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Eugene Gendlin

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Eugene T. Gendlin is an American philosopher and psychotherapist who has developed ways of thinking about and working with the implicit. Gendlin received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago where he also taught for many years. He is best known for Focusing and Thinking at the Edge, two procedures for thinking with more than patterns and concepts, which grew out of his philosophy.

Gendlin's philosophy goes beyond relativism and postmodernism. He agrees with postmodernists that culture and language are always already implicit in our experiencing and in our concepts. Empirical testing is crucial, but it does not keep science from changing every few years. No assertions are simply "objective".

However, Gendlin goes further in at least two ways:

1. Gendlin points out that the universe (and everything in it) is implicitly more intricate than our concepts, because a) it includes them, and b) all concepts and logical units are generated in a wider, more than conceptual process (which Gendlin calls implicit intricacy). This wider process is more than logical, in a way that has a number of characteristic regularities. Gendlin has shown that it is possible to refer directly to this process in the context of a given problem or situation, and systematically to generate new concepts and more precise logical units.
2. Because we are ongoing interaction with the world (we breathe, eat, and interact with others in every context and in any field in which we work), our bodies are a "knowing" which is more than conceptual, and which implies further steps. Thus, it is possible for us to drive a car while carrying on an animated conversation; and possible for Einstein to say that he had a "feel" for his theory years before he could formulate it.
Because we are ongoing interaction with the world, our living in the world has a kind of ongoing validity. Each move, from pumping blood to discussing philosophy, implies a next step, an organic carrying forward. We feel this carrying forward both in the move itself and in the feedback it generates: at each moment, we feel how things are going and what is implied next. With specific training, one can learn to attend to this feel more deeply, so that a holistic felt sense of the whole situation can form.
A felt sense is quite different from "feeling" in the sense of emotions; it is our body's awareness of our ongoing life process. Because a felt sense is a living interaction in the world, it is not relative the way concepts are. A felt sense is more ordered than concepts and has its own properties, different from those of logic; for example, it is very precise, more intricate, and can be conceptualized in a variety of nonarbitrary ways. Much of Gendlin's philosophy is concerned with showing how this implicit bodily knowing functions in relation to logic. For example, Gendlin has found that when the felt sense is allowed to function in relation to concepts, each carries the other forward, through steps of deeper feel and new formulation.
Gendlin underlines that we can (and often do) "progress" in our understanding, and that this does involve transitions in which existing conceptual models are disrupted, but that we can "feel" when a carrying forward in insight is, and is not, occurring. We can "feel" this because our logical conceptions are dependent on a more intricate order, which is living-in-the-world. Useful concepts derive from and are relative to this more than logical, intricate order, not the other way round.

Gendlin's philosophy has led to the development of two practical procedures which can be used by people who know nothing about philosophy.

The first procedure, Focusing, emerged from Gendlin's collaboration with psychologist Carl Rogers. Gendlin developed a way of measuring the extent to which an individual refers to a felt sense; and he found in a series of studies that therapy clients who have positive outcomes do much more of this. He then developed a way of teaching people to refer to their felt sense, so clients could do better in therapy. This training is called 'Focusing'. Further research showed that Focusing can be used outside of therapy to address a variety of issues. It is described in Gendlin's book, Focusing, which has sold over 400,000 copies and is printed in twelve languages.

In recognition of this work, Gendlin was the first person to receive the "Distinguished Professional Psychologist of the Year" award from the Clinical Division of the American Psychological Association.

The worldwide dissemination of focusing has been facilitated by the existence of a central organization, the Focusing Institute. This is tightly controlled by Gendlin and two close colleagues (its three voting members), but has skillfully promoted diversity of practice amongst Focusing teachers, and currently (2005) has about 1,500 non-voting subscribers in over 50 countries.

The second procedure, Thinking at the Edge (TAE), is a way of developing one's implicit knowing into an articulated theory. For example, a professional might have had an inchoate felt sense for a problem for many years. Using TAE, it is possible to develop concepts that explicate the felt sense very precisely so that what was implicit knowledge can generate an explicit theory that can contribute to the field. TAE is currently being taught and applied in a variety of settings ranging from business to psychotherapy.

Gendlin's two major philosophical works are Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, which develops explicit ways of approaching the implicit; and A Process Model, which demonstrates this method by developing a body of consistent concepts for thinking about organic process, with implications for our thinking about space, time, science, genetics, ethology, consciousness, language, and spirituality.

Gendlin's writings on focusing and psychotherapy include :-

  • Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams
  • Focusing Oriented Psychotherapy

His philosophical works include :-

  • Crossing and Dipping: Some Terms for Approaching the Interface between Natural Understanding and Logical Formulation
  • The Responsive Order: A New Empiricism
  • The Primacy of the body, not the primacy of perception: How the body knows the situation and philosophy
  • Thinking Beyond Patterns: Body, Language, and Situations
  • How philosophy cannot appeal to experience, and how it can (in D.M. Levin [Ed.], Language beyond postmodernism: saying and thinking in Gendlin's philosophy, pp. 3-41 & 343).

Many of Gendlin's writings available online at the Focusing Institute.

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