Ladybird Guide to Process Model (Part One)

by © Campbell Purton

An introduction to A Process Model by Gene Gendlin
for the benefit of participants in the Focusing and the Power of Philosophy programme

(This been written rather rapidly, but I hope it will be of some use. If people have comments or queries you could email them and I will collect them together and see what response I can make. Good luck!)

In a note to Rob Foxcroft, Gene says, I do know that the Process Model is difficult to read partly because I don't explain what I am doing until the last section of III and the section IVAd. These might be put first. I also think that some part of VIII is understandable near the beginning because that's where the concepts come from.

The last section of III is the one titled Some motivations and powers of that model so far. In this section Gene says that his project is to create an alternative model in which we define living bodies in such a way that one of them can be ours. And - We can speak from living, and we can make rudimentary concepts from speaking-from, and especially from focusing and from the process of explication. Since these are possible in reality, they can lead us to an alternative set of "basic" concepts of a "reality" in which we would not seem impossible.

Gene believes that our current ways of thinking don't really allow for the existence of human beings in the world. Our current ways of thinking separate "the world" from "what the world means to us"; once that is done "what the world means to us" is outside the world. Gene wants to bring meaning back into the world. But there is no place for meaning if we think of human beings as physical (physiological) systems. So to make room for meaning in the world, the world has to be re-thought. Gene's concepts constitute a framework for this re-thinking.

The central concepts which he develops are drawn from focusing and the process of explication. It might seem strange to base a whole way of looking at the world on these things, but it is not really so. Focusing and explication are activities where there is the creation of meaning, so that in them we have the crucial thing which is left out of the current way of thinking. If we can develop a new way of thinking which allows for focusing and explication, then we have a way of thinking which allows there to be us.

In focusing a felt sense forms which carries us forward in a way that is different from the way we are carried forward in logic or mathematics. In these disciplines what was there, such as "7+5" carries us forward to "12". Or, from "All men are mortal" and "Socrates is a man" we are carried forward to "Socrates is mortal". The premises of a valid argument imply its conclusion. But in focusing, in explication, in the completing of a poem, the next step is "implied" in a different sense of "implies". This new sense of "implies" is one of Gendlin's central concepts. Implying is the converse of "carrying forward": if one event implies another then the second event is carried forward by the first.

Gendlin introduces this new sense of "implies" in Ch 2, where he says that hunger implies feeding. This is not a logical implication (it is not part of the meaning of "hunger" that it is always followed by eating). Nor is it a causal implication (since hunger can occur without eating following it). It is rather that eating is what will satisfy hunger, that hunger will continue until eating - or something else (such as intravenous feeding) - takes place. In the hunger there is the implying of feeding, but what "feeding" amounts to can't be specified as any particular form of event. Feeding has to be defined in terms of "that which removes the implying of feeding".

Gene says (p. 9), that Hunger is being about to search for food, find it and eat it. Hunger is both an occurrence and an implying. In Gendlin's scheme nothing is just itself - it always implies other things. In this way his scheme is different from the one that is familiar in science. In science we usually start with separate things (e.g. atoms or cells) which can in principle exist on their own. Then complex bodies are seen as being built up from these elements. Of course there are connections between the elements in the shape of the laws of physics or chemistry, but the laws could in principle change without the elements changing. In the "atomistic" view a thing doesn't imply anything beyond itself. Everything is, in Hume's phrase, "loose and separate"; the connections are supplied by us, by our theories.

In Gene's scheme there are no loose and separate entities. Each entity implies others. One "other implied entity" is that which will carry forward the implying. For instance eating is what carries forward hunger. But there are also other implied entities - hunger implies a body, and a body implies an environment. There is a distinction here which Gendlin suggests lies at the basis of our concepts of time and space. He sees these concepts as being less fundamental than the concepts of implying and occuring. Time is a more abstract notion which derives from the fact that there are implyings which are carried forward by occurrings; space derives from the other implyings. Rather than begin with space, time and matter, as in current ways of thinking, Gene begins with implying and occurring. The detailed discussions of space and time strike me as some of the most difficult parts of PM, but I think we need to appreciate that what Gene is doing is quite radical, so that we can get some feel for why PM starts in such a peculiar way with the b-en terminology.

