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THE THEORY OF EXPERIENCING AND SEMIOTIC

PHENOMENOLOGY

Experiential theory and semiotic phenomenology are primordially methodologies concerned with
the production of meaning. Both theories define meaning as the individual signification of
experience and interpret existence as a search for meaning. For these theories, experience is an
articulation of signs that gains meaning as it appears in consciousness. This brief parallelism
points to three commonalities in both theories. They are the focus on (1) relations, (2) intention,
and (3) signification. The system of signs (relationships) as a preexistent condition is semiotics.
The intentionality that gives signification to the preexistent system of signs is phenomenology.
And signification as an individual meaning is existence. Experiencing activates this functional
relationship (signs and intention) as a living discovery of meaning.

Both theories are therefore concerned with the production of signification. Thus, 1 shall advance
this discussion by considering the similarities and differences between experiencing and semiotic
phenomenology in three instances: (1) the semiotic phenomenology of experiencing[p.169] as
theory; (2) the semiotic phenomenology of experiencing as psychotherapy; and (3) the semiotic
phenomenology of experiencing as methodology.

4.1 Semiotic Phenomenology of Experiencing as Theory

Language is a precondition for the theory of experiencing and semiotic phenomenology. The
theory of experiencing conceives a subject (individual) that lives in language, and semiotic
phenomenology focuses on a speaking subject. In the theory of experiencing, language is the
articulation of symbols which completes a felt meaning and explicates meaning as an expression
of Self. In semiotic phenomenology, language is a mediation between perception and expression
that reflects the intersubjectivity of experience and produces self expression as meaning. For the
theory of experiencing, the creation of meaning is a result of relationships between felt meaning
(experience) and symbol (cognition). For semiotic phenomenology, meaning appears in
consciousness as a relational system of perception and expression.
The theory of experiencing sees felt meaning (experience) as an ever present and inclusive
dimension in conceptualization (symbol). "they involve each other in a criss-crossing and
mutually inclusive ways" (Gendlin, 1962, p. 194). And "everything would have to be said once
for felt meaning and symbols" (Gendlin, 1962, p. 98). There[p.170] is, therefore, a duality in the
relation between felt meaning and symbols. Recall that felt meaning is a bodily response which
manifests the situated condition of being in the world as a prereflection. Symbol is anything that
can specify a felt meaning. Symbol is a sign that completes the felt meaning as expression. The
relation between felt meaning and symbol is reflexive. For Gendlin(1962)

reflexivity is the principle of all symbolic functions of experiencing, since they are instances in
which experiencing is specified as such an experiencing. (p. 200)
In this way, interpreting constitutes understanding on the same grounds that expression
constitutes perception.

This analysis leads to the conclusion that the relation between felt meaning and symbols is: (1)
reflexive in the duality of an inclusive/exclusive relation as class identity; (2) symmetrical in the
reversibility of positions as entitizing (this) and universalizing (such); and (3) transitive in the
projection of each other as a self regulation system.

Now, it is possible to apply the semiotic phenomenological concept of sign to elucidate the
relationship between symbols and felt meaning. A sign, according to Saussure (1966), Jakobson
(1956), Merleau-Ponty (1962), Barthes (1968) , Eco (1979) , and Lanigan (1982b) , is an
interplay between a signifier and signified that are[p.171] themselves formal boundaries that
imply a distinction in logical form and functional relationship. They are a binary code which is
grounded in a digital/analogue (i.e., combinatory) logic. Signifier and signified are two reversible
elements in a communication system. The signifier is a reflexive element, while the signified is a
prereflexiva element.

