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Study Pages: Preface & Chapter 3

Study Page for Chapter 3

Link to Chapter III. How Felt Meaning Functions
Gendlin, E.T. (1997). Chapter III. How felt meaning functions [Excerpt, pp. 90-100]. InExperiencing and the creation of meaning: A philosophical and psychological approach to the subjective. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. From

[Page 90]

Chapter III. How Felt Meaning Functions

Brief Statement

Chapter III formulates seven radically different modes in which felt meaning functions together with symbols. In each mode many different symbolizations are possible. The modes are not simply different symbolizations, but entirely different ways in which symbols and felt meaning may function together. They are seven different definitions of the role of “symbols” as well as seven roles of felt meaning.

Since “symbols” in this treatise includes anything that may have the role of a symbol (including things, persons, behaviors, and whatever), the reader is asked to keep in mind that the seven kinds of relationships between symbols and experiencing are really seven fundamental conceptual models in terms of which human phenomena can be considered by theory.

These different modes of relationship between experiencing and any events are not the result of already logical relationships. Rather, they are the modes by which meaning and logical order are first created. Thus, they are fundamental to all meaning, logic, and order in human phenomena.

These different modes do not reduce to each other and cannot be “reconciled” with each other. (That is to say, one can reconcile them by applying one to the other, but one may just as well apply the second[Page 91]to the first. That shows that they remain and are fundamental.)

[A] Parallel Functional Relationships of Felt Meaning in Cognition


a. Illustrations. Section A of this chapter considers those functional relationships between felt meaning and symbols which are called “parallel.” These occur in cases where felt meaning and symbols are in a parallel, one-to-one relationship. Later, we shall deal with another group of functional relationships that are “nonparallel.”

Of the “parallel” functional relationships, the first to be considered is “direct reference.” Let us cite some illustrations of direct reference in order to communicate directly what is meant by the term.

Consider the sentence: “Democracy is government by the people.” Now, note your experiencing in reading the words. Probably you have taken the words in, felt that you know some of their meaning. Probably, you did not pause to make the meaning of democracy explicit to yourself in words. Rather, the merely felt, implicit meaningfulness you experienced was sufficient for you to understand what was said about democracy.

If you now try to define the term, you can observe what you do. In attempting to define it, you concentrate on your felt sense of its meaningfulness. Words to define it will arise, as it were, from this act of concentration on the felt meaningfulness.

In some of these instances, you, the reader, referred di-[Page 92]rectly to the felt meaningfulness that the term “democracy” had for you.

Consider this act of directly referring to the felt meaning. Let us call such an act “direct reference.”

Other examples may aid you in performing the act of direct reference, so that you may then take our term “direct reference” to refer to that act. Here are some:

Consider the previously cited case when you have forgotten something—perhaps something you intended to do today. You know that much about it, that it was something to do (or a name, or fact, or theory, or whatever you happened to forget). Now, how do you go about trying to remember it? Whatever your own way of doing so is, you will find that it centers around your “feel” of the forgotten thing. You concentrate on that feeling. You relax, hoping that the feeling will open up into the awareness of what it is. You ask yourself, “Was it this?” “Was it that?” and the feeling lets you know that it was not what you proposed to yourself, or perhaps, with a great flood of relief, that indeed it was that. In all these cases, the feeling, although inexplicit, functions centrally in your attempt to remember. And—what for us here is the point to be illustrated—you allow this feeling to perform the described function by your “direct reference” to it as a feeling in your present experience.

The same “direct reference” can be illustrated in very many other cases. Consider one more. You are looking at a painting. It gives you a particular, unique feeling. When you are asked to comment on the painting, you probably will attempt to state in explicit form what this unique feeling is. You may or may not succeed in formulating it. However, even in trying to do, you will give the feeling itself your attention. You will “directly refer” to it as such.

These illustrations show that direct reference to implicit felt meaning is possible.

[Page 93]The term “direct reference” refers to this just illustrated act of referring to a felt meaning. In defining the term we also employed direct reference. Our defining consisted in showing how it illustrates itself. This is often the nature of starting points or principles, and it is precisely as a starting point that “direct reference” is important: Because felt meaning can be referred to directly, it can be a starting point. Because direct reference to felt meaning is a starting point, we may inquire into the relationships between the formal and the felt aspects of cognition, without forcing the presuppositions of either on the other.

b. Feeling as a referent. A referent is an object of reference. By “reference” we mean something very modest and do not wish to involve ourselves in the philosophic discussions implied in this term. We mean only that attention is given to the feeling as such.

In order to refer directly to felt meaning, some terms or symbols are necessary. We use symbols to give a feeling our attention. “This feeling,” we say, or “this act” or “what I was going to do today”—these are symbols. These symbols refer in these cases directly to the feeling. Let us look at theobjects to which symbolic reference is possible. Objects of reference can be things, or sense qualia, or thoughts, or—as in this case—feelings. The other sorts of objects of reference mentioned can, of course, be referred to. We are introducing a sense of the term “reference” in which feelings, as such, can be referred to.

