or no answer to them. Nature must answer in terms of our set-ups, our Gestell.

It is characteristic of this science that it does not study purposes or values, or give insights into values. Therefore it cannot help determine what it is to be used for. A hundred million dollars going into military research produces an enormous amount of knowledge and technology which is then unstoppably applied also in our non-military lives in ways no one has chosen. In all fields this science produces technological power of the sort that is formulated: "If we do this. . . .we get this. If we do that. . . . .we get that." It is always assumed that some people, the scientists or the government or someone unknown will decide on something desirable to produce. I know of a project which keeps children in school from putting their hands on the walls, thus keeping the walls clean. I know of systematic methods to keep children sitting still in school rooms. What are the grounds for these efficient projects which "'work" quite well?

This forgetfulness about the need for studying the human operator of technology is one aspect of the forgetfulness of the question of being, of which Heidegger warns us.

The question of values – what purposes technology should be [Page 5] used for – is only a symptom of the basic question. There is such a separated question of values only because technology separates off and omits that aspect of the human-nature interplay which we then call the question of values.

Heidegger calls on us to return to this wider interplay, to a more original and organic relationship between humans and nature. And so he says with Aristotle that a plant is a more original poesis than tool-making because it has its final cause in it. [1] In the old-time hunting boots a more natural purpose is also still there.

Heidegger himself has, of course, contributed in a major way to the very emergency he warns us about. For Heidegger being is only that which responds to human activity. Heidegger himself is "operational" in his basic outlook. Being is only responses to us. Humans build a tower, only then does the wind become a whistling around the tower. We try to pick something up, only then is it heavy or light. This is not too different from how nature is only allowed to say yes or no to our experiments.

The later Heidegger can be understood as trying to overcome this operational problem in natural science and in his own work.

What does Heidegger give us, and what else can we find, to set over against the strong pull of technological mindlessness?

First Heidegger widens the nature-human interplay. In the usual western view, for example in Kant, the interplay has on the human side only mathematical reason, imposed directly on otherwise unorganized sense data. Heidegger puts living human activity in the place of this reason, in the interplay with nature. He does this in Being and Time.

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Secondly, Heidegger's analysis offers a rudimentary set of terms to study the human operator: these terms are Befindlichkeit, Understanding, Interpretation, and Speech, together with the carefully worked out non-mathematical logic which relates these terms. For example, Understanding is always already implicit in Befindlichkeit, and yet, by going back to how it has been implicit, it also goes forward to a grasp of a projection of something possible.

I arrived at something similar by a different road, and am developing such a non-mathematical logic very much further.[ 6, 7] Not enough attention has been paid to Heidegger's exact terms in Chapter V Part 1, of Being and Time, and their possibilities.

Most readers of Heidegger have followed him into his later, much rounder and seemingly more humane writings. It is as if intricacy and carefully defined terms were in themselves inhumane, these days. In this regard I would like to issue my own call. We must create many quite specific carefully defined terms. Until we do so, we can only deplore the pitfalls of the current science. The existential-phenomenological vision has been left, so far, as just that, only a vision. When anything specific must be studied or worked with, one finds oneself returned to the old model because it alone has specific terms.

To develop a self-understanding of humans that can make a difference in specific contexts – and not just in general discussion, we must develop specific terms. That is what I am working on, but it is the task of a generation, our generation.

The exact way in which the relations between Befindlichkeit and Understanding make a carefully precise model is one example. So far I am alone, as far as I know, in using something like that to generate specific terms, in my case in psychology, to offer an [Page 7] alternative to the atomic thing model in how we think about people.

We must also overcome the splits between philosophy and the sciences. As Heidegger said, when philosophy becomes a profession, a "field" like other sciences, it can no longer be philosophy really. How can "philosophers" study the foundations and alternatives of science without intimate contact with them? I found that I could carry on my philosophizing only by looking like a psychologist for long periods and a physicist for short ones. Specialization is an example of what technological forms are doing to us even in philosophy itself. Philosophers must make specific terms in the sciences, that can be alternatives to the atomic terms and logic now being used.