Lanigan (1982b) gives u a visual display of the semiotic phenomenological modal, i.e., the
interplay between signifier and signified, in a modified version of Barthes (1968) semiotic model
of discourse. Barthes formulates the relationship between signifier and signified in three levels.
In the first level signifier and signified are a unitary sign. Lanigan (1972) says that "this is the
sign of De Saussure and the sign of Merleau-Ponty that is marked by differences from other
signs as real meaning" (p. 86) In the second level, signified is separated from the signified but
"they exist n a one-to-one relationship where one means only what the other-is" (Lanigan, 1972,
p. 86). Barthes calls this relational level denotation. On the tertiary level, signifier "is unitary in
its application with no clear signified, if any, indicated' (Lanigan, 1972, p. 86). Barthes calls this
relational level connotation. Lanigan (1982b) modified Barthes model by presenting connotation
in the first level as the punctuation of expression, denotation in the second level as the
punctuation of[p.172] perception, and real meaning in the third level as the punctuation of
meaning. These levels are interrelated methodologically in a synergistic sequence of description,
reduction, and interpretation. Lanigan (1982b) says that

Barthes gives us only one commutation set (signifier system) while there is at least one other
necessary set (signified system) and multiple sufficient sets. (p. 226)

These multiple sufficient sets are indicated in the dialectic relation of signifiers and signifieds
(ontologically reversible) grounded in the multiple possibilities of vertical and horizontal
relationships. Vertical relationships indicate analogical choice and paradigmatic/synchronic
substitutions or combinations. Horizontal to relationships point to digital choice and
syntagmatic/diachronic Substitutions or combinations. Lanigan's semiotic phenomenological
model is graphically presented in Table Four.
Lanigan (1982b) uses his model to disclose the semiotic phenomenology of human
communication (Table Five). Lanigan (1982b) explains this semiotic phenomenology of human
communication by saying that in the signifier system (reflection)
expression is the self experience that is constituted by consciousness of self. Thus, expression is
constituted by perception. In turn, perception derives from a meaning infrastructure that is the
preconscious. (p. 241)[p.173]
In the system of signified (prereflection),

expression is the experience of the other, which is constituted by the consciousness 1 have of the
other. Expression of the other is constituted by my perception. . . In turn, consciousness derives
from the grounding of the Uncoflscious. (p. 241)

Now, let's use Lanigan's model to identify the categories of semiotic phenomenology in
Gendlin's experiential theory (Table Six)
The semiotic phenomenology of experiencing as theory can be demonstrated by reducing its
elements to three basic pairs:
(1) symbol/felt meaning; (2) entitizing (this)/universalizing (such); and (3) concept/feeling.
Symbol is a this (entitizing) which specifies a such (universalizing) that is signified by a this
(entitizing). In turn, the such validates the this as a bodily response (feeling) and the this
expresses the such as an experiential explication (concept).[p.176]

In short, symbol constitutes a reflexive system (signifier), while felt meaning constitutes a
prereflexive system (signified).

The functional relationship between symbols and felt meaning described by Gendlin as direct
reference/recognition (parallel relation) or metaphor/comprehension (non-parallel relation) is
seen as a process of substitution and combination in the paradigtnatic/synchronic and
syntagmatic/ diachronic reversals. The parallel or non-parallel nature of the relationship does not
change the semiotic structure of these relationships since it works on the basis of substitution
(non-parallel relation) and combination (parallel relation).

Semiotic phenomenology clarifies the theory of experiencing by showing that meaning is created
in an interplay of digital and analogical choices. Experience as felt meaning is the context of
choice (digital: either/or choices), and conceptualization as symbol is a choice in context
(analogue: both/and choices). As a result, semiotic phenomenology modifies Gendlin's (1962)
explanation that the "different modes of relationship between experiencing. and any events that
are not of already logical relationships" (p. 90). Indeed, Gendlin refers to the traditional logic of
positivism where things are tied together in a causal condition and are considered in accept/reject
basis (digital logic). Semiotic phenomenology points to an[p.177] interplay between logics, i.e.,
the human capability to use one logic to code another, and conversely. It explicates the
singularity of human communication and the continuous production of meaning. In addition, it
evidences the differences between human and natural sciences.

