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(PP, 226, 227, 228).
James™s view of the pervasively somatic dimension in the ever-changing
stream of consciousness ¬nds support from contemporary neuroscience.
The neurologist Antonio Damasio explains “the ever-changing modu-
lation of affect” that characterizes normal human consciousness as ulti-
mately a function of “the ever-changing landscape of your body.” Feelings
result from the brain™s “ongoing, uninterruptible representation of the
body,” its “continuous monitoring” through images “of what your body is
doing while thoughts about speci¬c contents roll by,” and this “body land-
scape is always new,” yet relatively stable. For alongside the ever changing
“current,” “dynamic body maps,” there are also “more stable maps of
general body structure” or tendency that help form our more abiding
“notion of body image.”13
Besides explaining the ever-changing stream of thought, the body con-
versely provides the ground of thought™s unity. Our thoughts are united
as being ours because “as we think we feel our bodily selves as the seat of
the thinking. If the thinking be our thinking, it must be suffused through
all its parts with that peculiar warmth and intimacy” that James regards as
primarily constituted by “the feeling of the same old body always there,”
even though the body is never, strictly speaking, there in exactly the
same unmodi¬ed state. Some sense of embodiment thus pervades all
our knowledge, even if we are not attentive to it. “Our own bodily posi-
tion, attitude, condition, is one of the things of which some awareness,
however inattentive, invariably accompanies the knowledge of whatever
else we know”; and our continuous somatic sensitivity is essential to the
unity of our thinking even in nonsomatic matters, since it helps “form

13 Antonio Damasio, Descartes™ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Avon,

1994), 144“145, 151“152, 158, hereafter DE.
Deeper into the Storm Center 143

a liaison between all the things of which we become successively aware”
(PP, 234“235). Although one™s world of experiences and thoughts may
be “a quasi-chaos” with “vastly more discontinuity . . . than we commonly
suppose,” this baf¬‚ing complexity can be held together by “the objective
nucleus of every man™s experience, his own body, [which], is, it is true, a
continuous percept” (RE, 33).
Damasio™s neuroscienti¬c research supports such claims. Though we
are not often explicitly aware of “the ongoing, uninterruptible repre-
sentation of the body,” this is because “our focus of attention is usually
elsewhere, where it is most needed for adaptive behavior.” It “does not
mean the body representation is absent, as you can easily con¬rm when
the sudden onset of pain or minor discomfort shifts the focus back to
it. The background body sense is continuous, although one may hardly
notice it, since it represents not a speci¬c part of anything in the body but
rather an overall state of most everything in it.” Yet Damasio concludes,
“such an ongoing, unstoppable representation of the body state is what
allows you to reply promptly to the speci¬c question ˜How do you feel ?™
with an answer that does relate to whether you feel ¬ne or do not feel
that well” (DE, 152). One of Damasio™s key theories is that our continuous
sense of bodily feelings is necessary for the successful performance of sus-
tained reasoning, especially with respect to social and practical matters.
Here again, his arguments are deeply inspired by James, who notori-
ously championed the somatic character of emotion while celebrating
the importance of affect in the life of thought.


Sensation, Attention, and Sense of Time and Place
Before critically considering these controversial views in their Jamesian
formulation, we should note some other ways James underlines the body™s
cognitive importance. Knowledge involves the selection and organiza-
tion of content. The body™s sense organs contribute to this process ¬rst
by shaping our abilities and scope of perception. Serving as ¬lters that
are receptive to only some aspects of the physical world and only within
a certain range of “velocity,” our bodily sense organs select the sensa-
tions that can come into our thinking (PP, 273“274).14 Real thought, of
course, requires the further selection of conscious attention to some of

14 Moreover,the body is not a mere passive register but an active integrator of such sense
perceptions, so that the perception of a ball in one™s hand involves an integration “of
optical impressions of touch, of muscular adjustments of the eye, of the movements of
our ¬ngers, and of the muscular sensations which these yield” (PP, 708).
Body Consciousness
144

