Books Phenomenology Philosophy Reviews

Book Review: Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning

Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning is a most interesting book. Eugene Gendlin examines the edge of awareness, where language emerges from non-language.1 This book is a philosophical work. Gendlin explores how concepts relate to experiencing.2 He adds a body of theory that refer to experiencing, and that can grasp the way in which experiencing functions.3

Thinking employs more than conceptual logic
Thinking employs more than conceptual logic. We think with the intricacy of situations.4 There is always a situation, an implicit experiential context, that is more than any formed form. If we enter into how this more functions, we become able to employ it deliberately. New ways of thought open from it which otherwise wouldn’t exist.5

Conclusions do not follow just from clean rational progressions by logic alone. The use of logic is always enmeshed in the context from which logical units first are made. The logical interferences are undone if one changes one logical unit. Logic inference can always be disorganized.6

We can let our next step of thought come from experiential feedback
We can neither assume that the world is ordered as a conceptual system, nor that it is arbitrary. We don’t lose logical implications if we also think with experiencing.7 We can let our next step of thought come from experiential feedback, rather than concepts alone. It can lead us to modify our concepts, rather than being confined in them.8

Every word has an emergent meaning it its situation. Rather than giving some cognitive system priority and reading it into experience, we can recognize the priority of making experiential sense . For example, when speaking from a felt sense.9

Nature is not arbitrary or invented. Nature is a responsive order. It is not limited to one set of patterns and units. When two meanings cross experientially, the result is new experiences that could not have followed logically from either.10 The content of experience is generated by the process of experiencing.11

We can think everything more truly if we think with attention to how we think
The felt sense is a felt meaning, a bodily comprehension. We are not limited to rearranging existing already-formed concepts in life. We can engage the experiential meanings. We can reopen old concepts and assumptions if we think with our experiencing as well as with logic. We can think everything more truly if we think with attention to how we think. Experiencing is always freshly there in the present moment, and open to being carried forward in new ways.12

Besides the logical dimension of knowledge, there is also a directly felt, experiential dimension. Meaning also involves felt experiencing. There is a relationship between the felt dimension of experience and logical order.13

Concepts are abstractions of living experience
The application of concepts to experience as actually lived and felt is difficult. Only actual living can grasp living experiencing adequately, while concepts can distort and deaden it. The attempt to define concepts turn living experience into abstractions.14 Experience functions in the formation of meaning before it is logically ordered. Pre-logical or pre-conceptual experience functions together with logical symbols.15

Experiencing is the flow of feeling to which we can, at every moment, attend to inwardly. Experience must be referred to directly. It plays a basic role in the formation of meaning.16 The functions of experiencing in cognition are varied and essential.17

Concepts are meanings in relation to experiencing
We cannot know what a concept means without a feel for its meaning. If we do not have the felt meaning of a concept, we haven’t got the concept at all.18 Nor can we think without felt meaning. We think in a felt way.19

Concepts are meanings in relation to experiencing. Thought involves many meanings, and these are felt and can give rise to further concepts and changes in concepts. Verbal and other behavior involves orders, which are more than, and different from, those of logic. Experiential factors relate to and interact with the use of symbols. A concept in actual thought involves a felt experiencing of meaning, which can lead to different concepts and new meanings.20

Symbolized meanings change in interaction with experiencing
Meaning is formed in the interaction of experiencing and symbols. When symbolized meanings occur in interaction with experiencing, they change. And when one employs symbols to attend to a felt meaning, it changes. This is the basic source of order in human behavior.21

There is always a flow of feeling. At any moment we can direct our attention inward, and there it is. It is not at all vague in its being there. It may be vague only in that we can put only a few aspects of it into words. It is always something there, no matter what we say it is.22

Experiencing underlies every moment of living
All the different kinds of feeling and feeling tones, felt meanings, and so on, are aspects of feeling, of inner sense. This is experiencing.23 There is always an inward sensing.24

Experiencing is an aspect of human living that is constant. It is like metabolism. It underlies every moment’s special occurrences of living. The felt experiencing of the moment enables us to respond. Our response most often springs from the inwardly felt experiencing without verbal symbolization. Within experiencing lie the mysteries of all that we are. We react as we do based on what we observe. We create from our experiential sense.25

Actual experience is largely missed when interpreted through stereotyped concepts
Much of the time we pretend that our meanings are only the logical meanings of our words.26 We fall into the trap of interpreting our experience through stereotyped concepts whereby we largely miss the actual experience.27