In sum, the theory of experiencing focuses on relationships. It studies "the relationships between
what is structured, patterned, formulated, or explicit, and the ways in which experiencing is
affected by these relationships" (Gendlin, 1973, p. 316). "Meaning is defined in terms of
relations between experience and symbols" (Gendlin, 1962, p. 150), and "experiencing is the
meaning-to-us" (Gendlin, 1962, p. 230) of these relationships. Meaning is created in a semiotic
phenomenological process that is a changing in metaphoric and metonymic combination and
substitution. Paraphrasing Wilden (1980) , 1 am arguing that experiential meaning is "a
renormalization, restructuring, or essential change of code [since] substitution in the first sense is
a pracess (and] substitution in the second sense is emergence Can Event)" (p. 356). Or in the
words of another semiologist (Eco, 1979), I can say that experiential meaning is a reassessment
of the content that is an "idiosyncratic and richly original instance of sign function" where a
process of code changing "frequently produces a new type of awareness about the world" (p.
261). The theory of experiencing is semiotic by concentrating in the study of[p.178] relationships
and phenomenological by describing novelty as a meaning-to-us of those relationships.

4.2 Semiotic Phenomenology of Experiencing as Psychotherapy

Gendlin (1962) gives us the context for an experiential psychotherapy in the following statement:

Experiencing and concepts of it occur together, or separately. When they occur together, they
usually are so bound in an immediate unity that we do not notice their difference. The
experiencing is then the meaning-to-us of the concepts. The concepts conceptualize the
experiencing. However, often we have strong feelings without "knowing what they are." In such
cases we have experiencing without having a conceptualization of it. In other, equally frequent
cases we have a conceptualization but little experiencing of what the conceptualization
conceptualizes. (p. 230).

Note in this statement the similarities with Barthes' concepts of 'real meaning,''denotation,' and
'connotation.' When Gendlin says that "experiencing and concepts of it occur together as an
immediate unity," he illustrates Barthes' concept of 'real meaning.' The similarities with
.'denotation,' though not evident in the above statement, is clear in Gendlin's concept of parallel
relationship between symbol and felt meaning (direct reference), where a one-to-one relationship
exists. Barthes' concept of 'connotation' correlates with Gendlin's concept of non-parallel
relationship between symbol and felt meaning (metaphor). However, in Barthes' theory,[p.179]
'connotation' constitutes a discourse where a systemic signifier exists without a correspondent
signified In terms of anthropology, it exemplifies the existence of a myth. In terms of
psychology, it illustrates the occurrence of neurosis. In Gendlin's theory, the existence of
experiencing without a conceptualization is the same as a signified without a signifier or the
reverse. Now let's put in perspective the theories of Barthes, Lanigan, and Gendlin. In Barthe&
nadel, we have a description of a progressive rupture in the relation between signifier and
signified. In Lanigan's model we have a description of the return to the relation between signifier
and signified, that is, a return to the real meaning. Observe that in Lanigan's model, the order of
factors appears inversely, that is, connotation, denotation, and real meaning. Thus, if Barthes'
description is psychological it describes the departure from meaning Lanigan's description is
psychotherapeutic it describes the return to meaning. In this sense, Gendlin's theory exemplifies
these two movements.

Experiencing as psychotherapy begins to exist as awareness of a relational condition between felt


meaning and symbols. As awareness it has the capability to rebuild the relational continuity
between symbols and felt meaning. In contrast a relational discontinuity between symbol and felt
meaning reflects a discourse without signification, or a felt sense without words. In an
interpersonal[p.180] perspective, this situation is seen as a failure in the communicational
process. In an intrapersonal perspective, it constitutes a perception of personal failure and a
difficulty to express the personal needs.

As a praxis, experiential psychotherapy consists of a combination of procedures from different


psychotherapeutic orientations which are interconnected by focusing. Focusing, as an
introspective sequential movement, interrogates the felt meaning and waits for the emergence of
signs which mediate this felt meaning by expressing its signification. In sum, focusing
constitutes a sequential interrogation of meaning.
By reducing focusing to a sequential interrogation, I disclose its semiotic phenomenological
structure. Recall that semiotic phenomenology is an investigative methodology that interrogates
conscious experience to discover meaning, and follows a sequence of three reflections, which are
description, reduction, and interpretation. Focusing, as an interrogation of meaning, is an
explication that never ends, "because anything explicit also involves the implicit concretely felt
which is just concretely the expressive living and acting process" (Gendlin, 1965, p. 249). On
another occasion Gendlin (1966) says that:

