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Philosophy of the Implicit - Gene Gendlin

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Here's the center of the Implicit Philosophy:

For example, our concepts about why things fall has changed significantly over the last few centuries: In 1400, things fell because the elements earth and water “wanted” to go down; in 1700, they fell because of gravity; in the 1900s, they fell because of space-time curvature, and later because of gravitons. But as the explicit “truth” changes due to culture and history, things continue to fall.

This example points to something which is very basic, and difficult to say in words. Concepts like gravity are indeed developments of culture and history, but that means that they are also developments of our living in the world. The process of living is an ongoing interaction, an intricate “knowing” of the world that is validated by the fact that we go on living. If there were no order, if everything was chaos, we would die. The fact that concepts always change, but we go on living, demonstrates an implicit order that is more than our concepts. Gendlin would call this order the Implicit Intricacy, or The Responsive Order (Gendlin, 1997).

Although basic to living, implicit knowing is often overlooked precisely because it is implicit. If we're not aware of it, and we can't say it in words, then it doesn't seem like real knowledge. Gendlin would explore this problem further, but he already knew that implicit knowing doesn't have to be outside awareness. He knew that if we look for it, this knowing appears as a kind of “feel” for different situations, people, or things. And because it is so much richer than explicit concepts, this “feel” can be extremely useful in many situations. For example, Einstein wrote that as he worked on his general theory of relativity over 15 years, he was guided by a “feeling” for what the eventual solution would be.

These considerations led to a major discovery, and an unlikely digression in Gendlin's career.

PsychotherapyGendlin entered the graduate program in philosophy at the University of Chicago because he wanted to learn to think more clearly about the Implicit Intricacy; but when he tried to talk about it, no one there seemed to understand him. The problem, he realized, was that they were all absorbed in explicit concepts. When everything is either a “stuhl” or a “chair,” so to speak, we don't attend to the Implicit.

Gendlin thought that people who were questioning their basic understanding of the world, might also be more aware of the Implicit. But where could he find such people? He guessed that people who were questioning at a deep level might be in emotional distress, and might be in therapy. At that time, Carl Rogers was in charge of the Counseling Center at the University of Chicago. So one day, the originator of Client-Centered Therapy received a visit from a philosophy student. This student had no background in psychology, but he wanted to join Roger's clinic and be trained as a psychotherapist. Rogers agreed.

It was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration. Working with others on Roger's team, Gendlin showed that some psychotherapy clients do indeed refer to something beyond words, and that this referring could be reliably measured (Gendlin, E. T., Beebe, J., Cassens, J., Klein, M., & Oberlander, M., 1968). When clients referred to this “something,” they experienced it as a “feel” or bodily awareness, which Gendlin called a felt sense. This felt sense was not a feeling like anger or sadness, but the intricate and preconceptual “knowing” that we all have of different situations. Not surprisingly, this awareness turned out to be extremely useful in psychotherapy: Gendlin found that the degree to which people referred to their felt sense in the first two sessions of therapy correlated with the ultimate success of therapy one or two years later! (This remarkable finding has been replicated 27 times since then; Hendricks, 2002).

But this latter finding raised a disturbing question: if you could tell after two sessions that someone wouldn't benefit from therapy, was it ethical to allow them to continue? Gendlin answered the question with further research. Together with co-workers, he found that clients could learn felt sense awareness, and he developed a procedure to teach it. Gendlin's procedure, which he called Focusing, has turned out to be extremely useful. Numerous studies have shown that felt sense awareness improves therapy outcome, and this finding holds across many forms of therapy and across a variety of cultures (Hendricks, 2002). Focusing is also useful outside of therapy; today it is practiced in 29 countries worldwide by thousands of people who are not in therapy, but who find it helpful in areas ranging from sports, to creative writing, tobusiness. Gendlin's book, Focusing, has sold over 400,000 copies and is printed in twelve languages.

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