In addition to these two factors: widened interplay between nature and human living, and his Being and Time Logic, the later Heidegger also sets against technology what I will call for the moment the old-time human. He goes to poetry, to walks in the woods, to the pietistic sense of nature, to the old porcelain pitcher and the old hunting boots. I do not mean to denigrate this direction. On the contrary, just as we must move into specific terms from human experience, so also we must always return again to an enriched human experience. This "zig-zag" movement is essential in living, and in thinking. Elsewhere I spell out a method by which we use terms quite precisely, and then return to the experiential sense of how we are just now using those terms. We can move from the experiential sense differently, than from the precise terms. We need both.

These three factors, then, I take from Heidegger as his own offering against the operational danger: the widening inclusion of human living in the interplay with nature; the possibility [Page 8] of non-mathematical but precise terms for an alternative science; and lastly the old human.

All three of these need to be followed up. In posing a non-mathematical continuity between Befindlichkeit and Understanding and on into action and speech, Heidegger not only breaks the scientific assumption of the universal application of mathematical reason, he not only broke the old continuity but begins a new one. Unfortunately this new kind of continuity is little understood, and even his own work has to be deeply penetrated before one can bring it out. Therefore, mostly, Heidegger has been understood as championing a kind of human choice that is arbitrary. We do not call it arbitrary, he does not intend it to be caprice, we honor it with the tag "authenticity" ("resoluteness" and "choice"), but if most readers of Heidegger are asked to explain the difference between authenticity and arbitrary individual caprice, they will shrug their shoulders. And yet, Heidegger says definitely that it is only in understandingly being the Befindlichkeit we already are and have to be, that we can move forward authentically to action and speech.

Befindlichkeit is quite clear in Being and Time as containing an implicit felt understanding of one's situation and living. [*] This is the basis for authentic projection.

But in his later writings Befindlichkeit becomes "wohnen," dwelling, or "einwohnen," indwelling, it becomes rounder. Heidegger

[*] Being and Time, page 142. the first four sentences of paragraph 31.

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more and more returns to the old human. He is seeking some more organic relation between humans and nature, than only our activities and situations. Even the widening to human living as in Being and Time is not enough, he returns us to the Eternal Return, to the old human.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century in the Romantic Movement there was already one great return to the old human, in distinction to technology. It failed. To say of this great movement that it failed, means only that it did not give what is necessary to control the technological from the human side.

Romanticism extolled the unique, meaning both the unique person and each unique cultural pattern. It also extolled the universal human organism, emotion, passion, feeling. It was a revolt against natural science and reason. Every tribe and people was prized as unfathomably unique and precious. Folk songs and proverbs were collected. It was understood that cultural forms are not scientifically composed of atoms, but are some kind of living product. Each nation was a precious truth of its own blood, soil, climate and experience. Every passion and kind of experience had value, the more unique and odd, the better. [8]

Today, let us be much more careful about all this! Let us not lump together everything that isn't mathematical reason, calling everything non-Greek "barbarian.'" The old human is many different factors.

First, mathematical-operational reason is not the only kind of reason. Our reflexive concern to understand that kind of reason [Page 10] should not surrender reason in general. Today's should not be an anti-intellectual movement. We can follow Heidegger here, for he is clear that technology roots in the mathematical unitizing and in the operational experiential method. There is quite a lot left to reason as such, with which to think clearly and carefully beneath and all around that specific kind of reason called technological.

Secondly, and thirdly let us distinguish culture and its variety from the organismic universal. The variety and uniqueness of cultural patterns – as so much valued in Romanticism – stands in contrast to the universal human organism, the Eternal Return, also much valued in Romanticism.

Fourthly, I will have something to say about uniqueness both among cultural patterns and among individuals. The lack of understanding between one unique pattern and another is now bridgeable, but was not so until recently.

Fifth, that which makes uniqueness bridgeable, quite new as a mass phenomenon is the capacity of people today to attend to, differentiate, and conceptualize, symbolize, express, their own unique experience.

It should be clear that the first four have not solved the problem of natural science and technology. Reason generally, old time culture, uniqueness, the universal organism in its eternal return, these have been around.

Reason other than mathematical has not yet developed competingly precise terms to constitute an alternate science.

The extolling of the unique in different cultures and natures led to nationalism, justifications of mass murder, a great lack of [Page 11] mutual understanding, and in the end technology has been misused not by scientists forgetful of being, but by scientists in the service of nationalistic governments.