We interrogate ourselves inwardly to discover what we feel, wish, are. This "self" we interrogate
is not an "inhabitant" inside. In one respect it is "present" (our directly-felt-bodily concreteness),
in another respect it is[p.181] "absent." (We must ask ourself, dig project questions, "down
there.") Sartre calls it the "absent-present," deliberately portraying it as one process, rather than
as two separately existing things. (p. 232)

By staying rooted at what someone momentarily construes or feels, focusing is a


phenomenological process, "a sequential step of interplay between a 'responding' felt
concreteness and our explicative words or action" (Gendlin, 1965, p. 201).

Gendlin (1978) distinguishes six movements in focusing. Each movement is characterized by a


specific thematic or interrogating. In the first movement (Clear a Space) a typical question is:
"What's between you [and] feeling fine?" This question brings a description of a general
situation, for example, a description of problems of immediate concern. The second movement
(Felt Sense) asks one to select a problem and to listen to the bodily response. A typical question
in this movement is: "What do you sense in your body when you recall the whole of that
problem?" The point is the perception of the bodily shifts as an expression of directionality, i.e.,
how the body responds to this particular cognition. The third movement (Get a Handle) asks for
the quality of that bodily response, for example, "What is the quality of the felt sense?" The
fourth movement (Resonates) is characterized by the "zig zag" between words (or images) and
felt sense. It asks "Is that right?" i.e., trying to combine the felt meaning[p.182] with a symbol.
The fifth movement (Ask) is a reflective question to the conscious experience, like "What is it
about the whole problem that makes me so . .?" It is a tentative specification of a symbol And the
sixth movement (Receive) concludes the cycle by the imperative, "Welcome what comes." The
sixth movement also can be the beginning of a new cycle.

These six movements in turn define three semiotic phenomenological steps. Here, the first
movement correlates with the semiotic phenomenological description; the second, third, and
fourth, with the semiotic phenomenological reduction; and the fifth and sixth, with the semiotic
phenomenological interpretation. The first movement is, therefore, a description that situates the
problem (choice of context). The second, third, and fourth movements are progressive reductions
(choice iii context) where the problems are experientially specified by keeping aside previous
analyses and assumptions. The fifth and sixth movements interpret the new information as the
symbol which expresses the rneaning.

Gendlin (1978, 1979, 1980).,Iberg (1981), and Friedman (1982) illustrate the application of
focusing in psychotherapy. From this literature 1 select two examples of focusing where 1 point
to its semiotic phenomenological structure. It is interesting to observe the consistent concern of
Gendlin and mainly Friedman with the semiotic[p.183] context of their cases. They describe
carefully the non verbal communication as a punctuation of the verbal communication.

The first example is from Gendlin (1978), Focusing. He situates his case in the following way:

The woman who reported this experience is in her late twenties. I will call her Peggy. She and
her husband-'-call him John--live in a suburb. He works for abank, where he has a real chance
to become an executive. Peggy works part time as a teacher at the junior high school. The part-
time status is necessary because she has to care for a five-year-old son.

One evening, John came home jubilant. The bank president had told him quite plainly that the
bank had some expansion plans and that he, John, was considered a key element in those plans.
In his excitement while telling Peggy of this, John knocked a dish off the kitchen table and broke
it. It was her best china. Peggy flew into sudden rage, ran up-stairs in tears, and refused to cook
dinner.(p. 19)

Gendlin continues his narrative saying that Peggy, surprised by her strong reaction, begins to
think about the whole situation and to look at possible explications, such as the broken dish, or
the strong pressure that she has lived under during the past days for reasons of work. Finally, she
decides to use focusing in which she is fluent. Gendlin recreates her focusing in the following
way (example 1):[p.184]
In example one, the focusing procedure begins with a question (Why don't 1 feel terrific right
now?) that searches for an explication for an existential condition. The initial question is a choice
of context (the context of not being terrific) and directs consciousness to a choice in context
where a list of problems are considered as both/and possibilities of experience. So, the first
movement exemplifies a binary analogue logic where an alternation of two orders (digital and
analogue) exists.

