Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Midweek Musings: Matters of the Heart

"Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood."

Today in my biology class (don't's a class for non-majors...lord knows how poorly I would do otherwise) we were talking about the heart. Because I am prone to a wandering mind, I kept thinking about why in the world we have classified the heart, a hollow, muscular organ used for the constant inflow and outflow of blood, as the house of all things emotional. After all, why blame the poor heart? It works hard enough already, and now we have to go blaming it for feelings that we have concocted in our brains.

Just pondering the heart as an organ brought up a host of thoughts like this, including the quote from the 2004 film Closer, that I had never really thought about before. If the heart is supposed to be the symbol of all things love and connected to most decision making, isn't that kind of the easy way out? We are all taught to "follow our hearts" as opposed to thinking with our heads. But which is better?

Whenever I have a tough decision to make (which, to be honest, isn't that often), it makes most sense to me to think it out, usually through writing. In the end, I usually go with a "gut" instinct, which could probably also be considered following my heart. But where does this heart instinct come from, and how is it so ingrained into the human philosophy? Perhaps there is a mechanism in the way we think that leads us in the right direction, the direction we know will make us happy. It might have something to do with the way we were raised, a specific instinct we have, or a certain moral code we have instilled in our society and therefore ourselves.

But, my question remains, why blame the poor heart? The metaphor of the heart is a nice one: it never ceases working (that is, until it does, and that means baaaad things), it pumps and pumps for the average span of some 70+ years in America, it delivers life to the body, and it is the first sign of life. But an even deeper metaphor is the idea that the heart is a thoughtless organ. The brain cannot control the heart, and it therefore offers us a scapegoat when we cannot control our emotions, despite the fact that emotions stem from the brain. People seem to be afraid of the brain: too much of it can be explained by science. The heart, on the other hand, is mysterious, and always seems to know what to do. Therefore, when we feel a certain pull toward or away of something, we consider that this may be our heart, our steadfast, everworking heart that is guiding us; a shortcut through the messy thinking and analysis done by the brain.



  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. The heart has a lot of important stuff to do and shouldn't be saddled with all the extra responsibilities imbued with feelings of love and angst. I think the decision to use the heart was probably just an arbitrary one anyway and it could have just as easily been the spleen. However I think "follow your spleen" lacks the same poetic punch. Great post!

  2. definitely an interesting thought. I consider myself a thinker - I tend to err on the side of logic. That being said when you are hurt emotionally or have a tough emotional decision; don't you get a little twinge in the area of your heart. I wonder if that's an actual pain or a pain that our brains have been taught to believe we should have.

    Good philosophical question.