In nationalism we must see not only cultural uniqueness but also reason. Nationalism came to be combined with technological reason and only so did it produce such disasters. But reason in general is also involved here; we want to save reason, not lose it, but we must see its pitfalls if we are to save it.

Reason works with formed concepts, the implications from formed concepts. We must find a way to have a science and a method that employs the process of concept-formation, rather than only already formed concepts. Reason thus leaves the human concept-former out of account, just as technological science leaves out the operator.

Plato and Aristotle knew this because they themselves formed so many of the concepts which, ever since, have been considered the very furniture of reason.

The effect was to pass on to us not their knowing ways of forming concepts, but their concepts.

The classicist James Redfield [8] (page ___) in an article on Aristophanes' Clouds writes:

"Socrates . . . did not teach physics . . . nether did he claim to know how to make injustice defeat justice in argument . . ." as Aristophanes portrays him in the Clouds. "But it is worth noticing that something like this combination of science and rhetoric turned out to be the content of that Hellenistic education which originated in the circle of Socrates. Aristophanes . . . (fore)saw the emerging Hellenistic synthesis . . . and saw that Socrates would be its source." (page 11)

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He quotes A.J.P. Taylor's 1848:

"Once reason is introduced, every man, every nation becomes a law unto himself; and the only right which reason understands is the right of the stronger. Reason formulates universal principles and is therefore intolerant; there can be only one rational society, one rational nation, ultimately only one rational man. Decisions between rival reasons can be made only by force."

Redfield contrasts the "unintelligibility of culture . . . its sacredness" with "cultural roles judged by their functions . . .," i.e. rationally. "When we assert our allegiance to unintelligible elements in culture we are saying that since there is no evident reason why these things are there in the first place, there is also no possible valid reason for taking them away." (page 14)

In this contrast between the violence of different assumption-based reasoning, and the sacredness of reasonless culture, Redfield blames the disasters of nationalism on reason. It was not the cultures as such, but the rationalized cultures that made war and fascism. True, but no culture has been able to resist the rationalized technology.

True, the Plato-Aristotle heritage has eroded the sacredness of unreasoning culture ever since Socrates argued in Athens. It was not his intent, but it so turned out, because formed forms are easier to transmit than the capacity for the forming process.

And the forming process requires not only precise terms but also implicitly rich directly felt experiencing. And these two factors must be newly understood, in order to get beyond rational technology.

With reason alone one can argue in all directions to all sorts of conclusions. Reason requires a wider context in which [Page 13] to be. But this wider context cannot be the old cultural patterns. There can be no simple return. Even Redfield interprets Aristophanes' critique of Socrates as "not nostalgia, but . . . an attempt to make the audience come to terms with the realities of the new situation.

Thus Heidegger's warning about technology and call to us to think beyond it goes back all the way to Aristophanes and the beginning of rationalized society.

Formed concepts emerge from at first vague felt experiences. It lies in the nature of reason that its wider context must be exactly that, which is already its own proper wider context, namely that from which formed concepts emerge.

But this is felt experiencing, only, if I will be permitted to make certain very important and exact distinctions. Felt experiencing as a wider context of reason is not at all emotions, or culture, or the old human, as we commonly are familiar with them.

Emotions, too, have had their role in the wars and disasters of our century. In fact, not only cultural uniqueness, the sacredness of blood and soil, emotions also entered into combination with technology. Emotions are universal, not culturally unique.

But the same fate befell emotions. Whether we view them as culturally patterned, or as humanly universal, archetypical and the eternal return of the organism, emotionalism is not what we today would look to for guidance, we with our twentieth century experience of two wars and Vietnam. Neither Heidegger himself, nor President Johnson staying up nights worrying, had very effective means to turn their feelings into guides that are capable of controlling technology-mechanized madness.

I don't mean to use newspaper arguments against

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these great dimensions, culture and uniqueness, emotionality and organism. But philosophers are certainly familiar with the classical philosophical critique of emotionalism.

There is one classical argument I want to recall to us. It is Plato's distinction between a master passion, and the wise person's sense of things. Plato held, and I agree with him, that feeling can be both a much less good guide, and also a better guide, than reason. When emotions in the ordinary sense are followed, that is a far less reliable guide than reason. But the highest kind of sensitivity is not reason, either, but a kind of inspiration or feeling which exceeds what can be put into words or precise thoughts. How does Plato distinguish between emotion on the one hand, and this higher sensing on the other?