When the list of problems appears (Second movement), Peggy does not go immediately into
them. She creates a space, puts them in a distance from her. This conception of space correlates
experiential theory with semiotics, since for semiotics (Nerreli, 1982) "space and time are 'states
of consciousness,''constructions of the mind' [p.186] They do not exist as such until they have
become boundaried entities" (p. 6). The semiotic phenomenological reduction is exemplified in
the specifications of the felt sense (anger at John over the broken dish, etc.) which come without
the sedimented previous analysis and presuppositions.

The semiotic phenomenological interpretation appears in the word jealous, that is, the signifier
(expression; symbol) of the signified (perception; felt meaning) that provoked the whole episode.
But jealous seems not to mediate Um whole implicit signification. Then, another expression
comes (being left behind) that clarifies the implicit meaning of the whole episode. Note that the
change from jealous to being left behind is a paradigmatic substitution with its metaphorical
signification that conveys the meaning (concept) and the bodily response of relief (feeling); see
Table Six.

Example two comes from Friedinan (1982) Experiential Psychotherapy and Focusing. Friedman
reports his case in the following way:

He has just fallen in love. He comes to the session in a good place. He knows how to focus. I
invite him to dose his eyes and "see" what is there.
After some silent self-attending, he finds a fluttering behind his eyes, a sense of something like
movement or energy or some such in his arms. His hands want to move. His torso feels spacious,
clear, still. All this is the felt sense.
I ask his organism for a word or phrase or image that fits this whole felt sense.
"Inspired . . . I feel inspired."
He hears this as if coming from the felt sense.[p.187]

When I say the sentence back to him-"Inspired


I feel inspired"-he reports that the thing-in-his-arms stops happening. They get lighter and relax.
The whole of him now feels still. This is felt shift.
He checks the sentence again--"Inspired
I feel inspired ...
This second check deepens the process. His shoulders want to fall a little. He wants to 510w
down. There is a swirling of energy right between his eyes. His attention is being pulled toward
his chest area.
I invite him to ask that area: "What is the crux of this 'inspired?'"
"Is there a handle for this felts sense?" I ask.
He sees the woman embrace him; his body tingles all over; he hears the sentence, "I'm in love."
Check that.
He feels a "yeah, I sure am" inside. His shoulders sink some more. The tingling stops.
There is a sense of rightness in his body.
I want the felt sense to tell him more. I say, "Just tap it and see what it sends you . . ."
He sees his daughter and her san. They are sitting side by side. He feels tears just behind his
eyes.
What's that?
Suddenly, a memory from fifteen years ago pops into his process. He sees himself sitting in a
bedroom crying about leaving his little brother as he prepares to go away for a year.
Now the little brother joins the image of his daughter and her san and the three of them are
dancing together, and he feels a pleasant kind of teary.
He gets the sentence, "The felt sense is fatherly lave" and with that the tears are released. He sits
and cries.
In a minute the tears stop and he feels calm.
An image of his own father starts to appear.
He is tired and decides to stop here for this round. I have him underline inside the phrases
"fatherly love" and "something about me-and-my- father" as the furthest places he's come to this
focusing. He will return to them on his own later in the day. (pp. 64-65)

Friedman combines in his report concepts from focusing and Gestalt Therapy as evidenced in the
use of certain[p.188] notions (energy) and concern with parts of the body (chest area) that are
very usual among Gestalt therapists. So he exemplifies the possibility of combining focusing
with other techniques. In terms of semiotic phenomenological structure, this example shows the
movement between words and felt sense as the circularity of signs which articulates meaning.
The synchronic/diachronic networks (following their linguistic definitions) are present in the
combination of words (synchronic) that gives form to the discourse, and in the substitution of the
significations of words (diachronic) that gives the discourse its own signification. The diachronic
movement discloses a sequence of substitution, that "by forming, deforming, and reforming of
bodily gestalten. leads to both new information (fatherly love) and feeling more deeply (the tears
were released)" (Friedman, 1982, p. 67). The network of substitution is exemplified in the
following vertical line:

Inspired,I feel inspired.

