Adapted EXTRACTS concerning William James, from the book The Alba of Emotions* by Susana Bloch, selected by the author (pages 35-38)
WILLIAM JAMES’ THEORY
All these years, during which I have lived with Alba Emoting, I have encountered unexpected well-known allies in this subject, such as Shakespeare, Garcia Lorca, Diderot, Artaud, Angeles Mastretta and others whom I will be quoting in this book.
Far back in the shadows of my mind also lurks Charles Darwin and William James, both important names in the field of Psychology.
One day, in around 1990, while traveling by train from
Paris to London to present my work at a symposium, there
suddenly and mysteriously appeared seated next to me who
but William James in person! He winked at me and
As I awoke from my reverie, I found on the seat a copy
of one of his articles entitled What is an Emotion? which
had been published in the review Mind in 1884.
I began to read it right then and there and as I progressed with the
reading, my attention was more and more captivated as I
felt how close his writings were to my own reflections and
I have decided to present his ideas here as they seem to me completely pertinent to the subject treated in this book.
William James, a remarkable medical doctor, psychologist and philosopher, brother of the no less famous novelist, Henry James, was the first to try to describe systematically the relation existing between the subjective experience of an emotion and the concomitant body manifestations of that emotion. In 1884 he developed the theory that emotional experience is secondary to bodily changes, a proposition which had already been insinuated by Charles Darwin.
Darwin had established the universality of basic emotions, mainly based on their facial and body expressions.
The theory of James is known as the James-Lange Theory, because the Danish physiologist, Carl Lange, independently developed the same ideas at the same time.
James stated that basic emotions –which he named “standard emotions”– were those that had a clear corporeal expression. He writes:
“Our natural way of thinking about these standard emotions is that
the mental perception of some facts excites the mental affection called
emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily
expression. My thesis on the contrary is that the bodily changes
always follow the perception of the exciting fact, and
that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the
emotion.” Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and
weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a
rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis to be defended here says
that this order of sequence is incorrect, that the one mental state is
not immediately induced by the other, that the bodily manifestations
must first be interposed between. And that the more rational state-
ment is that we feel sorry because we cry, strike or tremble, because
we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be.”
Without the bodily changes that follow the perception of an external event, our emotional life would be “purely cognitive in form,colorless, destitute of emotional warmth.”
“That the heart-beats and the rhythm of breathing play a leading part
in all emotions whatsoever, is a matter too notorious for proof. And
what is really equally prominent, but less likely to be admitted until
special attention is drawn to the fact, is the continuous co-operation
of the voluntary muscles in our emotional states. Even when no
change of outward attitude is produced, their inward tension alters
to suit each varying mood, and is felt as a difference of tone or of
strain. In depression the flexors tend to prevail, in elation or belligerent
excitement the extensors take the lead. And the various permutations
and combinations of which these organic activities are susceptible
make it abstractly possible that no shade of emotion, however slight, should be without a bodily reverberation as unique, when taken in its totality, as is the mental mood itself.”
We all possess the capacity to perceive the corporality of our emotional states provided we give it the right attention. When we are worried, however slightly, we may become aware of the tensing of our eyes and our frowning; when we suddenly feel shy, something inside our throats makes us swallow, cough or clear our throats.
“What kind of emotion of fear would be left, if neither feelings of
quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling
lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral
stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible to think. Can one fancy
the state of rage and picture no ebullition of it in the chest, no flush-
ing of the face, no dilation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth,
no impulse to vigorous action, but in their stead, limp muscles, calm
breathing and a placid face?… In like manner of grief: what would it
be without its tears, its sobs, its suffocation of the heart, its pang in
the breast-bone?... I say that for us, emotion dissociated from all
bodily feeling is inconceivable.”
James postulated that if his theory were correct, it meant in his own words that:
“...any voluntary arousal of the so-called manifestations of
a special emotion ought to give us the emotion itself.”
Our research on the emotional effector patterns of basic emotions resulted in the method called Alba Emoting, which allowsany person to induce an emotional state by the
voluntary reproduction of specific “respiratory-postural-facial patterns.”
It should therefore not have surprised me that after listening to one of the first reports I gave of our findings to the scientific community at the European Brain and Behavior Society Conference in Jerusalem, a French colleague jumped from his seat exclaiming with quite unusual excitement for these kinds of meetings:
“this is the first time that i hear of an experimental
demonstration of the james-lange theory !“
And to end with this reflection, I shall add what Denis Diderot wrote around the year 1774 in his book Elements of Physiology;
„ I challenge any person to express something
without the body „
Susana Bloch A.
*The Alba of Emotions
Ediciones Ultramarinos PSE, 2006
BASES CIENTÍFICAS DEL EMOCIONAR
EL ALBA DE LAS EMOCIONES
BIOLOGÍA DEL EMOCIONAR
SURFEANDO LA OLA EMOCIONAL.