the manifold of sensations that are given in immediate experience. But
attention is itself partly “a bodily disposition” (PP, 413). “When we look
or listen we accommodate our eyes and ears involuntarily, and we turn
our head and body as well” (PP, 411). Even what seems to be purely intel-
lectual attention (such as trying to recall and focus on a memory or an
idea or a line of reasoning) involves, James argues, distinctive muscular
contractions in the head, eyeballs, eyelids, brow, and glottis. In addition,
if the attention is in any way effortful, it will also involve “contractions
of the jaw-muscles and of those of respiration,” which then often radiate
down from the throat and chest and into our lower back (PP, 287“288).
There is a practical consequence to this muscularity of thought that
James fails to note here but that we have already suggested in previous
chapters. The often painful strain of attention in what we presume to
be purely mental work comes from the muscular tension involved in
such allegedly “pure” thinking. We tend to feel such tension only when
it reaches a certain threshold of pain or discomfort, feeling it in the
strain of our eyes, our backs, and, if we are suf¬ciently sensitive, in the
fatigue of our facial muscles. But greater somatic self-consciousness could
provide us with a better monitoring of these muscular contractions so
that we can learn to avoid or at least diminish those that are unnecessary
or unnecessarily severe. By arresting or minimizing such pain-producing
contractions before they are sustained long enough to generate the pain,
we can enable ourselves to think longer and harder with greater ease and
less distraction from discomfort and fatigue.
James further argues that bodily feelings are cognitively crucial in pro-
viding our sense of time, especially when it concerns the passage of so-
called empty time. The phenomenological feeling of time passing can
never be the sensation of pure duration without any content, since such
a pure emptiness could not be perceived as moving or changing. Hence,
some passing content must be being attended to in the passage of “empty
time,” and James (relying on both introspection and experimental ¬nd-
ings) claims that the body “ through its rhythms of “heart-beats,” “breath-
ing,” and “feelings of muscular tension and relaxation” “ provides this
changing content that expresses time™s passage (PP, 584).15


15 James af¬rms Hugo M¨ nsterberg™s more speci¬c view that up to a duration of one third
u
of a second we can feel the sense of time in the fading memory image of an impression,
but that beyond that threshold our sense of time™s passage is a function of changes of
muscular feelings (PP, 584).
Deeper into the Storm Center 145

As “the objective nucleus of every man™s experience,” the soma also
establishes one™s sense of place and positionality by organizing the expe-
rienced world around its center as “the origin of co-ordinates.” James
explains, “Where the body is is ˜here™; when the body acts is ˜now™; what
the body touches is ˜this™; all other things are ˜there™ and ˜then™ and
˜that.™ These words of emphasized position imply a systematization of
things with reference to a focus of action and interest which lies in the
body; and the systematization is now so instinctive (was it ever not so?)
that no developed or active experience exists for us at all except in that
ordered form” (RE, 33, 86). Our bodies, moreover, help create a sense of
common space. When I see your body, I focus on a place and object that
is also the focus of your experience, even though your experience of your
body is from a different perspective. In the same way, bodies provide
a common place for the meeting of minds, whose intentions, beliefs,
desires, and feelings are expressed in bodily demeanor and behavior
(RE, 38, 41).
The body also works to unify space by serving as a bridge between the
spaces of inner self and outer nature, and between physical and mental
events. It does so by ambiguously straddling these domains in our experi-
ence. I can regard my bleeding ¬nger as an external object to be wrapped
with a bandage, but I can also experience it as a throbbing painful part
of me. And this throbbing I feel as the blood pulses and gushes forth,
is it a physical feeling or a mental experience of pain? It seems to span
both spaces, as does the surge of conjugal love I feel that makes my chest
swell and my face beam with bright eyes and a broad smile. Such feelings
(which James called “affectional facts”) are “affections . . . of the mind”
but also “simultaneously affections of the body” (RE, 69, 71), an ambi-
guity re¬‚ecting the exemplary ambiguity of the body itself, which is both
what I am and what I have as something distinct from the “I” that regards
it. As James explains, “Sometimes I treat my body purely as part of outer
nature. Sometimes, again, I think of it as ˜mine,™ I sort it with the ˜me,™
and then certain local changes and determinations in it pass for spiri-
tual happenings. Its breathing is my ˜thinking,™ its sensorial adjustments
are my ˜attention,™ its kinaesthetic alterations are my ˜efforts,™ its visceral
perturbations are my ˜emotions™” (RE, 76). Such strong identi¬cation of
spiritual and bodily processes is the most radical and controversial aspect
of James™s somatic philosophy, and we need to separate the truly valid
points from the confusing rhetoric of exaggeration he sometimes used,
pragmatically, to make them.
Body Consciousness
146

Emotion
James held that bodily feelings are not merely cognitively useful in orga-
nizing our experience but that they also constitute our most basic sense
of self. His account of the self is complex, ranging from the “phenomenal
self” or “Empirical Me” (which includes the material Self, the social
Self, and the spiritual Self ) to the more ethereal “pure principle of
personal identity” that he identi¬es with the “I which knows” that Me
and that has been traditionally identi¬ed with the noumenal “soul” or
“pure ego” (PP, 280, 283, 314, 379). “The body,” writes James, “is the
innermost part of the material self in each of us,” followed by our clothes
and our immediate family, which we also tend to regard and care for
as “part of our very selves” (PP, 280). The body is also important for
one™s social self, since that self involves one™s “image” in the “eyes” or
“mind” of others, and one™s body typically ¬gures centrally in that image
(PP, 281“282).16 Beyond these commonplace claims for the body, James
controversially contends that bodily feelings constitute an important
aspect of our spiritual self, of which emotions form a signi¬cant part.
The established psychological view of his time regarded emotions as
purely mental events, which are ¬rst experienced directly through per-
ception and independently of bodily reactions, such reactions being con-
strued as the mere subsequent effects or expression of the emotion. James
(and C. G. Lange, a Danish thinker who independently developed a very
similar theory in the same year of 1884), argued that bodily sensations
play a more essential role in generating and even constituting emotion,
at least with respect to the stronger emotions (such as grief, anger, fear,
joy, etc.).17 When we notice something that makes us angry or fearful or