In his introductory note Gene says that he will lay down some terms as if they came out of nowhere. Of course, the terms do come from somewhere - they come from what is needed if he is to be able to talk later (in chapters VII and VIII) about meaning, focusing, and human things generally. But at the start he wants to construct some concepts for talking about living things which will later allow there to be human beings and meanings in the world. There is an important sense in which PM starts with Chapter VIII, with the fully human world in which we discover/create meanings. This world can't be constructed out of the physical-biological world as it is presently understood. So Gene reformulates the physical-biological world in a way which inevitably seems very odd if we don't know why he is doing it.

Section IVAd-2 is the next section in which Gene pauses to reflect on his strategy. He says that Our model begins with concepts which begin with interaction. This is the principle which he calls "interaction first". In the model there are no fully separable things, events or processes. Everything is what it is through how it is affected by other things, which themselves are what they are through how they are affected by the first thing. Gene's story of the IF cans (in IVAe) may help us to get a first feel for this. It is the same point as is touched on by Paul Weiss on p. 26 of ECM. (But remember that the IF cans are only a machine analogy. They differ from "interaction first" in that (1) the adjustments are made in sequence, whereas in "interaction first" or "interaffecting" everything is there in one time instant, and (2) the adjustments are made from outside the system in accordance with a human goal, whereas in organic interaffecting the "goal" emerges as what Gene calls the "focaling" of the interaffecting. See IVAf for "focaling".)

In this section (IVAd-2) Gene says that "interaction first" applies as much to temporal as to spatial relations. The present is a carrying-forward of the past, and the past implies the present. What we experience in the present clearly depends on the past, but what we experience as the past depends on what else is happening in the present. The notion of a time sequence in which events occur in sequence without inherent connections is a late development in human thinking, which belongs with the notion of a physical world as made up of independent particles moving in empty space. The real, lived world, however, is one in which nothing exists independently of its relations with everything else.

In the sections following IVAd Gene continues to develop the concepts he requires. Sections I-V of PM are his general model. The model applies equally to bodily processes, behaviour, culture, language and focusing. In Chapter VI he uses the model to rethink behaviour, in Chapter VIIA he uses it to rethink prelinguistic human culture, and in VIIB does the same for language. Roughly speaking, Chapter VI is concerned with the world of animals; in it Gene develops his "interaction first" notions of behaviour, consciousness, perception, and motivation. These form a cluster of concepts which have application in the case of animals (sentient beings), but not in the case of plants. Human beings come into the picture in Chapter VII. Here all the concepts which applied in Ch VI still apply, but now there is another conceptual "layer" which is associated with the symbolic ways in which human beings interact with one another. Chapter VII is concerned with what one could call "traditional" ways of being human; the kind of human life which is rooted in standard cultural and linguistic forms. Gene sees the modern world as going beyond such forms (while retaining them in the same way as the human level "retains" the animal level). The modern developments involve a growing awareness of alternative conceptual schemes, with the result that there is no longer a single agreed tradition of what will carry us forward. Focusing can be seen as a response to this situation, in which all the available ways of seeing a situation are brought together in a felt sense. Then action carries forward from the felt sense rather than in any of the traditional ways. This way of being human (Chapter VIII) is different from the traditional way (Chapter VII).

One way of thinking about the structure of the book is, then, that Chapers I-V lay out the new conceptual scheme which centres around "interaction first", and show how it applies to organisms in general. Chapter VI applies the scheme to animals, Chapter VII to "traditional" human beings, and Ch VIII to "modern" human beings. There is an important sense in which the concepts developed for organisms in general are retained, but elaborated on, in the case of animals. Then the concepts which apply to animals are retained but elaborated on in the case of traditional human beings, and similarly for the transition from traditional to modern human beings. This scheme, in which the human world elaborates the animal world, and the animal world elaborates the vegetative world is very similar to that of Aristotle (Gene is among other things an Aristotelean scholar).

However, the way in which each level is transformed into the next is unique to Gene's philosophy. Roughly speaking, the transitions occur where a process at one level is not carried forward at that level. It is familiar in focusing that a process at the VII level (traditional human) may not be carried forward by anything which is traditionally (culturally) available. For instance, in a traditional society the response to an insult might be to throw down a gauntlet, which would lead to a duel, and hence to a resolution of the conflict But that is hardly an option in contemporary society. One might, in more metaphorical ways, throw down a gauntlet, but the modern human being will more likely reflect on what really would be the best thing to do here, on what it would be authentic for me to do, being me. They would in short do something like focusing. The environment no longer provides a traditional solution to the problem, so rather than make a symbolic gesture (as one does at the VII level) one does something quite new (focusing - level VIII) which nevertheless involves symbolising. One symbolises to oneself all the possible ways forward, but does not yet act on them. Action, when it comes, comes not from the traditional symbolic context but from the individual's felt sense.