The higher sensing is, first of all, inclusive and after reasoning, not without it. Of the poets who have inspiration without reason Plato does not speak well. The higher sensing is not the poetic or the blindly inspired, any more than it is emotion. The higher sensing includes all that reason presents and more, it includes what reason can only point to. It is characterized by inclusiveness, in contrast to an emotion or master passion which is only always a part, a small part, of what must be considered. A person is carried away by emotion, for example when we are angry we are likely to do something that we later say we knew better than to do. An emotion is less – only part of what we know. We lose track of some of what we know when we go by emotions.

In contrast, the higher sensing is more inclusive than we can tell ourselves about in clear words. It first does include all of that. It then also senses more.

When today again, as in romantic times, people say "follow your [Page 15] feelings," "trust your feelings," trust your organism," they need at least to include Plato's distinction. It is not our very partial emotions or body needs each singly, which are so trustworthy. Rather, there is an inclusive way of sensing whole situations, whole complexities and contexts, which, coming after reason, is more trustworthy than reason.

This higher sensing too, is indeed, the human organism's – but as you will agree, I think, it is a very special organismic function, different from emotions. I call it felt meaning, or experiential meaning.

I must now explain this much more carefully.

Experiential Meaning is the individual's attention to, and differentiating and symbolizing of what at first occurs as an opaque edge of feeling. It becomes, with attention of a certain kind, a texture of quite specific personal meaning.

Traditionally people did not very much differentiate this "edge" of felt experience. Certain emotions were recognizable and occurred where they were supposed to occur, within certain cultural patterns of action and interaction.

Everyone also always had, in addition, quite unique personal feelings, but for the most part these were left as an undifferentiated edge. Many people today are still like that. What do you feel? Jealous. Why? Because my loved person has some interest in someone else. Anyone would feel this way under these circumstances. Yes, but what more uniquely do you feel? I guess I feel a lot, but mostly I feel jealous, maybe also insecure, a little worthless, but anyone would feel somewhat like that under the circumstances, the emotion of jealousy, well known, universal.

The unique feelings of this person are present, all right, [Page 16] but not yet open, not yet differentiated.

When the person "focuses" on this at first opaque "edge," it will open up into a texture of meanings. These differ for different people. The person may find, for example: "Oh . . . just exactly this specific kind of thing I've been trying to develop with my loved person, that's just what my rival is now developing, and that's one thing that most gets me about it." or "If it just hadn't been with this particular person with whom I've already got this other relationship." or "It's infuriating, but also OK in some way, because I'm perfectly sure of my loved person's loving me." or "I don't care what happens over there as long as I don't lose my person in the long run." or "It's bad. But my person always comes back to me completely, but I'll never say it's OK."

Such statements would only be the first tier down. Why is it so bad? the person might ask, in focusing further, and further get more differentiated texture: "Yes. there's something grabby there, in me, I want it all, see. Yes, I feel better, just touching that. But there's also this sense that I ought to be able to prevent my person from being with someone else. I don't know why, but it feels like I ought to be able to. Like a duty or something."

And beyond this second step are further steps.

"Like it undercuts what my life means, what can it mean if I can't even hold up this simple man-woman thing? I know that's crazy. I don't agree with those principles and roles, I think people should be free, but there it is."

And further.

"Some kind of leaning, that I do, on 'meaning,' as if I can't stand just to live, I've got to have some 'meaning' to lean on, to [Page 17] stand on, something there about being too scared to stand up just on my legs, in this big universe, without some excuse or justification."

In the past more traditional people went to the poets and the novelists for differentiations of this sort. They would point to some author's differentiations and say that it spoke for them too.

This meant that they could not, themselves, focus on and open up this texture of strands within the opaque felt edge. Even when the author did that, they could not be sure exactly which strand really fitted them. But it was far better than leaving the felt edge silent and dull, closed and unspoken from.

This role of literature has just changed. In the last few decades masses of people have discovered how to obtain their own differentiations directly, within themselves. Today, in psychotherapy, in encounter groups and in many other contexts, people are "finding themselves," which means that when one focuses and opens this at first opaque edge, one feels that one finds oneself.

