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Gisela Uhl The concept of Life — with comments about Aristotle, Gendlin’s Process Model, and Human Life as inherently political

July 4, 2022
Help for Helpers
Corona Plaza Life

ABOUT GISELA UHL

Gisela Uhl became a certified Focusing teacher in Toronto in 1997.  With a background in social studies and city planning, she has always been very interested in psychology, social questions, and philosophy which she studied extensively while living in England, former British Guyana/South America, and Toronto/Canada. She studied Gendlin’s philosophy with Rob Foxcroft in Scotland and became a friend of Gene Gendlin, with whom she was especially close during the last 1-2 years of his life. Gene introduced her to Dave, and since then, the two of them have enjoyed regular discussions about the relationship between Focusing and Politics.

REGISTRATION LINK: July 4, 2022, at Help for Helpers, Corona Plaza Life

Monday 5:15 am Pacific / 8:15 am New York 

This group is a weekly gathering to empower, hearten and encourage therapists, counselors, teachers and helpers of all kinds. It is a way to begin our week by accompanying each other, with embodied listening and connection, to meet the profound challenges of this time.

We will start the meetings with a brief reflection on how focusing can nurture, inspire and steady us, so that we can be present for others. A focusing conversation will emerge from what ever is present for us in the moment.

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OUTLINE 

“Life”, when it is defined in regard to humans, is not just “life”    —     it is more: 

human living is more than living as a species. 

 

What distinguishes us from life forms existing just as a species, is that humans are literally the makers of their own evolution. 

By interacting with nature in such a way that nature is transformed, we recreate our own living and hereby change ourselves. 

The face of the earth is changed by human activity. 

 Click for more … or see below the line!

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“Life”, when it is defined in regard to humans, is not just “life”    —     it is more: 

human living is more than living as a species. 

 

What distinguishes us from life forms existing just as a species, is that humans are literally the makers of their own evolution. 

By interacting with nature in such a way that nature is transformed, we recreate our own living and hereby change ourselves. 

The face of the earth is changed by human activity. 

 

Moreover: humans, individuals, can only exist in the context of their social organization (if I isolate myself completely from society, I will not be able to survive…). However, this organization is hierarchical: politically oppressive, ideological manipulative, economically exploitative, alienating, socially discriminating, in religious matters, indoctrinating. Gene said: we live in a structural political context, and it can help to sense ourselves in it.

 

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Now to Aristotle. We are getting here to how his thinking relates to our modern way of living.

Saying something first: 

Aristotle’s influence in philosophy (this is according to Ernst Bloch, a recent German philosopher with affiliation to the Marxist-oriented “Frankfurt School”), pointed out that there is a progressive line emanating from Aristotle to the present, and there is also a non-progressive, conservative line. Both lines have roots in Aristotle. 

 

It is remarkable that Gendlin took the effort to comment on Aristotle’s De Anima (About the Soul), and even line by line. 

There are two aspects to this, as far as I can see:

—   one is Aristotle’s method of developing concepts (see A Process Model, at the end: “I want to be my own Plato and Aristotle” regarding concept development)     —    Aristotle begins to discuss the soul in part 1, then starts all over from a different angle in part 2 ……. 

—   how Aristotle defines what is “life”.

 

When I read this with Rob Parker and Ann Weiser, I realized the stunning parallels what Aristotle says about the soul and what Gendlin calls “implying” in A Process Model. It seems he got a lot from Aristotle about what life “is”    —   but we need to note, that Gene’s concepts are concepts of a process! I cannot stress this point enough! Aristotle thinks in terms of formal logic and clearly defined concepts, Gene’s concepts are defined in regards to how they function in a process and are hereby changing! They do not remain the same, depending on in what respect, in relation to what, they are functioning in a process. This needs to be said. We are not used to this. We tend to think about the world as an assembly of things (and about society as an assembly of people), and, when we think about it all, take ourselves as observers of it all. The Frankfurt Schools calls this “re-ification” (making everything into a “thing” —   see also: Martin Heidegger, “What is a Thing”, a book Gendlin felt he had to translate into English as a student, and did, however, he had it edited and does not appear as translator, but wrote a commentary which is included in the English edition).