Image of his daughter and her son.


|

I am in love.

Fatherly love.

Image of his own father.

Something about me-and-my-father.

This network of substitutions is a result of differentiations (entitizing) in the felt meaning


(tiniversalizing) and illustrates relational concepts such as absent/present[p.189] (Sartre),
visible/invisible (Merleau-Ponty), or conscious/ unconscious (Gendlin). Recall that for Gendlin
the relationship between conscious and urzconscious is functional, in a sense that implicit
feelings (absent, invisible, unconscious) are not being transformed to explicit meanings (present,
visible, conscious).

This analysis shows the explicit phenomenology and the implicit semiology of focusing. It is an
explicit phenomenology because Gendlin refers consistently to the relation between
phenomenology and psychotherapy. For him "the essence of psychotherapy, when it is effective,
is phenomenological, not perhaps in the conception of the therapist or the theory, but in the
process of the patient" (Gendlin, 1978/79, p. 64). Yet, he tells us that phenomenology "can
provide a critique and re-structuring of the way we have been thinking about feeling in
psychology and everyday life" (Gendlin, 1978/79, p. 67). And he becomes more specific when
he says that "a psychotherapy is phenomenological, according to my theoretical reformulation, if
its words and vocabulary are used in relation to experiencing" (Gendlin, 1973b, p. 310). So
phenomenology explicates concretely the experiential process and has the critical capability to
evaluate itself. Thus, experiential psychotherapy is an implicit semiology because it implies a
definition of relationships and a system of questioning [p.190] that are semiotic in nature, though
not recognized or mentioned as such.
Now we can ask: What is the point in saying that focusing correlates with a semiotic
phenomenological structure? In fact, phenomenology as the intentionality of consciousness and
semiotics as the system of signs are self-sufficient and a comparison such as this could be
conducted with other therapeutic orientations. The point in my present comparison is to indicate
that while Focusing as theory and praxis relies on a semiotic phenomenology, it neglects its own
theoretical structure when moved to the level of an empirical investigation. It is possible to argue
that as a praxis Focusing applies semiotic phenomenology with certain limitations, i.e., it does
not explore the many possibilities that a semiotic phenomenology offers. However, focusing has
the merit of bringing to psychotherapy a simple and deep modality of personal exploration that
offers possibility for being used in many different contexts. And it has the attractive advantage of
interrogating meaning into the process of its own formation, that is, the study of experience in
the very process of being stated

4.3 Semiotic Phenomenology of Experiencing as Methodology

In Chapter Three, I reviewed the methodology of experiential theory in two aspects: (1) the use
of experiential[p.191] method on empirical research; and (2) the experiential explication as a
ground for linguistic and phenomenological description. Now, I point to the similarities and
differences between semiotic phenomenology and experiential methodology.

The experiential method as an empirical investigation follows the same tradition as humanistic
psychology which attempts to translate subjective information into externally observable
variables. In these terms, experiential theory distances itself from semiotic phenomenology. The
latter does not see the possibility of combining the human and natural sciences (see sections 2.2
and 2.3) since they are essentially different. For semiotic phenomenology the translation from an
experiential given to a numerical code (experiencing scale) misleads the perception of data and
confuses the status of results. Semiotic phenomenology, though a qualitative approach, is also
interested in quantities since quality and quantity are related in the same way as eidetic and
empirical, or subjective and objective elements. However, semiotic phenomenology avoids the
use of assumed statistical abstractions in order to keep its closeness to the experiential given.

Gendlin (1962) is theoretically consistent when he points to the possibility of personal change by
differentiations in behavior and in experiencing. The same position holds for semiotic
phenomenology. Eidetic and[p.192] empirical elements are parts of a system where possibility
changes in a subsystem lead to changes in the other sub-systems, and consequently to the whole
system. However, the experiential theory favors a change based on differentiations in
experiencing (eidetic), while semiotic phenomenology does not privilege either possibility.