It is important to make a special point of “direct reference” to feelings, because this might be confused with reference to that which the feelings perhaps stand for, or are caused by. For example, we attempted to refer to the felt meaningfulness that the term “democracy” has for the reader, and, in an analogous manner, to the feeling that contained the meaningfulness of looking at a painting, or to the felt meaning-[Page 94]fulness of “what I was going to do today.” We were not making the equally possible references to democracy as a social phenomenon or as a formal concept, or to the colors of the painting, or to the behavior “I would do today.”

By “direct reference,” then, we shall mean an individual’s reference to a present felt meaning, not a reference to objects, concepts, or anything else [1] that may be related to the felt meaning itself.

[Page 95]c. The role of symbols in “direct reference.” We have shown what “direct reference” is and that feelings can be objects of reference. Let us now examine more exactly the role played by symbols in the particular kind of relationship with feeling that we have termed “direct reference.”

We have seen that symbols are necessary for direct reference. The words “this feeling” or “this act” or “what I was going to do today”—these are symbols. What is the peculiar role symbols have in “direct reference” that makes it a particular, distinguishable kind of relationship between feeling and symbols?

In order to clarify the particular role of symbols in direct reference, let us distinguish the role of directly referring from another role symbols may play: conceptualization (we might call it “representation” or “articulation”). Let us, for the moment, consider all manner of conceptualization as one kind of role of symbols, and compare it to their role in “direct reference.” In direct reference, symbols (such as “this feeling”) refer without conceptualizing or representing the felt meaning to which they refer. Thus the role of symbols in direct reference is distinguishable from other roles symbols can have, because in direct reference there need be no conceptualization at all.

For example, if one says “this feeling,” or “what I wanted to do today that I forgot,” the meaning of these symbols (that appeared in quotation marks) depends on the felt meaning to which we refer directly. Without that felt meaning the symbols still have a little bit of general meaning, but they are powerless to mean what—in this moment—they are supposed to mean. They depend for their meaning on direct reference to the felt meaning.

(The case is quite analogous to demonstratives. These always depend on present sense perception. In that case their meaning depends on “direct reference” to present sense perception.)

[Page 96]When symbols conceptualize or represent, they themselves “mean” what they represent. We might say that they mean independently. Symbols that only refer, on the other hand, depend for their meaning entirely on the felt meaning to which they refer.

Conversely, we may speak of the felt meaning in direct reference as being independentlymeaningful. This type of cognition is possible only because the felt meaning functions as an independently meaningful referent of direct reference. For example, “this feeling,” or “I am trying to remember what I forgot to do today,” or “let me see, what do I feel about the painting” would be impossible without our direct reference to felt meaning as a referent that is meaningful independently of any representative meaning of the symbols (although, of course, dependent on symbols as referring to it).

We have, then, made clear the sense in which the symbols “depend” on the felt meaning—that is the sense in which the felt meaning functions as an “independently” meaningful referent.

On the other hand, we also noted a sense in which the converse is true: the felt meaning can be referred to only with the aid of some symbols, such as the word “this” or some partially descriptive symbols such as “what I wanted to do today that I forgot.”

We note that the only necessary [2] role played by symbols in direct reference is that of referring, that is, of specifying, pointing out, setting off the felt meaning. “This feeling” or[Page 97]“a feeling” can occur only if something functions to refer to it, or specify it, or set it off, or mark it off. [3] Later we shall show how a feeling becomes independently meaningful just as soon as it becomes “this feeling” or “a feeling.” By being specified as “this” or “a,” it becomes repeatable, can return tomorrow and be the “same” feeling and can thus mean itself in many senses.

The referring or specifying need not be performed by a verbal symbol. The term “symbol” may be given to anything that performs the function of referring or specifying. (This is a usage of the term “symbol” defined specifically in terms of this one functional relationship, direct reference.) There are visual and kinaesthetic “symbols” and in this sense even actions, objects, and situations can be “symbols.” [4] For direct reference, a “symbol” is anything that performs the function of marking off or specifying “a” feeling, and thus making our attention (our reference) to it possible.

Let us apply the name “direct reference” to the whole relationship between felt meaning and symbols, including the roles of both.

d. Direct reference as a functional relationship, and the term “meaning” defined by it.[Page 98]We have noted that “direct reference” is a relationship between symbols and felt meaning, in which each has a role that depends on a role of the other. Hence, we can call these roles “functions” and the relationship a “functional relationship.” We have seen the senses in which these functions depend on each other.