But just as focusing (VIII) presupposes symbolising (VII), so symbolising presupposes behaving (VI). In chapter VII Gene outlines the very complex way in which symbolising can arise out of situations where behaving does not carry one forward. The natural behavioural response to an insult would perhaps be anger and attack, but in human cultures such "natural" responses may not carry us forward effectively. Instead of actual fighting, something is said, or gestures are made, and the situation carries forward on that (VII) level. Gene shows how this transition is prefigured in animal threat displays. Nevertheless, speaking or gesturing is still a (specialised) form of behaviour.

Then again, behaviour presupposes biological tissue processes. Speech and gestures, like any other behaviour require muscle movements and nerve firings. During some portions of an organism's life behaviour is not required. (Plants don't have behaviour at all - their needs are satisfied without any moving around). However, in the case of animals, the environment does not provide for all physiological needs without the necessity for behaviour. The physiological processes associated with hunger stir the animal into action which continues until feeding has taken place. Then the animal rests, becomes more like a plant for a while. The behaviour is the animal's way of carrying forward physiological processes which are carried forward in plants without behaviour. With social animals the patterns of behaviour become increasingly complex: the animal may not only have to hunt but also to threaten another animal which is about to steal its food. If it is a traditional human being it may express this threat verbally, and if it is a modern human being it may reflect on whether this is a situation which, for them, is best met by assertiveness or patience, or ... something more subtle but more appropriate to this situation.

However, even the modern human being focusing on their dilemma has to say something, saying something involves physical behaviour, and physical behaviour involves tissue changes. Focusing in itself involves the manipulation of symbols, symbolising involves a complex background of changing behavioural potentials, and these involve physiological changes. It is for this reason that focusing can ultimately be seen a a physical process which has physical effects. Of course it must have physical effects if a person is to be different in their actual living. But what the "physical" is, has to be re-thought in a way which allows us to understand how focusing can do this.

I have said something about the structure of PM insofar as that structure relates to the different "layers" of bodily process, behaviour, culture, language and focusing. There is much more to the details of each of these: in the chapter on behaviour (VI) Gene shows how sentience and perception can be seen as arising out of behaviour that does not involve consciousness, and how this involves a new kind of space (behaviour space) in which the animal moves. In VII he discusses how symbolic and linguistic forms of behaviour can develop and, with them, the forms of space and time with which we are familiar. In VIII he elaborates the theory of focusing on the basis of what has been developed previously, showing how in focusing we again enter a new kind of space with its own characteristic objects. It becomes clear hear that focusing as we know it is just one example of a way of experiencing associated with all creative innovation. There is much more also in the section (I-V) on the general model, some of which will be familiar to readers of ECM.

In addition to all this there is another theme running through PM. As we have seen Gene pauses at times and reflects on what he is doing. What he is doing comes from Chapter VIII, the chapter in which creative innovation is discussed. PM is itself a creative innovation; Gene builds PM through developing concepts in a way that is theoretically underpinned by the material in VIII. He himself sees the method of concept formation (which is formalised in TAE) as more important than the theory which he has developed to explain it. This is the same attitude as that which he takes in Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams, where he says, If you don't like this theory, don't let it get in the way of the experiential steps which the book describes. They are not based on theory. You don't need the theory for them...Theory does not represent what "is". Theory makes sense, but sense-making is itself a kind of step which expands what "was". That opens to further steps, and these need not stay consistent with the theory.

For more on Gene's theory see Appendix B of Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams, from which the above quotation is taken, and also the theory section of his paper The client's client: the edge of awareness in RL Levant & JM Shlien (eds) Client-centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach, New York: Praeger (1984). These are much easier to read than PM itself, but of course they omit much important detail. You might also look at Greg Walkerden's useful summary of PM How I read the structure of the PM text: what is a "kind" of process? This is on the Focusing Institute website.

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