The development of empirical research in experiential theory based on quantitative analysis


should be understood in the historical and political context of psychology. The history of the
method in American (USA) psychology is a struggle to obtain recognition and credibility cm the
grounds of a natural science ideology (see Chapter Two). And, if a new information is to be
communicated, it must use the traditional theoretical code as, at least, a rhetoric. Experiential
methodology follows in part this tradition and loses the opportunity to develop a methodology
more compatible with its own theoretical premises. Also, experiential theory grows in an
environment (humanistic psychology) where, with few notable exceptions, methodology is not
the main concern (Rychiak, 1976). This does not imply that Gendlin's research group is not
dedicated to empirical investigation. In fact, his research program accounts for an enormous
amount of time used in a range of procedures from listening to tapes of psychotherapeutic
interviews to determining the causes of their success or failure (Gendlin et ai., 1968). Se the
point in this[p.193] discussion is not the absence of empirical research in experiential
psychotherapy, but the fact that this empirical research does not do justice to the innovations of
its theory.

Turning to experiential explication, we find a methodological concern closer to the roots of


experiential theory and certain similarities with semiotic phenomenology. Experiential
explication looks at the structure of language that mediates meaning. Language as a structure is
constituted by patterns and schematisins that deform meaning. But, meaning is also expressed in
language. According to the experiential theory, language is the expression of meaning when it
comes together with the felt sense as a unity. It is the felt sense that grounds language as an
expression of meaning (1973a). Experiencing is an interchange between words and felt meaning,
in a way that the felt meaning corrects the words until they express meaning as a new speech act.
For Gendlin (1966) the felt meaning is the phenomenological intentionality. And the contribution
of his theory is to provide an operational access to this felt meaning (see section 3.4.2).

The experiential concept of a felt meaning, as a bodily response to a situated Self, correlates to
the notion of an embodied Self in semiotic phenomenology. How ever, as an investigative
procedure, experiential explication differs from semiotic phenomenology. For example,[p.194]
let's consider the experiential signposts (see section 3.4.2) presented by Gendlin (1973b) as a
direction to experiential description. The signposts call attention to the need to define the
meaning of each aspect involved in the situation and the meaning of each word used in the
description of this situation. According to the theory, the procedure is necessarily to allow the
experiential meaning to emerge with its own signification. Gendlin (1973b) says that this process
of defining and redefining "enables one to be dissatisfied with the words and definitions one has.
Without it one would have only the statements and would have to either accept or reject them"
(p. 304)

As a matter of interest, this progressive reduction suggested by Gendlin (1973b) is an explicit


indication of an analogue logic. The attention to the preexistent meanings of situations and words
and the conception of an emergent meaning greater than the preexistent meanings is analogue in
nature. In the progressive reduction of experiential explication, accept/reject decisions (digital
logic) are not possible because meaning originates in an inclusive way (analogue logic)

In terms of methodological procedure, semiotic phenomenology differs from experiential


explication in a sense that Um first includes a progressive description, reduction, and
interpretation which the latter is, at[p.195] least as stated, only a progressive reduction, although
it involves somehow the other two phenomenological reflections. Semiotic phenomenology is a
progressive sequence of reflections because each reflection includes the three basic steps, i.e.,
description, reduction, and interpretation (Lanigan 1973b), and their successive interpolation.
Semiotic phenomenology, in the same way as experiential explication, is concerned with
language and meaning. With Merleau-Ponty (1962), semiotic phenomenology conceives
language in four reversible instances (see section 1.3) that are: (1) language (langage) as a
symbolic code or grammar; (2) speaking (parole) as the act of expression; (3) discourse (langue)
as a value orientation; and (4) gesture (geste) as the intentional behavior. This perspective of
language clarifies the relationship between meaning and words. Meaning is a result of a
dialectical interplay between a language which exists as a formal structure (grammar), and
expression (speaking). This interplay between language and speech becomes the new
signification that determines a change in the position toward the world (gesture). This conception
of language as a preexistent meaning in words and situations (discourse) implies the use of a
syntactic combination in expression (language) as a creation of a new meaning (gesture).[p.196]

