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August 4, 2010
“If the 20th century has been, so to speak, the Century of the Brain, then the 21st century should be the Century of the Heart.” (Schwartz and Russe, in Pearsall, 1998 p. xiii)
| If we turn to contemporary science to
on the nature of the heart, we find another series of interesting and
enigmas. Although humankind has long ascribed emotional and
states to the heart, modern psychologists typically identify the
limbic system as the centre for emotional reactions. Since
and the mind are taken to exist within the head, it seems natural to
that the brain is the site where we experience emotions and
Thus, scientists seldom consider that consciousness and emotions exist
physically in relationship to the heart, the autonomic nervous system
other parts of the body. The idea, that the heart might be a
for psychological experience is as alien to modern scientific thought
that of the existence of the soul. Nevertheless, the enigmas of
heart are intimately tied to the issues of human consciousness and
The heart has traditionally been the basic symbol of life. From four weeks after conception, when it begins to beat, until death, the heart maintains life within the material body. The heart’s regular contractions pump de-oxygenated blood to the lungs, where it is oxygenated, and returned to the heart, and then pumped out through the network of arteries which interpenetrate the body and brain. Oxygenated blood is red in colour and travels through the body in arteries and capillaries; while the blue, de-oxygenated blood returns to the heart through the veins. The blood is the river of life maintaining all the cells and organs through the transport of oxygen and other nutrients. Oxygen is the fuel of life required for vital and metabolic processes within the body/mind.
Modern science regards the heart as essentially being a mechanical pump, which is composed of soft muscle tissue. Nevertheless, the scientific knowledge of the heart is far from complete and there are a number of major enigmas regarding its nature. The most notable of these enigmas is the long standing mystery of the heart’s pacemaker. The pacemaker is identified with the sino-atrial node (SA Node) situated near the top of the right atrium. This body of cells produces the basic life impulse–the spark of life–which propagates through the heart in three phases, causing the contraction and relaxation of the various heart chambers. What produces the basic life spark within the S A Node? In a Scientific American article, Adolph addressed this issue:
Fifteen years later, an article from Science Digest informs us that the issues of the pacemaker remain unsolved:
"About 70 times each minute, more than 2.5 billion times in a lifetime, the heart beats on. What keeps it going? The heart, it seems, has a life of its own. The muscle fibres that make it up differ from those elsewhere in the body in that some of them generate their own electricity without receiving signals from the brain. In fact, the fetal heart begins beating before it has even formed nerve connections. The heart’s pacemaker is a group of self-triggering cells called the sinoatrial (SA) node. ... What initiates the current in the SA node remains unknown, but its cells behave more like neurons than muscle fibres." (1984, Aug., p.90)
The cells of the SANode are permeated with sodium and potassium ions which create a polarized environment, in which the inside of the cell is negatively charged and the outside is positively charged. At regular intervals, the cell membranes leak and cause the cell to depolarize. As a result, the cells contract and an electric impulse is generated, a basic electrical spark which brings life into the heart. The mystery of how these impulses originate has yet to be fully explained in terms of biochemical and metabolic processes.
Psychologist Barbara Brown (1974) comments upon the enigma of the heartbeat:
"The genesis of the heartbeat is as unknown as the genesis of man, and equally a miracle. A squib of tissue so small and so well camouflaged as to be unseen by the naked eye is the progenitor of beats. By some unknown ultrachemistry, this squib of tissues generates a flow of electric impulses, bip-bip-bip, one after the other with bewildering unmatched regularity. ... The generator is inborn, inherent." (pp. 227-8)Like Adolph, Brown assumes that this generator is programmed by metabolic energy. Certainly, it is reasonable for a scientist to seek a material cause in attempting to resolve the mysterious generation of the heartbeat. Nevertheless, Brown’s comments are most appropriate: “The genesis of the heartbeat is as unknown as the genesis of man ...”!
| The role which most people attribute to
as being the center of the emotional life, is another intriguing
paradox associated with this mysterious organ. The heart is the
powerful symbol of human emotions: We talk of “loving with our
of being “heartbroken,” of having “a heavy heart,” of knowing
and caring “with the heart,” or of experiencing excitement and anxiety,
when “the heart skips a beat.” When we see cruelty, we wonder how
someone can be so “heartless,” so selfish and contracted about
so cold-blooded. We talk of “hearty” welcomes, if our “hearts are
in it;” of “losing heart” and giving up hope; of knowing “heartache,”
the loss of love.
Certainly, one would be wary of someone who claimed to love you with “all of their head,” instead of “all of their heart”! If someone proclaimed to love you with all of their limbic system or their cerebral cortex, you might want to refer them to a psychiatrist, or to Drs. Sagan, Crick or Chalmers. The literary, poetic and musical dimensions of human life attest to the life, loves and sufferings of the heart and soul. The heart is regarded as a mind of its own, one which can function quite independently of the brain. The heart is regarded as being the core of our being, the deeper self. We speak of getting to the heart of a matter, when we attempt to penetrate to the core of something, or to its essence. Are these and other expressions simply metaphors, or do they indicate that life, human emotions and intuitive wisdom, are somehow related to the hidden dimensions of the heart?
| In New Mind, New Body,
provides fascinating insights into the enigmas of the heart. The
heart plays a role in the experiencing of emotions and feeling, in
in having a mind of its own, in learning and knowing, and in
She describes the heart as having a secret life, intricately connected
to the thoughts, feelings and desires of the individual. Brown
how, in different experiments, the heart can learn without “the
mind” knowing; the heart is the most sensitive of the organs to
states; and the heart rate increases or decreases with the shifting of
attention and conscious awareness.