Without clear delineation of this functional relationship and interdependence, our analysis would have to duplicate everything. Everything would have to be said once for felt meaning and once for symbols. The symbols “refer” but so does our direct attention. The symbols “mean” the felt meaning, but the felt meaning is also a meaning and hence also “means.” [5]

This duplication is avoided when the functions of each are specified and their interdependence is clarified. Without the symbols there cannot be “a” felt meaning, a specific reference, and hence there would be no specific felt meaning to refer to. On the other hand, without the felt meaning, symbols of the sort that only mark out and refer would have no symbolic function at all.

The term “meaning” must be defined for each functional relationship we discuss. For direct reference, what was meant by “meaning”? We note in the very form of the question that our definition will be a kind of examination of how we mean when we directly refer.

In “direct reference” we need a pointer in order to refer. We cannot assume that “a” feeling (some unity or reference in any sense) exists without something to mark it off and thus create it as “a” felt meaning. Hence, meaning appears to be generated by the two mutually dependent functions: the function of referring and marking off a referent (performed by symbols), and the function of being a meaningful referent[Page 99]with meaning independent of the representative meaning (if any) of the referring symbols. [6]

e. Direct reference as a “general” functional relationship. “Direct reference” is possible in all cases of meaning. It actually occurs only to the extent that the symbols depend for meaning entirely on felt meaning, and only point or refer to it. However, if we wish to, we may refer directly to our felt meaning even in cases where symbols do themselves mean the meaning. For example, take a sentence that symbolizes its meaning quite well: “Democracy is government by the people.” Here, we are not normally called upon to refer directly to the felt meaning. Instead, we normally consider the symbols to contain the meaning. In order to become aware that in this case also, our felt meaning can be directly referred to, we must strain the normal experience. We must ask ourselves what we really meant by the word “democracy” or “government” or “people.” Then we become aware of the felt meaning of these words for us, and in this becoming aware we “directly refer” to the felt meaning.

We may say with sureness, then, that direct reference is always possible, but it requires an extra willful act (reflection, it is often called) when the symbols appear to symbolize the meaning adequately.

It is apparent that whatever functional relationship normally exists between symbols and felt meaning in the case where symbols do adequately symbolize the meaning, it is a different functional relationship from that of “direct reference.” We will have to examine it.

[Page 100]f. “Direct reference” defined (a summary). Direct reference is a functional relationship between symbols and felt meaning. The functions of symbols and felt meaning depend on each other.Symbols function as markers, pointers, or referring tools that create “a,” “this,” or “one” feeling by referring to “it.” Felt meaning functions as containing the meaning (independently of any representative meanings the referring symbols might have), and as referent.

The symbols depend on the felt meaning for meaning. Apart from direct reference to felt meaning, the symbols mean nothing. The felt meaning, thus, has a vital and independent function. It is independently meaningful. There is no meaning in cases of direct reference except its meaning.

The felt meaning depends on symbols to mark it off as a referent. Apart from such a marking off (specification or symbolization defined as a marking off) there is no given felt meaning. Hence, the function of the symbols is also vital.

The function of “symbol” in the sense of direct reference can be performed not only by verbal symbols, but also by kinaesthetic symbols, visual symbols, and by acts, objects, or situations, since these also can “mark off” or specify and thus create “a” given felt meaning.

[In the original text notes are at the foot of the pages they are cited on.]


[1] The reader probably experienced the most difficulty with direct reference to feeling rather than something else in the case of observed sense qualia. Let us then go into more detail here.

In the last chapter we showed that all observation is meaningful and that this meaningfulness occurs to us as felt meaning. The meaningfulness of an observation of red or blue, for example, would thus occur to us as felt meaning. “Direct reference” is reference to this felt meaning.

Whitehead pointed out the error that, according to him, philosophy made in considering sense qualia (of the five senses) as the only “given” for knowledge. Whitehead speaks of the many, many organismic feelings that, as much as those of the five senses, are given for knowledge. The reader thus might grant immediately that what can be directly referred to includes such feelings. However, we asserted that there are such felt meanings even in the case of perceiving a color or some other sensible of the five senses. How can that be?

Let the reader ask himself how he perceives blue differently from red. The difference to him, qua his having these two experiences, is one of feeling. It lies neither in the eye nor in the wavelength.

Kant pointed out that even in the perception of a color, the inherent synthetic functions of cognition are already operative, since, if when we see red it is really to be red, not just something quite undifferentiated, then it must already imply the comparison of colors and hence the principle of unity of all cognitions as our cognitions, united or synthesized byour having them.

Kant defines “our having” them as a purely formal synthetic unity, expressed by his term “unity of apperception.” His formal principles point out the function in cognition that, when we look at our actually experienced having, we find played by the distinct feel of any perception that is meaningful to us.

Only the reader’s own referring, in his own experience, to the feel of perceptions, thoughts, and so on can define, for him, the type of feeling referred to in “direct reference.” We mentioned Kant simply for better formal understanding. Kant only cites the function of “our having” experiences, insofar as this function is defined by a critical analysis of cognition, formally considered. This function might, in fact, be performed by anything. He is careful to distinguish the formal function from whatever is experienced as performing that function. We note that felt meaning can be referred to directly as performing this function.

