A Process Model: Gendlin’s Radical Reconceptualization of the Body
Makes a Wider Ground for Philosophy and Living
Presented at SPEP, New Orleans, October 23, 2014
Each philosophy in some way uniquely undercuts and re-positions extant terms. Eugene Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit does this in a very noticeable way. A Process Model (Gendlin, 1997) cuts deeply, seemingly comprehensively, into the very ground of thinking, creating an effective new ground, a second alternative basis, from which anything might be differently and fruitfully thought, known, had, understood.
Gendlin’s model is understandable in what his concepts freshly do. A paper describing an experiential approach to reading Gendlin’s text is available. (Dunaetz, 2006) To understand Gendlin’s model one must directly engage the text, and more than once.
In A Process Model, Gendlin is thinking before the deep assumptions underlying the extant language-kind-structure. The text shows how he does this, as the conceptual development itself reflexively instances what it is “about.”
Some old and stubborn problems in philosophy (e.g., body/mind, free will/determinism, nature/nurture) do not even arise in Gendlin’s model. When one understands Gendlin, one sees that these classical problems were rooted in the deepest assumptions of earlier thinking, and one wonders whether they could ever be solved within the very conceptual frame which produces them as problems in the first place.
Gendlin’s Process Model is wider. It encompasses more than the usual “everything.” What it does, what it makes newly possible, is not already-in the extant system of kinds and categories. How it does this is also not already-in. Gendlin’s work is not metaphysics.
Gendlin’s process-concepts are implicit in each other and, together, they have something of the organization of the body. Using a phenomenological attention to the body’s implicit functioning, Gendlin fashions concepts which bring along with them the vast complexity that any living already always is. Gendlin derives and fundamentally reconceives our human capacities without unbridgeable gaps in thinking, without reliance on terms that are only opaque and without leaving us feeling like alien-others on this robustly-living planet.
An occurring is much more change than just what actually happens! A seemingly illogical statement, but don’t we all experience something like this? For example, a little thing happens: while sleeping the phone unexpectedly rings at 2 a.m., and suddenly:
[!!!something happened to someone?! wrong number?! someone died?! alone now?! something wrong?! someone in trouble?! accident?! in a hospital?! needs help?! an old problem?! have to get up?! do something now?! in the morning?! won’t get enough sleep?! tomorrow different?! whole life different?!!!]
All this at once, bodily-meaningfully-felt (not separate thoughts), even before the second ring. The first ring is just the happening it is. But in the [!?!] so very much has implicitly changed! Meanwhile, one thinks to oneself only, “Oh shit.”
Thinking from such experiencing, Gendlin makes concepts for the implicitly-functioning [….], and in this way he fashions his new basic model.
The text begins by defining environment in terms of the living process and by defining the living process as an environmental going-on-further.
Environment can be the living process. Gendlin calls this “body-environment#2” or “en#2.” For example, in walking, foot-pressing and ground-resisting is one event, one organization. Each is as it is only with the other as it is—if one is different so would the other be different. Foot-pressing implies ground-resisting. Ground-resisting implies foot-pressing. What each is, is a function of the whole event. Said differently, interaction is first and determines the participants. (What is being pointed to here is findable in one’s own experience of walking.)
A spectator can always separate “foot” and “ground.” But the spectated environment, “en#1,” although very familiar to us, is derived later as a symbolic capacity. Environment-#2 is the living process.
En#3 is environment arranged by the body-en#2 process. En#3 is the beaver’s felled tree, the spider’s web, the mollusk’s shell—and also their concretely-built-up bodies.
The body-en#2 process goes on in the en#3. It goes on in its own product, much as musical performers go on in their own performance, or as two people go on in their own conversation. The process makes a context in which it goes on further. Changes in the body-en#2 process are also changes in body-en#3 structure.
En#3 is not just any environment. It has already an intrinsic relationship to the process which generates and regenerates it. En#3 reenters the process as en#2, and in reentering is changed, regenerated. Thus, en#3 is like a record, an action track, of the process: the tree’s rings, the mollusk’s shell, the hangover from last night’s party. The en#3 body is the past.
These definitions of environment are functional; they do not give identities, nor are they spatial-positional (the skin is not the great divide). A spectator can see the tree which the beaver has felled, but for the beaver the fallen tree has an intrinsic relationship to its further process. As part of the beaver’s en#3, the felled tree implies the beaver’s ongoing process. The ongoing beaver process implies its en#3, the tree it felled. The spectated fallen tree, on the other hand, is something only in the pattern space of the observer.