Experiencing is involved in every instance of behavior and thought.28 We can refer directly to the experiencing. Language can help us refer to our experiencing, help us create and specify aspects of it, help us convey it. We can use language in an experiential sense. We need not limit ourselves only to a word’s logical definition. Any word, concept, thought, event, or behavior, can be viewed in reference to experiencing.29

Experiencing is a pre-conceptual and supra-logical order
Experiencing has a pre-conceptual type of order. Thus we must take account the kinds of relations that logical order can have to pre-conceptual order.30 The body is one interpenetrating system in which every aspect of order involves every other aspect. The many different kinds of orderly units we may isolate are related to each other in ways that logical patterns cannot represent. The ordering of all these aspects is more than logical.31 The actual order is supra-logical. It is more than a given logic can represent, although a given logic can fit some given aspect.32

Experiencing is an inward sensitivity of the living body. The pre-conceptual order of experiencing is similar to the body order: Experiencing is concrete. It is a “this” or a “this way I feel“. Any aspect of experiencing has very complex unfinished orders.33

The pre-conceptual is not constituted of actual defined existent meanings. These implicit meanings are not complete and formed. When they become explicit, they become different from what they were when they were implicit. They were pre-conceptual, and only as they interact with symbols do they become completely formed.34

Concepts can refer to experiencing but cannot fully represent it
We can let concepts help us refer experiencing, but we need to dissolve them again when we wish to get at new aspects of concrete phenomena. Concrete phenomena can support many logical definitions, but they do not limit the choice of any one.35 All areas of a person are involved in any one moment’s experiencing even though, verbally, just some small meaning is thought or spoken.36

Change occurs through experiencing
What is present is the experiencing now. Past events have made it what it is. Only by referring directly to the experiencing can necessary change be identified and accomplished.37 Merely using words and logical explanations don’t lead to change.38

The experiencing is different in relationship with another experiencing than alone.39 I change as I interact with you. I am already different, because my experiencing is occurring with you, and you vitally affect what it is in me. As I tell you how I am, already I am living a process of being otherwise.40

Conceptually, only meanings which are thought or spoken are present at a given moment. Pre-conceptually—in the felt experiencing—very many meanings, past events, and learnings are present. Change occurs through experiencing. The content of what is experienced varies as symbols interact with the experiencing.41 Symbols include words, behaviors, and other things.42

Meaning is something felt or experienced
Meaning is experienced.43 Meaning is not only a matter symbols and their relationships. It is also something felt or experienced. We feel the meaning.44 The whole gestalt of something can only be had as a felt meaning.45 We feel, or sense, relationships that only afterwards receive symbolizations. Felt meaning functions in the having and the forming of cognition.46

Felt meaning is present whenever something occurs that have meaning
We are most aware of felt meaning when our symbols fail to symbolize adequately what we mean. The problem of the inadequacy of symbols to express a felt meaning covers many areas, such as seeking for relevant words, articulating experience, and so on.47

The experience dimension of meaning is present, both when we conceptualize our experience, and when we don’t.48 Verbal or other symbols make our meaning explicit.49 Like thought, observation involves felt meanings.50 We experience or feel the meanings of what we observe. We orient ourselves in situations and make appropriate responses, all on the basis of the felt meaning of our observations.51

In speech, the feel of what we intend is especially noticeable when we say something that doesn’t quite mean what we intend. What we intend to say is not explicit until we say it. There is a transition from intended felt meaning to explicit speech. Whether there are verbal symbols or not, felt meaning is present whenever actions, observations, and situations occur that have meaning to a person.52

The exploration of feeling develops on its own power
Accurate conceptualization tends to allow the person to continue exploring the feeling and other feelings connected with it. The exploration of feeling develops on its own power.53 Some feelings are expressed along with intellectual content, others with gesture, voice quality, or silence. Feelings are not conscious most of the time, but they are not unconscious either. Any attention to them makes them conscious.54

A feeling, no matter how vague it may be, is capable of becoming sharper, and to be full of meaning.55 What we say arises for us from out of the as yet not articulate meaning we feel and are about to express.56 We can observe this relationship from moment to moment in our experiencing. We speak and act from out of felt meanings.57

Symbols and felt meanings function together in different ways
There are different ways in which symbols and felt meanings function together. Symbols includes things, persons, and whatever.58 Symbols function as pointers. Felt meaning functions as containing the meaning. The symbols depend on the felt meaning for their meaning. The felt meaning is independently meaningful.59

Felt meaning can itself be prior to symbols.60 When we begin with the felt meaning and seek further symbolization, the symbols come to us.61 The symbols function to express, explicate, conceptualize the felt meaning.62 Symbols and felt meanings depend on each other.