[2] The situation is slightly obscured by the fact that we often employ as a specifying marker just such symbols as come as close as possible to the felt meaning. For example, we say “what I wanted to do today, that I forgot.” These symbols function in “direct reference” to help us to hang on to the felt meaning. Insofar as they do that, it is accidental that they also symbolize an explicit part of the felt meaning. If we happened to know nothing about the felt meaning, we would employ symbols such as “this feeling” and ask ourselves to concentrate on (that is, directly refer to) “this feeling” to discover what it is.

[3] Throughout this study we shall speak in terms of relationships between feelings and symbols. Feelings will be said to perform certain functions, and similarly, symbols will be said to perform certain functions. Sometimes this terminology may make it appear that symbols are separate agents. We will do our best to avoid this impression by stressing that we are discussing functional relationships in which neither symbols nor feelings are separate. Another terminology might make this clearer: instead of ascribing “symbolic function” to symbols, it can be ascribed to experiencing. One can say that experiencing obtains a symbolic function by means of symbols. This terminology is equivalent to the one being used above. We shall continue to speak of the function of symbols, but this can always be viewed as the symbolic function of experiencing by means of symbols.

[4] From now on we shall refer to this inclusive sense of “symbols” as “symbols in the widest sense.” This will mean not only verbal and representative symbols, but also objects, acts, and anything that can specify an experience.

[5] Some of the previously mentioned philosophers struggle mightily with this type of functional relationship between symbolic and felt meaning. Recall Sartre’s “debased knowledge” (see Appendix).

[6] This account of the generation of meaning by two mutually dependent functions is not, of course, a satisfactory definition of meaning. Put another way, meaning in direct reference is felt meaning and is defined as that which is set off or marked off as in some sense “one,” “a,” or “this” referent. Still, we do not understand from this account how feeling is meaningful by virtue of being marked off or referred to. We must consider this question later, when we have other functional relationships with which to examine the question (see Chapter V).

The excerpt above starts at the beginning of Chapter 3 and finishes at the end of section [A],1; pages 90-100.

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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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Gendlin’s Preface to ECM

Preface To The Paper Edition, 1997
Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning
Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D.

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Text below is from TFI

Philosophy has currently moved almost to the edge where this philosophy begins.  The project on which it embarks is still not widely recognized, but with the current “postmodern” debates, most philosophy and most disciplines are on the brink of it.

The project is to enter into how concepts (logical forms, distinctions, rules, algorithms, computers, categories, patterns …..) relate to experiencing (situations, events, therapy, metaphoric language, practice, human intricacy …..).  Or, we can phrase it: how experiencing (…..) functions in our cognitive and social activities.

Of course one cannot stand outside this relation in order to conduct such an examination. The relations to be examined will obtain in the very process of examining.  Experiencing will play some of its roles in the process of speaking about — and with — them.  This philosophy is therefore constantly reflexive.  It can say what it says only as what it talks about also functions in the very saying.  And since it tells how the experiential side always exceeds the concepts, this also happens in the concepts right here.  The “functional relationships” and “characteristics” set forth in this book are themselves specific ways in which their own formulation can be exceeded.  The curiosity about how this might be possible is an appetite I would like to rouse in my reader.

Once we can employ the roles of experiencing (…..) to think with and about these very roles, we can think with them about anything else as well.  The project requires and makes possible a thinking that employs more than conceptual logic, rules, or distinctions. We become able to think with the intricacy of situations (experience, practice,….)

But don’t we always employ this already?  Logical inferences are never pure.  There is always a situation, an implicit experiential context that is more …..than any formed form. What can we add to this?  Nothing less than a whole new power of human thinking.  If we enter into how this more ….. functions, we become able to employ it deliberately, and find that many ways of thought open from it, which otherwise did not exist.

But experiencing and concepts (or symbols) are surely not two separated things that have to become “related.”  Each is always already implicit in the other.  There is no “unsymbolized experiencing” anymore than there is “pure logic”.  Even without explicit words or concepts, experiencing is “symbolized” at least by the interactions and situations in which experiencing happens.  But if there is always only both, how can we attribute a role to experiencing rather than to the inseparable symbolization?  If every moment is both, it has seemed impossible to know what is done by the one rather than the other.  But there is a way to discern their different roles — in the transitions from one statement or action to another.

The move from one step of thought or speech to the next may come by a conceptual inference.  Or there may simply be an interruption, a change to something else.  One might report events, telling what happened next.  We are also culturally habituated to act in certain situations by saying certain common phrases which lead smoothly to other common phrases.