16 James ranks our devotion to clothes so high as to suggest that their beauty may be more
important to us than that of our own body. “We so appropriate our clothes and identify
ourselves with them that there are few of us who, if asked to choose between having a
beautiful body clad in raiment perpetually shabby and unclean, and having an ugly and
blemished form always spotlessly attired, would not hesitate a moment before making
a decisive reply” (PP, 280). James notes that “a man has as many social selves as there are
individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind” (PP, 281“282), so
an individual™s ability to display different body images “ say as a nursing mother and a
demanding judo instructor “ can contribute to her ability in developing a more varied
social self.
17 Describing such emotions as “the coarser emotions,” James allows there are also “subtler

emotions” (exempli¬ed by certain “moral, intellectual, and aesthetic feelings”) in which
“pleasure and displeasure” or even “rapture” result simply from the perception of cer-
tain sensory qualities without the intervening in¬‚uence of felt bodily sensations. The
“aesthetic emotion” of “primary and immediate pleasure in certain pure sensations and
harmonious combinations of them” is thus purely “cerebral.” James notes, however, that
Deeper into the Storm Center 147

elated, James claimed, we do not ¬rst derive a purely mental emotion
from that perception, which in turn issues in bodily reactions. Instead,
“bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and . . . our feeling
of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion” (PP, 1065). The constitu-
tive intervening role of bodily reactions (such as quickened heartbeat,
goose ¬‚esh, shallow breathing, ¬‚ushing, trembling, or ¬‚ight) are what
distinguishes a real emotion of fear from a mere intellectual recognition
that what we perceive is dangerous or frightening. “Without the bodily
states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive
in form, pale, colourless, destitute of emotional warmth” (PP, 1066).
Emotions “are in very truth constituted by, and made up of, those bod-
ily changes which we ordinarily call their expression or consequence”
(PP, 1068). “A purely disembodied human emotion,” James concludes,
“is a nonentity,” even if it is not a logical impossibility and even if such
emotion might be metaphysically realized by “pure spirits” beyond the
human realm (PP, 1068).
Much of the notorious controversy concerning the so-called James-
Lange theory stems from the conceptual sloppiness and stylistic exagger-
ation in James™s earlier formulations. He later acknowledged “the slap-
dash brevity of the language [he] used,” whose rhetorical pith and ¬‚our-
ish greatly sacri¬ced precision.18 To make his point that bodily changes
are formative and not merely gratuitous subsequent effects, James argued
that when we perceive a sorrowful event or a frightening object we do
not ¬rst experience a disembodied sorrow or fear and then only subse-
quently have the sorrow- or fear-related bodily reactions such as crying,
trembling, or running; instead, we only experience real sorrow or fear
when our bodily reactions to that object or event are felt to “kick in.”
Unfortunately, James ¬rst expressed this by saying “that we feel sorry


such emotion is so subtle that it “can hardly be called emotional at all.” Moreover, on
top of this primary pleasure of pure intellectually appreciated beauty is typically added
“secondary pleasures” in which the “bodily sounding-board is at work,” and only when
they are added do we get a robustly emotional experience of art (PP, 1065, 1082“1085).
Perhaps the assertion of a disembodied aesthetic emotion was a strategic concession to
the conventions of re¬ned aesthetic taste (exhibited so masterfully in his brother Henry™s
¬ction), but it is hard to see, given James™s views on the somatic dimension of percep-
tion and thought, how bodily feeling is not integrally involved in even the purest of our
aesthetic pleasures.
18 See William James, “The Physical Basis of Emotion” (1894), repr. in William James,

Collected Essays and Reviews (New York: Longmans, 1920), 351. His earlier treatments
include, “What Is an Emotion?” Mind, 9 (1884): 188“205, and the long chapter on
emotions in Principles of Psychology.
Body Consciousness
148

because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and
not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful,
as the case may be” (PP, 1066). This catchy, oft-cited formula confusingly
reduces the wealth of bodily reactions involved in emotion (many of
which James realized were “invisible visceral ones”19 ) down to certain
explicit, well-de¬ned, large-scale body movements like crying, striking,
running, trembling.
James™s famous slogan also falsely suggests that each general emotion
(such as fear, anger, sorrow, joy, etc.) has one ¬xed and easily observed
bodily behavior that de¬nes it and that emotions should thus be under-
stood in essentially behavioristic terms. James in fact held neither of these
views. Af¬rming that the bodily changes involved in a given emotion could
vary signi¬cantly in different people and in different situations and that
emotions themselves admit of unlimited variety despite our tendency to
group them under a limited set of general names, James insisted that emo-
tions are inward experiences that are not reducible to their “physiological

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