Meanings are formed in the interaction of symbols and felt meanings
Meaning always exists in terms of a relationship between symbols and feeling. The given felt meaning change as it is comprehended. A good comprehension will be experienced as accurately representing the implicit content.63 When meaning is implicit, there is the possibility of comprehension. When comprehension actually occurs, the meaning becomes explicit.64

Explication and comprehension both seek symbolization for a given felt meaning. Explication occurs to further symbolize a felt meaning. Comprehension attempts to symbolize a felt meaning already created.65 Almost all meaningful symbols require the presence of many relevant meanings or experiences. Past experience is necessary for understanding. One must understand the context. If one does not understand the context, one will only grasp a limited part of the symbolization.66

Meanings and logical patterns are formed in the interaction of symbols and felt meaning.67 Only some of the many pre-conceptual meanings of a felt meaning can ever be symbolized.68 We can directly refer to felt meaning and examine it. Specified logical concepts are distinguished from the functioning of felt meaning.69 A felt meaning can be accurately comprehended in various ways by different symbolic comprehensions.70

The pre-conceptual is not determined by the conceptual
Logical relations do not determine the creativity of new meaning and new symbolization. The pre-conceptual is not determined by the conceptual. The pre-conceptual can be directly referred to when it functions in symbolization.71

Logically specified, symbolized, unique concepts are not felt meanings and do not have the creative characteristics of felt meanings. The felt meanings that function in experienced creation of meanings are always directly referred to. They are not indeterminate. They are capable of further symbolization.72

Experiencing is multiple and non-numeric
Any experienced meaning is differentiable into countless experienced meanings, each of which is again differentiable into countless meanings. Experiencing is multiple, non-numerical.73 There are no units. A unit experience can always be differently symbolized as an aspect of many other experiences. A given set of many experiences can be differently symbolized as one experience. Experiencing is not organized in schematic relationships of units to each other.74

We can speak of experienced meaning as an occurrence or as a process. The process of experiencing a specified meaning can be referred to directly. An experienced meaning includes more than the aspect of what is specified.75

Experience can be specified as one or as many experiences
Since experience is non-numerical, it can be specified as one or as many experiences. Therefore, it can be specified as a meaning, or as relations between other meanings. Any newly created meaning are like all the meanings that functioned in its creation.76

A felt meaning is general. As general, it can occur more than once.77 A new meaning is only one of very many that might have been created from the same given meanings.78 Only after the creation may logical analysis validly set forth the relations contained in any creation of meaning. Logical analysis can say nothing about kinds of meaning not yet created.79

New meanings are determined by all present meanings
Relationships and meanings are created simultaneously and are two kinds of specification of one same experienced meaning.80 In the case of any given meaning, a directly referred to experienced meaning involved in it may be specified as a certain kind of more general meaning.81 A meaning is intimately tied up with other meanings. It is the meaning of the activity through which it rose.82

At any stage of an experience, one may consider a given meaning as an instance of itself. Many aspects of any problem become apparent when the kind of experiencing involved can be referred to. One may with whatever specified meanings refer to the experiencing that is occurring.83

Experiencing can be specified in myriad ways. These myriad ways also represent the ways in which an observation can be meaningful. Reflection on the experienced meaning can help us specify countless meanings. Specifications of new meanings are partly determined by all the meanings present in a given movement.84

All logical rules are formulations that could have been different
At any given meaning, we may arrive at many more new and different concepts. All logical rules that seem as if they controlled the formation of meanings are merely formulations that could have been different.85 Our terms are relative.86

There is no absolute basis in experience itself that determines what will refer to the same experiencing.87 All creation of meaning offers new possibilities in which different concepts can be created as specifications of some new same such experiencing.88

Endless possibilities of novel creation of meaning can be used without loss of precision and logical integrity.89 One may use every conceivable logic, and do so with increased power, escaping entrapment in the confines of the logic with which one happens to have begun. The functional relationships formulate a content that directly affects the ways of symbolizing experience.90

Metaphors create new meanings
Metaphor is the interaction of experienced meanings producing new meaning. All concepts contain, make use of, involve, and impose logical forms on experience.91 Concepts are metaphoric. From their logical form, come their logical implications, and the power to differentiate other experiences.92

It is when the logical forms are imposed on experience that certain differentiations in experience can be made. Once differentiated, an aspect of experience has its own existential, demonstrative existence and can be directly referred to.93

Experiencing is the total of experienced meaning
Experiencing is the total of experienced meaning, including thought. Once specified, the experienced meaning can be referred to directly, as well as by a multitude of terms that are functionally equivalent.94