But the next step may also arise through an experiential connection.   How we experience the situation may lead us to a next step which makes sense, but could not follow in any of the other ways.  This often happens without special notice, but sometimes we pause to refer directly to experiencing.  Direct reference is itself a change, and then leads to a further move. There are different kinds of experiential moves.  Each exceeds the form that existed at the previous step.

Obviously there is no final formulation of the ways in which moves from experiencing can exceed a formulation.  We could distinguish more kinds of further moves, or use other respects to distinguish kinds.  Our new “basis” is not any one list, but the wider experiential-interactional functioning.  Throughout the book I show how we might formulate differently.  We can juxtapose other models and approaches with different results, yet we still stand in the ongoing experiencing.

The conceptual variety would be mere relativism, if there were nothing else.  But when we enter and employ experiencing, even a few distinctions among kinds of moves will open exciting avenues, a whole new arena.  When distinctions and concepts are “relative to” experiencing, it turns out that they need not be ultimate.

Since our project is unavoidable, even a poor first attempt can help, and I think this is a good one.  This cannot long remain only one, so the reader can be ready to improve on what is done here.

The kind of transition I call “direct reference” is itself a kind of symbolizing. It lifts out (creates, finds, synthesizes, differentiates …..) a “this,” which was not a this before.  When we seem to find what “was” there, we have actually moved further.  We do not need a false equation.  No equation is possible between implicit and explicit.  What matters is the way in which the next step follows from (continues, carries forward, makes sense from …..)what preceded it.

One result is to enable us to enter the implicit context of scientific logic.  We must not merely denigrate logic.  It has developed enormous sophistication in our time.  It has brought the wonderful technology that enables many more people to live, and live better than before.  But now it is computerizing our decisions and redesigning the animals with careless genetic engineering “for the market.”  It threatens to redesign our bodies as well.  As we become able to think in the implicit experiential context of science, we can develop ways to bring more than the market to bear on scientific and social policies.

On the other side there has been a great development also in human experiencing, with therapeutic and interpersonal processes.  Where people used to be silent, now they have a developed vocabulary with which to explore and express their experiential and relational intricacies.  The old community in which people related mostly in roles has broken down, and new kinds of community are only just beginning to develop, in which we can relate from our intricacy , from coming freshly into language (for example, “focusing partnerships,” “Changes groups,” and many kinds of support groups).  How to think with all this is an exciting and still very open question.

Both developments require examining the relation between experiencing and concepts.  That is the project which this book opens.

Today most philosophers find only discouragement in the recognition that all statements and logical inferences are conditioned by someone’s situation, by the biases of culture and social class, usually summed up as “history and language.”   Wittgenstein, Dilthey, and Heidegger have powerfully shown that our subjective experiences are not just inner reactions; they are our interactions in life and situations.  They are immediate interactional meanings.  This brings a vast change.  It eliminates the old model of the five senses and interpretation.

Wittgenstein has convincingly shown that the sense we make with language is not controlled by concepts, logical forms, distinctions, rules, or generalizations.   But if universal and “objective” concepts are not possible, it can seem as if there is nothing for philosophy to do.

There is no pure logic, no neutral conceptual inference alone, but the import of this has been misunderstood.  It is true that conclusions do not follow just from clean rational progressions, objectively and neutrally by logic alone .  Not only are there all sorts of “biases,” but nothing can be fitted into logic without first being cut into the little unit factors which can fit into logical slots.  And, if one slightly changes even one such unit, the logical inferences are utterly undone.  The use of logic is always enmeshed in the wider context from which units must first be made.  Adding one more little bit from there can lead the cleanest logic into contradictions.  So it is not mysterious why logic and conceptual inference can always be disorganized and ruptured.  Logical arguments now seem useless in philosophy.  It has been understood that everything depends on what one fills into the logic, and this cannot be decided by logic.

This recognition leads many philosophers into an error: Because logical conceptual inference is never pure, these philosophers deny and ignore the evident power of what is (wrongly called) “pure” logical inference, but we can come to understand what sort of a process “pure” logical inference really is, and why it has its great power.  We can enter and examine the implicit experiential functions involved in pursuing the logical implications as if alone.   At other times, perhaps moments later, we also need to explicate the implicit context, rather than holding it as-if apart.  Very different implicit experiential roles make that possible as well.  Logic and experiencing are both involved both times, but in quite different ways.

How can one dismiss logic, just when it is changing everything around us?

But in the current debates, only one group seems to appreciate the powers of logic, while the other is alone in knowing the limits.  These two groups hardly speak to each other.  We can hope to develop a society-wide understanding of the power of logical deduction, as well as ways in which we can employ the wider process of human sense-making. They have distinguishable powers.   We need to become able to think how they function in each other.

Rather than being mired in one hopeless mix of broken concepts and biasing experiences, we can open a new arena: We can enter and speak with (and thereby about) some of the roles played by ongoing experiencing.