Recently an English Professor told me: "When I went to school, students who felt at odds with the technological culture and wanted to study something that would move beyond it, went into literature. Today they go into psychology."

The capacity to focus upon, and differentiate experiential meaning, or felt meaning, moves humanity a whole step forward. It is another step of development of the individual.

Looking backward from this development of experiential differentiation, people today are saying that the culture atrophied human beings, closed us to our experience, and that we [Page 18] are breaking through these social codes and blockages. In fact, however, it is mass education and societal development which has enabled such masses of people to arrive at this capacity. In differentiating one's directly felt experience people do indeed move beyond the cultural and social patterns, but that doesn't mean these patterns kept them from doing this until now.

The cultural patterns were, until recently, unbridgeable in their variety. If you had one religion, you knew in your mind that other kinds were also religious, but they did not feel like religions to you. They felt worthless to you, and disgusting. Even between very similar religions from the same stem there could not be any felt bridges. Similarly, where cultural patterns could differed, it wasn't possible for a person in one to sympathetically feel the significances in the other pattern.

Today, for many millions of people this is gone.

When an individual from a different culture is a patient in psychotherapy, or in some other context shares felt experience with someone, it is very striking that what is said and felt is no different than it is for individuals in our culture. "No different" – I mean just as different, just as unique as the felt meanings people in our culture find and freshly symbolize. Only some of the external events in that other country have to be explained. "You see, in my country teenage boys always call each other homosexuals, and accuse each other of not being man enough." But what that did to him, and how he now feels about it, is exactly as hard and easy to understand, as any American's experience.

But isn't this odd? Differentiating unique felt experience is directly understandable by others. Cultural differences as such are not.

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It is not odd. Cultural differences are patterns. Of course the humans who live in those patterns have more experience than just the pattern. If this more experience is differentiated, expressed, verbalized, then we can understand the person. The pattern taken as such, if the more experience is left opaque, is understandable only to those who lived in it.

Thus I assert that the focusing upon, and verbalizing of unique experience is inherently understandable. I like to quote Dilthey who said, "Anything human is in principle understandable." He meant that for anything human there can be a process of further and further expression, of further and further hermeneutics, and it is in this process, not as a flat pattern, that all forms become understandable.

This means that an individual's unique experience – when it is symbolized by that individual in words, concepts, or other symbols, thereby becomes understandable. To understand oneself is already inherently to have made oneself communicable. That is what thought is, what symbols are.

Therefore, today's focusing upon felt experience is a very different kind of uniqueness than the Romantics' liking for unique experiences. For them, such experiences remained unique, oddities, valuable because irreplaceable, freaks of nature. Today's unique experience is already universal, as soon as it is found and articulated.

In fact, the more private, the more unique and different from others a strand of experience is, the more significant it will be to others, not because of its greater oddity, but because – when articulated, it will create in us others more new meanings. When we experience such an articulation, we get not only it as a flat pattern. In fact, we could not understand it as a flat pattern.

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We understand it only as we let it create in us, as we too focus on the specific sense it makes in us. In that way we understand another person's unique experience exactly, but we also get the great bonus of having new distinctions and new terms in which to sense how we are different from that person, and how we are in our own right. That is one reason psychotherapists like to do psychotherapy, and why increasing numbers of ordinary people are drawn to the various contexts in which people share their inward felt experience.

But, just as our new unique experience differs from the nineteenth century version in being universal as soon as it is found, so also do we differ, today, in how we are and think about the universal human organism.

The organism, the body felt from the inside, is not only the old archetypical patterns, isn't only sex and hunger, sleep and the need for warmth. It isn't only the lowest common denominator among humans. Rather, our organismic sensing includes, as Plato wanted, all that we experienced and all we ever explicitly thought, and still it is also a – much richer – implicitly meaningful feeling dimension.

For example, after having read a novel (to recall Aristotle I wanted to say, the Iliad,) we have a sense of the whole. Although we read it word by word, explicitly, it is now again implicit in our familiar sense of that work. "Oh yes, that novel. I read it." Thus everything that was once explicit, for us, becomes again part of the inclusive implicit sense, which we can directly refer to, as our felt experience.