Let's exemplify this discussion about the function of language in meaning by taking a look at a
psychotherapy session. The psychotherapeutic moment, as any other human communication, is
an exchange of signs. When a subject (person) enters a therapeutic room (or any other place)
she/he is a totality of signs. It is the way of walking into the room, taking a chair to sit on,
looking around the walls, the floor, the pictures, or the books on the shelf. Signs are also in the
way of looking at the therapist. They may express fear, aggression, depression, or hope. From
this confused mass of signs, a discourse emerges. This discourse moves in a process of the
differentiation of signs. Then, in the context of a total language, the subject begins speaking a
language that is him/ her. It is his/her gesture. This language goes on little by little differentiating
itself from other languages, and becomes unique. It is understood only by the subject or perhaps
neither by him/her or the therapist: This is the reason that the subject is seeking help (to use the
American [USA] counseling terminology).

In this description an element is constant and consistent. It is language. Thus, one has: a
language that is common to the subject and therapist through which an intersubjective
communication is possible; a sequence of
signs through bodily movements which says something about the process that is going on in the
subject; an emergent[p.197] speaking which expresses perception from him/herself, from others,
and from the world; and, finally, an act of value (conation) which is in each expression.

The question now is: What is the subject's problem? And what is the function of the therapist? At
this point my prejudice as a psychotherapist is disclosed and I begin emerging as a means of
intervention which uses a common language, through which certain bodily signs, voice
intonation, and inflections appear. Ali these movements entail my personal beliefs about human
nature and psychopathology. It is my total language as a therapist.

My description of psychotherapy was an instantiation of this total language (parole, geste,


langue, and langage). Initially, I mentioned the total language (langage) as a mass of signs. Then
followed the differentiation of signs by the emergence of speaking (parole). The 'parole' is as the
actualizer of 'langue.''Langue' is the acquired knowledge. It is the sedimentation of 'parole.' In
this case 'parole' loses its capability to communicate experience. It is the failure of perception
resulting in the failure of expression. Psychotherapy, thus, is the place and time of speech. This
speech has two modalities:
'langue' and 'parole.' These two modalities have a dialectical relation. The sedimentation of
'langue' result in the rupture of 'parole.' The unification of 'parole' actualizes 'langue' as the
capitalizer of meaning.[p.198]

Returning to our basic problem, i.e., the limitation of language as description we see that
language only deforms meaning when it is sedimented as discourse (conotion). And
paradoxically, the only way to liberate language (discourse) is in the exercise of speech. Gendlin
(1973a) says that

either linguistic analysis and phenomenology are to be considered merely arbitrary play with
arbitrary chosen assumption systems, arbitrary ways of selecting and defining new distinctions,
arbitrary imposition of formulative patterns, that is to say, either we consider these modes of
philosophy to be different (though less self-critical) than traditional philosophy, or we will have
to grant the central role of directly had, not yet formed experiencing. (p. 508)

By differentiating language in its four reversible instances, semiotic phenomenology avoids


arbitrary description as mentioned by Gendlin. The semiotic phenomenological description is not
an imposition of structures, but allows the emergent specification of already existing structures.
By differentiating speech (speaking) from language (grammar) and discourse (values), semiotic
phenomenology approaches meaning in its formation and sees in speech the articulation of
understanding, or, in an experiential terminology, the expression of the felt meaning.

In sum, the theory of experiencing develops as a procedure to question conscious experience. It


is a descriptive reflection of experience in its formation. The objective is to express experience as
it comes.[p.199]

Experiencing is a synergetic interplay between consciousness and experience. As such, it


contains the meaning that elucidates existence and directs behavior. As a description
experiencing is structured in language, but it is not limited to the schematisms and patterns of
language, because it corrects itself continually by interacting with the felt sense. The felt sense is
the intentionality that brings the world to us and directs language as the expression of meaning.
In terms of empirical research, the theory of experiencing falls into the same theoretical
contradictions as humanistic psychology by converting qualitative information into quantitative
abstractions. However, as an explication of meaning, experiential theory points to the
significance of a felt sense as the basis for language. Experiential theory differs from semiotic
phenomenology in the approach to empirical data, but both theories place language as the
mediation between perception (concepts) and expression (experience). For both theories,
language is the bodily gesture that entails the experiential felt meaning.[p.200]