From where does this philosophy stem?  It moves on from Dilthey, Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty (and indirectly Heidegger(1)), also McKeon, Peirce and Dewey, as well as Plato, Aristotle, Leibnitz, Kant and Hegel.  My recognition of certain difficulties is very European, but my emphasis on situations, practice, action, feedback, transitions and progressions is very North American.

A New Philosophy can begin with the recognition that we can assume neither that the world (…..) is ordered as a logical or conceptual system, nor that it is arbitrary as if “anything goes.” There was always a conflicting variety of “ultimate” definitions of truth and goodness.  The great error today is to assume that something is lost by this recognition.  Instead, we discover that we can think with the greater precision and intricacy that is characteristic of situation, experience, practice, action …...  This is more orderly and precise than the pretended, overarching definitions.

Rather than a second-choice or compromise, it becomes our preference to speak and think with the way words can exceed their conceptual structure even while employing that structure.  In use they always elicit effects that are more precise and demanding than could follow just from the structure.

There are ways to employ this experienced “excess” deliberately in a stronger and more critical thinking.  We can read and think a “…..” after every assertion.  We need not lose the conceptual implications if we also think with the …...  In this way we always have more than logic in play, not less.

We are introducing a great change in the relation between concepts and experience (situations …..).  We are changing the notions of perception, interpretation, and mediation. We deny not only the ultimate validity of any set of general, cultural, historical, conceptual, or linguistic assumptions.  We also deny the postmodern assumption that all order, meaning, and rationality in situations is totally derivative from historical determinants.  It is true that we are never without them, but life and situations always make much more intricate sense than could follow just from the historical determinants.  They do not function like logical premises, as if all further happenings will be subsumed under them.  They are not “the” conditions that make experience possible.  History and culture only elaborate an animal body that lives interactionally directly in situations, and continues to perform vital and noticeable functions in speech and thought.

Applying any concept elicits an experiential feedback.  We can let our next step of thought come from this experiential feedback, rather than only from the concept.  We can think with both conceptual and experiential steps, a “zig-zag” which employs both powers.  It can make new sense, and lead us to modify our concepts, rather than being confined in them, or ending in mere contradictions.   Experiential thinking moves beyond postmodern “rupture” and contradiction.

The Introduction and Chapter 1 lead to the project: of examining the roles which experiential meaning plays in cognition.  This is only a modest statement of the problem as is proper before embarking.  A number of strands both in philosophy and in the social sciences lead to this problem and project.

Chapter 2 show that experiential meaning plays vital roles in cognition.

Chapter 3 presents some “functional relationships” between experiencing and cognition, especially “metaphor,” “comprehension” (when one speaks from what is now called a “felt sense.”), “relevance,” and “circumlocution.”

The “theory” of metaphor (really the relationship of the logical and experiential functions in metaphor) is currently still working its way through the climate of thought and research.  The metaphoric creation ….. of new likenesses, the so-called “emergent qualities” has been recognized, but it is not yet understood that every word has a newly precise emergent meaning in its situation(2).

Is it creation?  Might it not be a synthesizing, a differentiating, a making, or a finding?  We know that no one of these conflicting cognitive systems has priority over the others, and they do not have priority over the way the metaphoric process functions — to give an immediate result which we only later explain by interpolating similarities and differences.  (See my “Crossing and Dipping” and “What Happens When Wittgenstein Asks AWhat Happens When …?”)

Chapter 4A presents the reversal of the usual philosophical order.   Rather than giving some cognitive system priority and reading it into experience, our philosophy recognizes the priority of making experiential sense (as in metaphors or in speaking from a felt sense).  Once that has occurred, we can explain it by interpolating cognitive units in retrospect, (but this is a further experiential process which brings new further implications).

The reversal makes a new and more radical empiricism possible.  The current rejection of empiricism in favor of the view that we “construct” nature stems from the recognition that different hypotheses bring different findings.  This creates the illusion that empirical findings depend just on the hypotheses (and on the biases, political pressures, and choices among questions and approaches).  The desire for a single map or system must be given up (why would we want nature to be so poor?), but not truth.  Our scientific assertions change all the time, but what this book calls “metaphor” and “comprehension” leads to a kind of truth that does not require statements to remain the same.

Empirical findings do not depend just on the choice of the hypotheses.   Experiencing (event, nature, practice, situation …..) does respond differently to different hypotheses, procedures, and ways of unitizing, but always with more intricacy than could have been derived from what we had in our approach to it.   Contrary to the current view, nature is not arbitrary or invented.  It is more orderly than a cognitive system.  It is a “responsive order” which gives various, but always more exact results than could have been constructed or deduced. It leads to an empiricism that is not naive.

Chapter 4B lays out ten “Characteristics” which have been called “a logic of experiencing” (of some of its roles in cognition).  The characteristics show how differently experiencing and logic function together, compared to logic “alone.”  Here are some examples:

Experiencing is “non-numerical” and “multischematic” but never just anything you please.  On the contrary, it is a more precise order not limited to one set of patterns and units.