Body-en#2 and en#3 imply each other. Body-environment is one of six ways the body implies. Gendlin is reconceiving the body in terms of its implicit functioning.
Bodily Implying: Eveving, Focaling and Relevance
In Gendlin’s philosophy, there is no simple “is.” Every occurring is also an implying for further occurring. Any bit of living process (body-en#2) implies a next and whole string of body-en#2s. This is a second way the body implies, and this way is time:
Also in walking no single foot-pressure-ground-pressure-event simply is. If there were suddenly such a single is, the animal would fall. Its weight is already on the way to….Any bit to which one might point implies the whole movement of walking. Any occurring is also an implying of further occurring. And, each bit implies something different next. (Gendlin, 1997, p. 8)
Implying is conceived by Gendlin as a different kind of order, not consisting of determined, structured possibilities, but more finely-ordered than any explicit structure can be. Implying is not an occurring at an earlier position on a time line, not an event that is “not yet”; it is a function of the concretely-occurring process.
All past experience (including the much greater portion which has never been conceptualized and for which there has been no language, no way to think as part of the process) is bodily-implicit and participates in shaping the next event. Implying is conceived as a bodily crossing, an “interaffecting” of countless many implicit sequences of the body-en#3 past, a “focaling” of many aspects of experience into one implying.
The relevance of past experience is freshly-made in the crossing. The past that functions now, functions “not as itself,” not as the past that happened, but as “already-affected by” everything. Gendlin calls this “an interaffecting of everything already affected by everything” or “eveving.” Here we see Gendlin not putting fixed structure and identities first. The function of past experience is not along the lines of units, logics or similarity-relations. How some aspect of past experience may function now, may not have been any part of the event it was in the linear past. “How the past can function in the present can far exceed what it was in its linear time position or on someone’s record.” (Gendlin, 1997, p. 66)
The terms “bodily crossing,” “eveving,” “interaffecting,” and “implying” are roughly equivalent. The bodily crossing is neither a time span nor an event in its own right. Instead we say that every occurring is also an implying.
Implying is for not any specific occurring, but rather for some next occurring (body-en#2) that would change implying as it implies itself changed. Implying is thus open for whatever occurring would “carry forward” it, even while it is more finely-ordered than any explicit occurring. So we see both that the process forms relevantly, and that implying is neither discrete contents nor already-determined possibilities.
With such thinking Gendlin gives a quite different understanding of living responsiveness, continuity, and novelty. The process ongoingly regenerates its very organization; it cannot be explained as a “trajectory.” These new concepts can speak to a recognized problem in evolutionary biology regarding the source of variations in process and structure upon which natural selection acts.
Occurring, Carrying Forward, Stoppage and “An Object”
Environmental occurring is an occurring into implying, into the organization of the body. Therefore, an occurring is already a kind of “meaning” to the process, even before perception and consciousness develop.
When occurring changes implying as it implies itself changed, Gendlin calls this “carrying forward” the implying. For example, hunger is the implying of […]. If eating occurs, it occurs into the […] and changes it, carries forward it into a new […]. But the sequence is not predetermined; intravenous feeding may also carry forward the […], and so might other occurring which has never before been part of the process. Note that the implying does not happen; rather it is “carried” or “carried forward” by the occurring—and there is a new implying.
But what if some aspect of en#2 is missing? If implying is not changed as it implies itself changed, that is called “not carried-forward” or “stoppage,” and in that respect the implying remains the same, still implying as before.
If the organism does not die because of the stoppage, then the process goes on differently, without what is stopped. Insofar as the implying “remains the same” during a stoppage, the implying continues to imply the stopped body-en#2 process and therefore it continues to imply the missing en#2.
A stopped process is an unchanged implying carried by a changed occurring. It is carried by the process that does continue, by how that process goes on differently…. The carried stoppage is the body-version of the missing object. (Gendlin, 1997, pp. 18 & 19)
We can think of the missing environment#2 aspect as an “object” for the process, long before perception and consciousness develop. Oddly, this missing en#2 is an object only so long as it is missing! “As soon as the object recurs, the process resumes and changes the implying so that the object is no longer implied.” (Gendlin, 1997, p. 14) Primitive living process is conceived in such a way that later-developing capacities can be viewed as elaborative of it.
Stoppage is a major source of novelty in Gendlin’s model. During stoppage, the process goes on differently, without what is stopped. When the stopped process resumes, it does so into an organism changed by the stoppage. Upon resumption, the organism goes on as a new whole and not as it did before the stoppage.
Gendlin’s distinction “carrying forward/not carrying forward” is immediately both wider and more precise than the way statements can be true or false.