The study of yogis and biofeedback training demonstrates that the heart can be brought under various forms of self-control. Brown describes how some yogis can radically lower their heart rate or even stop their hearts for brief periods. Others exercise control over their vascular systems, altering blood flow to particular parts of the body in very specific ways. The experimental evidence suggests that changes in the heart rate can be brought about through “intention,” as though the heart has its own “will.” Brown concludes that a very strong feedback mechanism exists between the brain and the heart, which somehow involves the control and awareness of emotions.
These observations represent a major enigma: Is there a consciousness of the heart, or are we conscious of feelings and emotions in the heads alone? Human experience suggests that consciousness is not confined to the cerebral cortex but can be experienced throughout the body. Brown comments:
"Perhaps the confusion related to the heart’s learning lies in the researcher’s head. There seems to be an unending war between the mind of the heart and the ideas of the researcher." (1974, p. 258)
Indeed, the central tenet of the head doctrine–that consciousness is produced within the brain–would appear to be the result of confusion in the researchers’ head.
In Towards a Science of Consciousness, Kenneth Pelletier (1978) argued for an expanded view of the possible nature of consciousness. Pelletier questioned the validity of the head doctrine, which he labelled the “under the hat theory of consciousness:”
In The Heart’s Code, psychologist Paul Pearsall (1998) maintains that, energetically speaking, the heart–rather than the brain–is clearly the centre of the psychological universe. Indeed:, to the contrary:
The idea, that the heart is the centre of the psychology of the individual, instead of the brain, would indeed revolutionize our understanding of normal and supernormal psychology. Adopting this view would be analogous to the Copernican revolution, wherein scientists realized that the earth, rather than being the centre of the universe, travelled around the sun within the solar system. The egocentric attitude of humans was shattered. Likewise, the acceptance of a deeper conceptualization of the heart, consciousness and the nature of Self would constitute a revolutionary development in modern psychology, philosophy and the life sciences.
In 1996, Drs. R. Allan and S. Scheidt proposed that modern psychology should include a field of “cardiac psychology,” as a branch of health psychology. Cardiac psychologists have generally focussed on identifying the psychological, social and environmental risk factors for heart disease, and the psychological repercussions of heart attacks and other cardiac illness. Pearsall, Schwartz and Russek, and others propose a broader definition of cardiac psychology: one in which the heart is regarded as a thinking, feeling, and willing organ, with profound energetic influences on humans’ psychological life.
The heart has its own form of intelligence, independent of the brain. It can perceive internal and external stimuli, and react on its own to the outside world. It communicates “an info-energetic code” which is conveyed through tens of thousands of miles of vessels and 75 trillion cells of the heart and circulatory system. In addition, neurotransmitters, which are found in the brain, have also been discovered in the heart. The heart produces the hormone and neuro-peptide, Atrial Naturetic Factor (ANF), which communicates with the brain, particularly the limbic system and hypothalymus which mediate emotions, and the pineal gland which regulates sleep/waking cycles, aging processes and activity levels. The activities of the heart are also recognized to have effects on the immune system and, consequently on physical health. Pearsall notes:
Pearsall examines the nature of cellular memory, life fields and non-local information fields in attempts to account for the various clinical and psychological evidences that are emerging about the mysterious qualities and role of the human heart. # The heart’s attributes and functions are much more mysterious and significant than conventional scientific thinking supposes. He states that, through the psychology of the heart, modern psychology is “beginning to make its first tentative contacts with the soul.” (p. 6)
| The remarkable stories of heart
bear testimony to the secrets of the heart. Pearsall recounts an
incident which happened to him after he had presented a lecture on the
heart’s role in human’s psychological and spiritual life. A member of
audience, a psychiatrist was moved to tears as she recounted a dramatic
story about an eight year old girl who had been the recipient of a
transplant. The heart donor, a ten year old girl, had been
After the transplant, the recipient suffered nightmares about the man
had killed the doner, and was able to describe the time, weapon, and
the man’s appearance, what the little girl had said to her assailant,
so on. The police were able to identify and prosecute the murder
based on her evidence! Somehow the recipient had access to the
information and emotional terror, and the soul influences of the donor!
In A Change Of Heart (1997), Claire Sylvia, the recipient of a heart-transplant, recounts her remarkable experiences. She describes how the energies, emotions, and soul life of the donor seemed to become intertwined with her own. Thus, she experienced an extraordinary metamorphosis after her transplant, as she acquired her donor’s food and beverage preferences, his conflicted feelings towards and conflicts with his father, his sexual attractions and impulses, and energy dynamics! Her dreams of the donor enabled her to establish who he had been, to meet his family and to learn more about him. Apparently, heart-transplant recipients frequently report such astonishing experiences. Nevertheless, doctors, scientists and other professionals either dismiss or politely ignore these intriguing phenomena. Of course, thinking from their heads, such learned people do not acknowledge or even imagine that the heart could hold such mysteries or pose such enigmatic challenges to established knowledge about the nature of consciousness and mind.
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