"What kind of an emotion of fear would be left," James wondered, "if the feeling of quickened heart beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose bumps nor of visceral stirrings, were present?" James' answer was simple: without the body there would be no fear, for an emotion begins as the perception of a bodily change. When it comes to the drama of feelings, our flesh is the stage.
For most of the 20th century, James' theory of bodily emotions was ignored. It just seemed too implausible. But in the 1980s, the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio realized that James was actually right: Most of our emotions are preceded by changes in our physical body. Damasio came to this conclusion after studying neurological patients who, after suffering damage in their prefrontal cortex or somatosensory cortex, were unable to experience any emotion at all. Why not? The tight connection between the mind and body had been broken. Even though these patients could still feel their flesh—they weren't paraplegic—they could no longer use their flesh to generate feelings. And if you can't produce the bodily symptoms of an emotion—the swelling tear ducts of sadness, or the elevated heart rate of fear—then you can't feel the emotion. As Damasio notes, "The mind is embodied, not just embrained."