We saw above in “eveving” how occurring can be thought to regenerate the system of “possibilities” behind itself. This violation of linear time is deliberate and follows from Gendlin’s commitment to not read conceived structure before the basic process. Furthermore, Gendlin does not assume linear positional time as anything basic; it is derived later as a product of human symbolic process.
Gendlin derives a more primitive concept of time, from, or even as, the living process. With Gendlin we can think how even simple bacteria process generates time, indeed is time, long before the development of perception, behavior or language, long before there could be concepts for a linear time.
The built-up en#3 body is the product of earlier process, the past that functions now in shaping the next event.
Implying is the body’s intricate indicating for further process, for something not now; implying is the future that functions now.
The occurring en#2 process goes on in and regenerates the en#3 past, as it also occurs into and changes implying. Thus, “occurring changes the past and the future.” (Gendlin, 1997, p. 70)
But don’t we, in our most ordinary daily living, already sense it as something like this? Is not our felt experience of continuity, of relevant past, of further life events, always something far more intricate than mere positional time would allow for?
Reversing the Usual Philosophic Order
Gendlin follows Dewey and the American Pragmatists in correcting an ancient error in thinking that is still commonly made: what comes later—and could only have come later–with the development of language, is read before and underneath nature, where it could not be anything primary. Take, for example science’s “Laws of Nature” which are quite often thought to be determinative of what can, must, and cannot happen. Can it be that the processes of Nature follow from conceptual schemes which did not even exist until recently? Do things really fall because of “gravity”? Or is there a concept, a theory of “gravity” because we keep experiencing things falling?
Dewey says this:
Whatever else organic life is or is not, it is a process of activity that involves an environment. It is a transaction extending beyond the spatial limits of the organism. An organism does not live in an environment; it lives by means of an environment. Breathing, the ingestion of food, the ejection of waste products, are cases of direct integration….
…. The processes of living are enacted by the environment as truly as by the organism; for they are an integration. (Dewey, 1938, p. 25)
Dewey wished to put first the actually occurring process. He conceived not a body in an environment, not a body and an environment, but an already integration, a “process of activity” involving two aspects which always already are interaction.
Gendlin asserts that by putting the process event first, and making the seeming “determinants” retroactive, he (Gendlin) “reverses the usual philosophic order.” But in light of the above, we might say that Dewey begins the reversal and that Gendlin uses the reversal methodologically to generate an alternative basic model.
So far I have dealt with only Chapters I through IV, Gendlin’s basic model. The later chapters give more:
In V-A Gendlin shows how interaffecting, and changes in environment shared by other processes are two functionally-distinct avenues of change which together can make for unending novelty.
In V-B the concept of “stoppage” (from III) is used to derive a reiterating context that is both part of the body-en#2 process and a functionally-distinct en#3.
In VI-A, this reiterating context is used to derive behavior, perception, feeling and consciousness. (What is derived is not the old understandings of these, but something profoundly and rewardingly new.) Behavior involves a new kind of environmental carrying forward, made by the registry of body-en#2 changes in the reiterating context (perception) and the series of impacts of this registry in the bodily interaffecting (feeling). With the formation of new behaviors in VI-B, Gendlin derives the first space as the implicit mesh of possible behaviors, and objects which the organism can have as present.
VII-A involves a further new kind of environmental carrying forward (carrying forward by body-look), symbolic versioning of behavior, internal/external space (pattern space), self-consciousness, separation of senses, and two earlier steps in the formation of our familiar universals wherein a pattern sequence functions as a universal only implicitly. Our familiar universals Gendlin therefore calls “third universals.” Each word in the dictionary is a third universal, each use of which is an instance. Third universals are sequenced as such, i.e. we experience the commonality in the instancing.
Gendlin shows how carrying forward by patterns makes the likeness or similarity in the first place. In VII-B he considers the shift from animal behavior contexts to our human situations. Language is carefully derived as bodily process, including syntax and the power of words to carry forward situations. The relation of language and culture is utterly rethought.
The Process Model text reads as a conceptual building-up, but what Gendlin really means is not the conceptual scheme per se, but what happens, what changes—and specifically how it changes–as one engages and struggles to understand the conceptual scheme.
Gendlin begins with VIII. Chapter I is VIII said-from. Chapter II is VIII said-from, possible now because it occurs into the changed implying made by the saying-from-VIII of Chapter I. And so on.
This careful, chapter-by-chapter, saying-from VIII, makes possible, in Chapter VIII, a clear explication of a further (fourth) kind of environmental carrying forward, distinct from the carrying forward by symbols (language), behavior/perception and basic body-en#2.