The same, of course, is true with reasoning, intricate proofs, and our best analysis of a situation. After we say all that to [Page 21] ourselves, we must keep quiet and sense it all. "Let me think . . ." we say, and mean by that, "Let me have the sense of all that, which we said. I will get another step from that."

No one can repeat in explicit words, all that. Or, with a difficult set of facts or an intricate analysis, one may have to repeat it over and over, but so long as one does that, one doesn't yet "have" it. After enough repetition of the explicit words, it becomes implicit, and we say: "I've got it, now let me think . . .." The crucial part of thinking is not the manipulation of logically precise units in a proof, but the felt mulling which follows, when we include what was said, and more.

Once we have thought, and come up with something, we can retroactively organize that into units, again, if we want to, can state new axioms, and make it appear that we deduce the new thought by logic.

I am pointing to a sense of organism and "feeling" which is far different than the common denominator, what all humans have in common. It is not just the Eternal Return. It is not our animal nature, as such, alone. It is not emotions. The kind of organismic sensing I am pointing to is inclusive of everything we have ever learned, and it is more.

We are not the products of our cultures as copies of those cultures. We are not even, as Heidegger thought, inherently fate-bound to live our culture and nation forward. We are human organisms capable of humanly feeling beyond our cultures, feeling what's wrong with them, what is in violation of our organisms, not only feeling what we were taught as congenial. And that is because we have just arrived at a new level of differentiating our experience, and we find it in much more detailed and unique strands, [Page 22] than the cultural patterns.

But we are also not just products of our universal human nature, because it turns out, that as we contact the feel of this human nature from the inside, it is very finely differentiated.

A great distinction must now be made between cultural patterns, and universal archetypal patterns. They do not behave in the same way in the face of experiential differentiation.

The cultural patterns were only one form of the universals, and once felt experience has been opened up and differentiated, the cultural pattern loses its special standing. Sexual intercourse may have a given cultural patterning in a given place, but once individuals differentiate their experience, that pattern ceases to be the only one, by definition. It often loses all meaning, because the experiential differentiations are so much more detailed and specific. Let us say, for example, the man should be on top, and active. But today, "active" and "passive" are found to mean so many different things, there are in two individuals' experience so many different attitudes, modalities, reactions, and kinds of sexual feeling, that "active" loses its capacity to point to anything more specific than some great class of things, or perhaps nothing definite at all.

But there is also an archetypal sense of "male" as "active." Until recently, women who worked on breaking through the cultural role patterns, resented and rejected this male active dimension as well. Everything was held to be cultural, and nothing was accorded the universal human nature.

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Currently there is a return. Women are. saying that receiving the sense of initiation and action from a man is one important aspect of sexuality. Is this not the eternal return of the same?

Yes and No. Take for example, one woman I know, who spoke to me as follows about herself and her man:

"I like Dick to turn me on, there is something that feels right about that, and he does that. He approaches me, all in readiness and he takes me along, But I got used to just waiting for him to do that and I'd come to him but I wouldn't really be there. Pretty soon he called a halt to it. And he was right. He said, 'Hey, that's not a real way you come to me, Karen. Cut out that kind of phony invitation that says you're ready when you're not.'"

Here it is quite clear that the archetypal active male is back again, wanted by both man and woman. But now there is a distinction within it, it's one thing for the woman to be receptive to the active male, quite another thing for her to give him a false invitation that he is supposed to turn into a true one.

And this distinction occurs, of course, in a context in which the woman and the man have done very many other differentiations. They have left far behind that undifferentiated active-male pattern in which the man was supposed to be active and also superior, and active in all ways, not only sexual ways. These two people are equally active and equally developing as persons in their work, their relations with the world generally, and in many other ways. Looking back, the old active-male pattern looks hopelessly general, compared to this new one. It is not that the old pattern didn't include this new distinction which is unique to these two people. Rather, the archetype has become one distinct sexual modality in the context of an otherwise equal relationship.

[Page 24]

But isn't something lost, of the power and grandeur of the archetype, when it is differentiated? Yes, but let us also suspect this power and grandeur. Let us not decide, we have no grounds to decide, but let us be suspicious both of the power and grandeur of the collective that dehumanizes, as well as of a possible thinness and false comfort which articulation might involve. Let us always return to that experiencing which is much more than any articulation.

Even this experiencing, because it is felt, may be too limited for ultimate concerns. What we are is much more even than we implicitly feel. Let us be open also in that direction.