Some problems are contexts in which the problem of experienced meaning appears. Any problem involves more than one aspect of experience. Experience can be a source of meaning. Several functional relationships can function meaningfully with the aid of symbols. Felt meaning functions to make symbolized meaning possible.95

Intellect is distinguished from felt experiencing. Felt meaning is an early, pre-conceptual stage of cognition. Anything that is a source of meaning for the intellect can be looked at in terms of its effect upon the functional relationships in which intellect and felt meaning functions.96

Intellect depends on the functions of felt meaning
Things and senses first bring about felt experiencing. Meaning arises in symbolic interaction with felt experiencing.97 The intellect is not in direct contact with perception or reality. Intellect always depends upon the functions of felt meaning.98 It is always subject to the role of felt meaning, and thus indirectly to anything that affects felt meaning.99

Felt meaning functions, for example, as recognition, as well as metaphoric creation of new meanings, as well as being a direct referent to many possible specified meanings. Everyone thinks with recognition feelings. Everyone interprets observations by means of them.100

Many possible specifications can symbolize the same felt meaning
Different people do not create the same meaning, even if given the same metaphor, if their recognition of them is different. It is, on the other hand, possible to communicate metaphorically a felt meaning that a person has not previously had.101

Many possible specifications and schemes can refer to and symbolize the same felt meaning. It is possible to specify experiencing in many more than one way. This is the case of all intellectual interpretations and symbolizations of experiencing.102 Different felt meanings produce different results.103

One cannot create new meanings without experiencing
Without the function of experiencing one cannot create new meanings and new logical patterns and methods, nor can one account for their formation.104 Every individual lives in subjective experiencing and looks out at the world from and through it. Neither logical constructs, nor external observations, succeed in replacing subjective experiencing.105

Experiencing is a continuous stream of feelings. It is something given in the phenomenal field of every person. Experiencing and conceptualization often occur together, but are not the same thing. The fact that they are different is noticeable when we have either experiencing that we cannot conceptualize, or concepts the content of which we do not now feel.106

No one can conceptualize all possible meanings of an experience
Concepts themselves represent what is symbolized.107 Experiencing refers to the directly given stream of feelings, and is defined directly by observable direct reference.108 Experiencing often occurs concretely and intensely to an individual without conceptual contents. Not only does experiencing sometimes occur without any explicitly known content, it can occur with a gradation of explicit knowledge and content. Experience refers to content, while experiencing denotes something concretely felt and present in an individual’s phenomenal field, whether conceptual content is explicitly known or not.109

An individual who is maximally open to his or her experience weighs and balances all the meanings in his experience in a subjective process.110 No one can exhaustively conceptualize all possible meanings of one experience.111

It is vitally important to refer directly to experiencing
There is a vital difference between meanings found implicit in one’s own experience that are perhaps due to introjected concepts instead of personal experiencing.112 The subjective weighing in feeling occur in the present moment. It does not occur in terms of explicit conceptual contents. It is an implicit subjective feeling process that implicitly contains all meanings in the present moment.113

Experiencing is a way of having experience that is congruent without being fully conceptualized.114 It is vitally important to refer directly to feeling, whether this be conceptualized congruently or not.115 Direct reference to experiencing is first.116 It may not be accurately symbolized, but it is not ignored, or allowed to remain totally unspecified.117 Metaphor emphasizes that experiencing itself changes in the act of symbolizing it. Symbolization always changes experiencing.118

Experiencing always exceed what can conceptualized and communicated
The reference to experiencing is nearly everywhere implicitly assumed. This book makes this implicit reference to experiencing explicit and communicable. If conclusions can be retranslated into terms referring directly to experiencing, then this makes it possible to develop the theory further and to formulate further explicit hypotheses.119

Experiencing always exceed what may be stated communicably. Reference to experiencing is needed not only in the generation of hypotheses, but also for the generation of new logical forms and principles of inquiry.120

We can think everything more truly if we think with attention to how we think. Thinking employs more than conceptual logic. This means that we can let our next step of thought come from experiential feedback.

Experiencing underlies every moment of living. It is a pre-conceptual and supra-logical order. Actual experience is largely missed when interpreted through stereotyped concepts. Concepts are abstractions of living experience. They can refer to experiencing but cannot fully represent it.

Change occurs through experiencing. Symbolized meanings change in interaction with experiencing. Meaning is something felt or experienced. Felt meaning is present whenever something occurs that have meaning. The exploration of feeling develops on its own power.

Symbols and felt meanings function together in different ways. Meanings are formed in the interaction of symbols and felt meanings. The pre-conceptual is not determined by the conceptual. The intellect depends on the functions of felt meaning. All logical rules are formulations that could have been different. Many possible specifications can symbolize the same felt meaning.