When we think with experiencing as well as logic, a sub-sub-detail can come to redetermine the widest categories.  A theory may lead to an experiential detail, but from the detail much can follow which cannot follow from the theory.

Between two things many new experiences can be created.  Therefore any concept or relationship can be applied (found, created …..) between any two things.   (But even wild playful metaphors have to make sense where they occur.)

Unlike the usual model of limited degrees of freedom, the more requirements one imposes, the more new possibilities are opened.  When any two meaningscross experientially, the result is not their lowest common denominator but new experiences which could not have followed logically from either.  In retrospect we commonly but wrongly say that they “were” implicit, but the relation which does obtain can be characterized and employed.

Chapter 5 moves in line with these characteristics.  It shows that one can go on from any point not only from what is being said, but also from the process of saying it.  The chapter is self-instancing. It moves many times from the process-side of what it says.

The chapter also shows the IOFI principle, (“instance of itself”).  Any human meaning is always “such” a meaning, but not in one category or under one universal.  Rather, from any (so-called) “particular” supposedly subsumed under a category we can generate countless new universals.  These are ways in which any “this” experiencing is an instance of such experiencing.  Each universal (each respect in which we say it is “such”) can be taken as an experiential “particular” from which new universals can be generated.  Thinking is much more powerful when it can move along IOFI lines.

Chapter 6 shows how one can take all texts and propositions experientially even if they were not so intended, and how one can think on from any text or proposition both experientially and logically.

Chapter 7 shifts the usual representational puzzle in the social sciences to a new approach in terms of different manners of process.   It is shown how the content of experience is generated by the process of experiencing.  The kind of content one will find depends upon what manner of process is happening.

The process variables for research proposed here have led to the Experiencing Scale and a continuing sequence of research studies(3), as well as the “focusing” procedure used in many fields to teach the process of referring directly to one’s (at first unclear) bodily sense of any concern, project, or juncture of a discussion(4).  The kind of thinking that was developed in this book has had applications in various fields including physics(5), and in the teaching of writing(6).  There have been many developments.

A professor of architecture in Austria says: “The style today is called ‘individual,’ because each architect takes little bits from old buildings and puts them together in a new arrangement.  But I teach the students to use focusing.   With focusing I take a building I love, for instance my grandmother’s old house in the mountains, and I let the felt sense of it come to me.  {This is the felt meaning, the bodily ‘comprehension,’ the …...} From the felt sense I design a whole new modern building which uses nothing that looks like my grandmother’s house.”

Neither in life nor in philosophy are we limited to rearranging the existing, already-formed things and concepts.  We can engage the experiential meanings.  We can deliberately employ and expand the vital roles which they perform(7).

Philosophy can reopen the old assumptions and conceptual models if we think with our more intricate experiencing as well as with logic.  We can think everything more truly if we think it philosophically, that is with attention to how we think it, and with the critical understanding that no concept, rule, or distinction ever equals experiencing, — but may carry it forward. Our more intricate experiencing is not thereby replaced.  It is always still there and open to being carried forward in new ways, but never arbitrarily, always only in quite special and precise ways.



(1) For my relation to Heidegger, see my “Phenomenology as non-logical steps” In E. F. Kaelin & C.O. Schrag (Eds.), Analecta Husserliana, Vol. XXVI. American phenomenology. Origins and developments, (pp. 404-410). Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1989 and

my “Analysis,” In Heidegger, M. What Is a Thing? (Chicago: Regnery. 1968).

Also “Befindlichkeit”: Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, 16 (1-3), 43-71, 1978/79 and

“Dwelling,” In Silverman H., Mickunas A., Kissel T., and Lingis A. (eds.), The Horizons of Continental Philosophy: (Dordrecht, Kluwer. 1988), pp. 149-150.back

(2) See my Reply to Mark Johnson In Levin, D.M., ed., Language Beyond Postmodernism: Saying, Thinking, and Experiencing In Gendlin’s Philosophy. Northwestern U. Press, 1997.

See also Schneider, H.J. Die Leibbezogenheit des Sprechens: Zu den Ansätzen von Mark Johnson and Eugene T. Gendlin, Synthesis Philosophica, Zagreb, 1995.back

(3) “What Comes After Traditional Psychotherapy Research?” American Psychologist, 41 2, 1986, 131-136. See also: Focusing Folio Research Issue, 16, 1-2, 1997.back

(4) Focusing (Second edition) New York: Bantam Books, 1981. (Translations: Danish, Dutch, French, German:, Hungarian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish:, Swedish.) and Focusing Partnerships. New York: Focusing Publications, Focusing Institute, 1996.