With these provisos, I think I can go on.

In my examples of experiential differentiation, I wanted to have illustrated what I mean by the following three points I have made:

1. The cultural patterns are bridged in their variety, and are overcome altogether by experiential differentiation.

2. The archetypal or humanly universal, which was once considered as unchangeable and eternally returning, does indeed continue to return, but in the context of experiential differentiation and therefore not as crude broad person-violating, less than rational, less than humanly developed patterns. Rather, the archetypes can return and be sensed and lived, not within the cultural varieties (each of which, after all, violated them to an extent) but perhaps better than ever within a differentiated context.

3. All the differentiations I speak of are experiential ones, that is to say they begin with opaque unclear feeling, [Page 25] and with focused attention, feeling turns out to have this explicable texture within it. The organism, the body as felt from inside, is thus not at all just the universal patterns, but a very finely organized texture.

We are thus dealing with something very different and much more trustworthy, if we consider "organism" or "feeling" in terms of experiential articulation.

Whereas the Eternal Return as with Nietzsche, and also in the later Heidegger, gives us only the old human nature, which technology has already defeated, the experiential articulation process gives us a new access to a newly re-conceived and newly experienced organism.

Looking from this vantage point backwards, we can say that this is what Nietzsche really meant, or must have meant, or should have meant. Only the experientially articulated organism is "beyond good and evil," if by those words are meant cultural patterns of good and evil, or selections within experience such that much is selected out, and thus repressed (not eliminated) and kept from becoming humanized. Life is beyond good and evil not because some people should do evil, but because the articulable organism has its own good, which includes and is after knowing explicitly every kind of good to which training and thinking can make us sensitive. But it is more trustworthy than those alone.

In this way we can return, and complete Heidegger's effort to turn and return. We do this with the proviso that we can recognize the process of experiential articulation, know when it is being done, and that we will mean by "organismic"' and "feeling" not states, but a process of steps of experiential articulation.

[Page 26]

This process must change and expand how we are together, * how we organize socially, how we return in ourselves to a nature which is in us, but not in old and already lost global units. but as it may now function as an authentic ground for our living and thought.

There must therefore be a science, a way of using precise concepts, which also always permits again a return to one's experiential sensing.

Elsewhere I have tried to show exactly how such a method works. It gives us all the power of logic, both the atomistic and any other kind. But it also lets us take steps from the experiential side, which cannot be taken from the precise concepts as such. Both are needed, if such a non-mathematical science is to be capable of precise inquiry into the specific things and conditions we live with.

My main effort here has been to re-understand organism and feeling, to see what the Eternal Return of the Same now is, in a

* And so, also, Tom. We sat down and listened to his "feelings" as they opened up and became complex. He now plans to, and I hope will, study the physics he loves as well as bio-physics. He might have to take more courses than required, but it is always easier to do more, if one is doing what one really cares about, however much else insecurity and other factors demand. The hardest road is leaving behind what one really cares about. He will also be a better bio-physicist, if that is what he becomes, for having a broader background than those who prepared for nothing else. Those coming into a field from outside always see more in that field than its specialists. Of course, Tom can't solve the problem alone, changes in our educational and social structure are implied. But caring for one's own development in the face of performance pressure, is one ingredient.

[Page 27]

new way which is not at all literally the same, a way in which cultural patterns are transcended but universal organismic patterns still function crucially, but in the experiential articulation process.


[1] M. Heidegger, Die Technik und die Kehre, Neske, Tübingen 1962

[2] ----- Von Wesen der Wahrheit, Klostermann, Frankfurt A.M 1997

[3] ----- Die Frage nach dem Ding, Niemeyer, Tübingen 1962

[4] ----- Sein and Zeit, Niemeyer, Tübingen 1960

[5] ----- Holzwege, Klostermann, Frankfurt A.M. 1963

[6] E.T. Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Free Press, Macmillan 1962.

[7] ----- Experiential Phenomenology, in Phenomenology in the Social Sciences, M. Natanson, ed., Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1973

[8] Redfield, J., Aristophanes' "Clouds," The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Conference, Chicago, March 4-6, 1976

[9] J.L. Talmon, Romanticism and Revolt, Harcourt Brace & World, 1967.

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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