Experiencing is the total of experienced meaning. Experiencing is multiple and non-numeric. It can be specified as one or as many experiences. One cannot create new meanings without experiencing. New meanings are partly determined by all present meanings. Metaphors create new meanings. Concepts are metaphoric. Meaning arises in symbolic interaction with felt experiencing.

It is vitally important to refer directly to experiencing. Experiencing always exceed what can conceptualized and communicated. Experience refers to content, while experiencing denotes something concretely felt, whether conceptual content is explicitly known or not. No one can conceptualize all possible meanings of an experience.

This book is a groundbreaking philosophical work. Eugene Gendlin considers felt experiencing in its own right. He explores how logical order can relate concretely to felt experience. His approach makes philosophical analysis of experiencing and the creation of meaning possible. It’s a most interesting book, but it’s also a very difficult book to read.

1 Eugene Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning: A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective (Northwestern University Press, 1997, first published 1962), p.xi.
2 Ibid., p.43.
3 Ibid., p.7.
4 Ibid., p.xii.
5 Ibid..
6 Ibid., p.xv.
7 Ibid..
8 Ibid., p.xvii.
9 Ibid., p.xviii.
10 Ibid., p.xix.
11 Ibid., p.xx.
12 Ibid., p.xxi.
13 Ibid., p.1.
14 Ibid., p.2
15 Ibid., p.3.
16 Ibid..
17 Ibid., p.5.
18 Ibid..
19 Ibid., p.6.
20 Ibid..
21 Ibid., p.8.
22 Ibid., p.11.
23 Ibid., p.12.
24 Ibid., p.13.
25 Ibid., p.14.
26 Ibid., pp.15—-16.
27 Ibid., p.17.
29 Ibid., p.19.
30 Ibid., p.24.
31 Ibid., p.25.
32 Ibid., p.26.
33 Ibid., pp.27–29.
34 Ibid..
35 Ibid., p.33.
36 Ibid., p.34.
37 Ibid., p.35.
38 Ibid., p.37.
39 Ibid., p.38.
40 Ibid., p.39.
41 Ibid., p.41
42 Ibid., p.42.
43 Ibid., p.44.
44 Ibid., p.45.
45 Ibid., pp.46–47.
46 Ibid., p.47.
47 Ibid., p.64.
48 Ibid., p.65.
49 Ibid., p.66.
50 Ibid., p.67.
51 Ibid., p.68.
52 Ibid., p.70.
53 Ibid., p.80.
54 Ibid., p.81
55 Ibid., p.82.
56 Ibid., p.83.
57 Ibid., p.84.
58 Ibid., p.90.
59 Ibid., p.100.
60 Ibid., p.106.
61 Ibid., p.107.
62 Ibid., p.108.
63 Ibid., p.125.
64 Ibid., p.126.
65 Ibid., p.127.
66 Ibid., p.128.
67 Ibid., p.138
68 Ibid., p.139
69 Ibid., p.144.
70 Ibid., pp.144–145.
71 Ibid., p.147.
72 Ibid., p.148.
73 Ibid., p.152.
74 Ibid., p.153.
75 Ibid., p.158
76 Ibid., p.159.
77 Ibid..
78 Ibid., p.163.
79 Ibid., p.164.
80 Ibid., p.177.
81 Ibid., p.180.
82 Ibid..
83 Ibid., p.187.
84 Ibid., p.190.
85 Ibid., p.192.
86 Ibid., p.195.
87 Ibid., p.199.
88 Ibid., pp.199–200.
89 Ibid., pp.205–206
90 Ibid., p.206.
91 Ibid., p.217.
92 Ibid..
93 Ibid., p.218.
94 Ibid..
95 Ibid., p.219.
96 Ibid., p.220.
97 Ibid., pp.220–221.
98 Ibid., p.221.
99 Ibid., pp.221–222.
100 Ibid., p.222.
101 Ibid., p.223.
102 Ibid..
103 Ibid., p.224.
104 Ibid., p.226.
105 Ibid., p.228.
106 Ibid., p.230.
107 Ibid., p.237.
108 Ibid., p.239.
109 Ibid., p.240
110 Ibid., p.254.
111 Ibid., p.255
112 Ibid., pp.255–256.
113 Ibid., p.257.
114 Ibid., p.258.
115 Ibid., p.263.
116 Ibid., p.264.
117 Ibid., p.265
118 Ibid., p.267.
119 Ibid., p.272.
120 Ibid..

Related book review:
Focusing: How to Gain Direct Access to Your Body’s Knowledge by Eugene Gendlin

By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

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