See also:
Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy
, N.Y.:Guilford, 1996. especially chapter 21 on values and experiential differentiation, and

“A Philosophical critique of the concept of narcissism,” In: Levin, D. (Ed.), Pathologies of The Modern Self, 251-304. N.Y. University Press, 1987. In German, see Körperbezogenes Philosophieren.140 pps.Focusing Bibliothek DAF 5,Würzburg: 1994.back

(5) See Gendlin, E. T. and Lemke, J., “A Critique of Relativity and Localization,” Mathematical Modeling, vol. 4, 1983, pp. 61-72.back

(6) See Elbow, P. and Belanoff, P. A Community of Writers, New York: Random House, 1989, and

Perl, S., A Writer’s Way of Knowing: Guidelines for Composing. In Writing and the Domain Beyond the Cognitive. Brand, A. and Graves, R. (eds.), Portsmouth: Boynton-Cook Press, 1994.back

(7) Process Ethics and the Political Question. In A-T. Tymieniecka (Ed.), Analecta Husserliana. Vol. XX, Reidel. 1986, (reprinted In Focusing Folio, 5 (2), 68-87. 1986).

Thinking Beyond Patterns: Body, Language and Situations. In B. den Ouden & M. Moen (Eds.), The presence of feeling in thought, (pp. 25-151). New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

“The Primacy of the Body, not the Primacy of Perception.” Man and World, 25 (3-4), 1992.


“What are the grounds of explication statements? A problem in lignuistic analysis and phenomenology.” The Monist, Vol 49, No. 1, 1965. Reprinted with French translation in: The Human Context, Vol V, No. 3, 1973. Reprinted in Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology. Durfee, H.A. (Ed.). The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff, 1976.

“Meaning prior to the separation of the five senses.” In: Stamenov, M. (Ed.), Current Issues In Linguistic Theory: Current Advances In Semantic Theory. Benjamin Publishing Co.: Amsterdam / Philadelphia. 1992.

Die Umfassende Rolle des Körpergefühls im Denken und Sprechen. Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 41, 4, 693-706. 1993.

Crossing and Dipping: Some Terms for Approaching the Interface Between Natural Understanding and Logical Formation. Minds and Machines, V., 4. 1995 (Spanish translation In Alemany, C., ed., La Aportación de Eugene T. Gendlin. Madrid: Brouwer 1999).

A Process Model, In eight parts, 422 pps. Focusing Publications and, 1996.

“How Philosophy cannot Appeal to Experience, and How It Can.” In Levin, D.M., ed., Language Beyond Postmodernism: Saying, Thinking, and Experiencing In Gendlin’s Philosophy. (Fourteen Commentaries and my replies.) Northwestern University, Evanston, 1997.

“What Happens When Wittgenstein Asks, “What Happens When…?” 1997 In press.

Depestele, F. A Primary Bibliography of Eugene Gendlin. Tijdschrift voor Psychotherapie, #1, 1996. back

Copyright 1997 Eugene T. Gendlin. All rights reserved.

Testimonials & Notes on Rob’s teaching

Question: “Rob’s essay on the Implicit, on his web-site, was very clear.  I find Gene’s philosophical writing tougher to parse – not enough examples –  so it seems like Rob might be a good teacher.  Do you agree?” 

It is a lively hour when we meet!  Many participate in the discussions and Rob has a remarkable way of listening to really hear what someone is asking in a question. As Rob models this listening we  learn to listen to ourselves and others more and more. Rob refers us to this quote from  Wittgenstein:

“Why is philosophy so complicated? It ought to be entirely simple. Philosophy unties the knots in our thinking that we have, in a senseless way, put there. To do this it must make movements that are just as complicated as these knots. Although the result of philosophy is simple, its method cannot be if it is to succeed. The complexity of philosophy is not a complexity of its subject matter, but of our knotted understanding.”        – Ludwig Wittgenstein

Sherpa for studying Gendlin’s writings

“I sense good teachers of this material need to have done their own inner work (this is about more than intellect), or risk having their own emotional blocks or lack of spiritual awareness impede progress toward clarity.  Do you think Rob Parker has done so?” 

In response to your question about Rob’s sensitivity, Rob has a lovely way of distilling the concepts and emphasizing the essence of the reading. Rob is flexible in addressing each person’s question and responding to comments. He patiently develops a theme until there is some sense of satisfaction for everyone.  At the same time Rob stops a discussion if it is too far afield of the study; often he will offer time after the end of the first hour of the seminar to develop a thread, postponing the question. These discussions are included in the recording, so those who are interested but cannot stay are able to listen later.

As a Focusing Oriented therapist, Rob contributes to several community projects such as a program for troubled teenagers and the rehabilitation of batterers and their families in New York. Rob practices meditation and shows us how spiritual practice parallels principles of the Process Model.  Yes, he continues to do his own inner work.  Process Model is itself a practice for Rob and many of us in the seminars. I find Rob to be a good teacher and a very kind person with concern for all of humanity. 

Rob’s Teaching Talent