 

How would we, when we think with our usual way of thinking, classify what is there in the world? What would be the main distinction?

………….

 

Wouldn’t we say, oh, there are living “things” (plants, animals, also micro-organisms we do not see), and dead, non-living things (sand and rocks, pure water, air)  –  –  –   yes?

 

I find it very interesting, that Aristotle categorizes differently. Gendlin points this out:

Aristotle distinguishes between natural things (both animate=alive, and non-animate=dead) on one side, and on the other, artificial (human-made) things, like tools. That way, he groups non-animate things like rocks, etc. under nature!

 

So we have nature and man-made things as the two main categories. Life, then, can be seen as a process that replenishes itself continuously through what is in nature. Air, water, food    —    except for salt, food is alive things; plants and animals    —   continuously restore life…….life is a process that continuously needs to be nourished. Amazingly, Aristotle has “nutrition” (we would say also: “metabolism”) being the most basic activity of the soul! The “functional cycle” in Gene’s Process Model, which is right at the beginning, in Chapter 2, is also that: eating, digesting, defecating, resting, getting hungry again, eating, etc., etc., etc. AND THE WHOLE CYCLE IS ONE IMPLYING, not cut up in bits and pieces! Aristotle’s term “nutrition,” says that in one word; Gendlin explains it in his term “implying” and hereby differentiates it tremendously.

 

((I am so happy not to have to be “philosophical” in an academic sense, and write like Rob Parker. I can talk naturally, without worries about who else said what and what exactly is the difference among these people and how they differ from Gene and so on and so on, trying to make sure no one can refute what I am saying, yet almost certainly having to face objections later on! I there are questions or additions feel free to raise them!))

 

In my understanding, Aristotle states that it is the soul that makes a body alive; without it, it would just be a piece of dead material. And what does “alive” mean? In Gendlin’s term, it is “implying” that keeps the process of life going   —   importantly, it goes on by itself (“es geht von alleine weiter”, he said to me in a conversation about “occurring into implying”). Nothing needs to come from outside to direct the process. Also, nothing had to come from outside living bodies to direct their process. Life goes on by itself. It is the soul, the implying inside us, that remakes our living continuously (as long as we can take in food and water). 

 

When you read Aristotle, you’ll find that he makes distinctions about things that cannot be really divided, like body and soul. A soul without a body, what would that be? In the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle’s teacher, souls “migrate” between the physical and another world, the world of “ideas”; and all we know is not knowledge acquired in our life here, but a reminiscence of what our soul knew in the other world. Aristotle thinks differently. He talks about the physical world and thinks about that. This is the progressive aspect of Aristotle, from which a progressive line of philosophies derives. On the other hand, when Aristotle says that there is always a body of a soul, I feel, he has it upside down: he says indirectly here, that there is a soul first, then there is the soul getting a body……it is like saying there is a blue flower of the blue-ness (blue-ness being something in the ideal world which then manifests in the physical world). The right way round would be, that there is a blue colour of the flower, for the flower is first, with the blue colour being one of its features. Here, I think, we find Plato shining through. And this is also that aspect of Aristotle’s philosophy from which conservative philosophies could arise………

 

Gendlin does not say such things. He strictly sticks to the text. I allowed myself to critically explore it. Not sticking to the Chicago method (re: Gendlin, How to read a Philosopher)……….but I feel I need to critically explore……..and I do not think my critique shows a lack of understanding…….rather the opposite! 

 

Finally, I repeat what I wrote to Katarina about Aristotle’s main distinctions: 

it is the distinction between nature (dead and alive things) and artificial things     —     which are human-made.

When I think this further, it is Nature and Society: for human-made things are only possible to be made when there is a human society with division of labour! Just imagine what it takes to have a simple tool like an axe……….!! Could one human being achieve that ??? It is really nature on one side, and society on the other. The question is: how is this relationship of us & our human society and nature? It is Marx’s central question here. 

This relationship needs to be questioned, it needs to be examined critically. For our relationship with nature is not collaborative, but exploitative……We view the world in terms of things to be used and exploited……..human society needs a new, different kind of relationship with nature…….. and among human beings themselves…….