The distinction is really VII/VIII where VII is human symbolic sequencing and the world it regenerates, and where each VIII sequence is a particular “phantastic differentiating” of all of VII.
Let me bring this home: a freshly-forming bodily “feel” of some whole situation becomes a new carrying forward environment. Gendlin calls this “direct referent formation.”
A direct referent is not already “there” waiting to be noticed. One must wait for “it” to form, to come. One does this by pausing the usual thinking-about and feeling about, and by holding the complexity of the question, the situation, “all at once.” One attends experientially to an “it” that isn’t there yet. The new VIII object, the direct referent, “falls out” from the formation sequence.
Gendlin speaks of “the new ‘universality’ of the direct referent”:
“The Direct Referent falls out from a new level of versioning. It is “of” (versioning defines “of”) the VII-context(s) in a new way, a new kind of having, a new way of doing what in VII was properly called symbolization. For VIII I will put this new kind of kind into quotation marks. A Direct Referent is a new kind of “symbolization” (without symbols)! It is a new kind of rendering of something (the whole VII-context), now rendered in body-sense.”
Gendlin emphasizes that the new universality of VIII is the direct referent itself. It is a new kind of universal: the feel of the whole which has fallen out from the carrying forward of the formation sequence.
In the feel which has come, one may feel how the whole situation is already changed. This is accurate. The organism has lived forward the erstwhile VII question or difficulty in a new way, a way not possible by direct symbolization in VII.
In this newly come VIII bodily feel-of, implicit is countless many differences already made by the carrying forward-carrying forward of the formation sequence. Said differently, a direct referent is an implicit cluster of newly-possible sayings and doings. Statements and actions from a direct referent instance the new VIII universality which the direct referent is. From the point of view of the direct referent, these are second sequences from it. But in the actual VII contexts, each such concept, statement, or action from a direct referent is a new first universal, a novel change of a particular new kind, across the whole system of cultural patterning.
Concepts from a direct referent are different in kind. They mean the direct referent! Though they may seem very different from one another and may occur in very different contexts, they each instance and carry forward the vast change that the direct referent already is. The working out of second sequences instancing a direct referent, Gendlin calls “monading.” A direct referent is an implicit “monad” of new first universals in VII.
Gendlin’s Process Model text “monads out” a particular VIII universal. The resulting conceptual scheme is workable in VII but never becomes the usual VII kind of knowing and having. Concepts from VIII are different in kind. Even when one has understood Gendlin (or oneself for that matter) in an VIII way, one must live again an experiential VIII sequence to have the meaning again. (Even Gendlin has to do this with his own model). The text functions like a “handle” for having, or having again, a particular whole felt meaning.
It is as monaded-out that the model concepts are implicit in each other (they instance each other via instancing and carrying forward the direct referent which they are from). The text gives the model by so instancing. The “model” is not the text alone, but the text instancing a particular VIII whole. For the reader, the “model” is experientially-emergent. As one reads, and reads again, and reads again, Gendlin’s precise sentences instance in the reader, what, in a first reading, isn’t yet there. No one understands in just one sitting. Process is (reflexively) the model.
VIII is vast potential for forming functional new constellations of relevance, each of which is a first of that whole kind: a particular vast differentiation across all VII contexts and meanings. Any point in any discourse may be an occasion for pausing VII symbolic sequencing and allowing direct referent formation.
Direct referent formation and monading remake culture and the human world. Instancing the new VIII universality is a particular change in what the VII situation is and how it can be “met,” a kind of change which, before direct referent formation, couldn’t have been anything.
1. e.g., “instinct,” “intuition,” “need,” “remembering” “creative.”
2. In VII-B Gendlin shows why, for a very long time, it has not been possible to sequence culture-forming “first universals.” In Chapter VIII we see how new first sequences are (again) possible. Crudely-said, the ability to live new first sequences lies in versioning on a level other than the level of what is being versioned. When the versioning is on the same level as the context being versioned, then the versioning is part of the context and one cannot sequence and have the whole of it. The versioning would lack just what the situation itself is the lack of, and what is instanced is the problem, not an actual solution. I think Einstein (who knew something of direct referent formation) meant something similar when he said that we will not solve our problems on the same level that we created them.
Dewey, John, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (New York, Henry Holt and Company,1938)
Dunaetz, Neil, First Applying: An Experiential Approach to Reading Gendlin’s A Process Model, (The Focusing Institute website, 2006), available at http://www.focusing.org/first_applying.asp
Gendlin, Eugene T., A Process Model (The Focusing Institute, 1997), available at http://www.focusing.org/process.html.