Saturday, February 20, 2016

Thinking with the Body - Eugene Gendlin's Breakthrough Embodied Cognition Philosophy

Gendlin is the heir to Heidegger and Lakoff.  His work bridges psychotherapy and philosophy.  I can't believe I haven't read him before.

Excerpts from "Thinking at the Edge":
"THINKING AT THE EDGE" (in German: "WO NOCH WORTE FEHLEN") is a systematic way to articulate in new terms something which needs to be said but is at first only an inchoate "bodily sense." It is the difficult task of getting students to attend to what they implicitly knew but could not say and never considered trying to say.

"Oh," one student exclaimed when he grasped what I was looking for, "you mean something about which we have to do hemming and hawing." Yes, that was just what I meant. Another asked: "Do you mean that crawly thing?"

An internally intricate sense leads to a series of statements with certain recognizable characteristics. Statements that speak-from the felt sense can be recognized by the fact that they have an effect on the felt sense. It moves, opens, and develops.

This is in contrast to what we normally call "thinking", which seems to require unitized things which are assumed to be either cleanly identical or cleanly separate, which can be next to each other but cannot interpenetrate, let alone have some more complex pattern. The unit model is regularly the reason why some new insights cannot be said. But to reject the unit model in general is not possible, because it inheres in our language, our machines and in all our detailed concepts. The capacity for breaking out of the unit model cannot be imparted simply by studying Heidegger, McKeon, etc. Critique does not prevent us from falling into the old model.

We must develop a new use of bodily-sourced language with which we can speak directly from the body about many things — especially about the body and language. . Language does not consist just of the words. The situations in which we find ourselves, the body, and the language form a single system together.

We find that when people forgo the usual big vague words and common phrases, then — from their bodily sense — quite fresh colorful new phrases come. There is no way to say "all" of it, no sentence that will be simply equal, no sentence which will simply "represent" what is sensed. One strand emerges from the bodily sense, and then another and another. What needs to be said expands! What we say doesn't represent the bodily sense. Rather it carries the body forward.

People live through a great deal which cannot be said. When the living body becomes able to carry itself forward by symbolizing itself, it acts and speaks from a vast intricacy. . Humans don't happen without culture and language, but with and after language the body's next steps are always freshly here again, and always implicitly more intricate than the common routines. You can instantly check this by becoming aware of your bodily aliveness, freshly there and implicitly much more intricate than the words you are reading.

We need to build new social patterns and new patterns of thought and science. This will be a mutual product no single person can create. On the other hand, if we work jointly too soon, we lose what can only come through the individual in a focusing type of process. Nobody else lives the world from your angle. No other organism can sense exactly "the more" that you sense.

Excerpts from "Three Assertions about the Body":
A felt sense comes. It isn't just there waiting. We have to let it form and come. That takes at least a few moments, sometimes longer. So we understand that a felt sense is a certain development, a certain bit of further life-process. What does it stem from? How can we think about ordinary events and experience in such a way that we could understand what a felt sense is and how it forms?

A felt sense is distinctly something there, something with a life of its own, that we attend to directly. If we attend to our bodies, in the middle of the body it comes, and then it is in an odd sort of space of its own. It brings its own space. In that space the felt sense is a direct object, that, there.

The kind of experience I mean is sometimes attributed to "the unconscious," although such a body-sense is, of course, conscious. We are aware of sensing it when it is there, yet it is true that much of the knowledge that can emerge from it was unconscious before. There is no such directly felt body-sense in the unconscious. When we invite it to come, we can feel it freshly forming. It is not already there, underneath. At most one could say that it forms itself from "the unconscious."

But calling it "unconscious" does not explain this kind of experience. It is only a mysterious name, just as "hunch," "intuition," and "instinct" are mysterious names for it.

What can we say about this kind of experience just from these two examples?

The experience is felt rather than spoken or visual. It is not words or images, but a bodily sense.
It does not fit the common names or categories of feelings. It is a unique sense of this person or this situation.
We must also notice one more characteristic of this kind of experience:
Although such a body-sense comes as one feeling, we can sense that it contains an intricacy. Let me explain that.

Your body-sense of the person you know contains all your past history with that person and what you hope for with that person. It also contains what that person rouses in you and some of your own unresolved troubles. In there as well is the exact way in which you[Page 24]do and don't like the person, and much more. Let me roll all that together and call it "an intricacy." You might be able to think three or four of those things, but most of them remain implicit. Such a body-sense contains an implicit intricacy.

We don't usually think of physical feelings as containing a whole complex mesh. Physical sensations are supposed to be simple. A pain or a sensation is just what it is. It is opaque. We don't expect a hidden complexity, for example, in the stabbing pain of a twisted ankle or in the sensation of red. A complex situation might have led to the twisted ankle, but we don't expect to find the intricacy of the situation inside the pain. What distinguishes the kind of physical sense I am discussing is that it does contain an implicit intricacy, "all that" about that person.

You can sense that it is implicitly complex, even if you don't find any of it out, even if you don't succeed in opening it and entering. I speak of "opening and entering." This kind of bodily experience is a door. If we open it and if we enter, we can go many steps into it...

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