You always hear the dilemma – ‘should I follow my head or my heart?’
I think this is the main reason I broke down when I was told Isla was to be listed for a heart transplant. The idea that the heart is your soul is pretty well ingrained in society. ‘They’ve got a good heart’. ‘Their heart is in the right place’. It is the symbolic home of the soul. It may sound silly but the idea of Isla’s heart being replaced hit me hard. I remember ugly crying and saying ‘but it’s HER heart!’ It was the heart we gave her that they would replace. Isla does have a kind heart and she’s so loving… I wouldn’t want her to lose that and in some way I feared she would lose part of her soul (Yes I know 🤦🏻♂️).
Most languages are littered with references to the heart as the seat of the soul and emotion. The Ancient Egyptians believed the soul was composed of 5 parts: The Ib was located in the heart and seen to be responsible for thoughts and feelings, and considered the vital force that brought human beings to life.
The great philosopher Plato believed that in order to protect the immortal soul from contamination, the perishable souls were separated from the head by the neck. The thymos, responsible for feelings such as rage, bravery, and hope, was located in the chest cavity. The epithemitikon, which controlled desires and unconscious thought, was located near the umbilicus.
There are many more examples of these themes of thought.
However, over time, the heart became viewed more scientifically; simply a muscle which pumps blood around the body. I think this is how I have to view it. It’s a part. It’s an engine in a car.
If it goes wrong, it gets fixed or replaced. Simple as that. It doesn’t change the car at all. It doesn’t change the car’s personality… because we all know cars have them.
There is little doubt that Plato and co. were actually right in a way. Emotion isn’t relegated solely (or souly) to the brain, and our psychological well-being affects our whole bodies, including our hearts. Ever had palpitations when stressed? Throw ‘what’s your gut feeling?’ into the mix (which is where Plato said part of the soul lived). It is widely accepted that the gut is a second brain. It is also now acknowledged that the heart can act as a third brain. One surprisingly common connection between the heart and emotions is called takotsubo cardiomyopathy, or broken-heart syndrome.
In broken-heart syndrome, when a patient experiences severe emotional distress, they literally feel it in their heart. Their hormones surge and the heart’s left ventricle swells, taking on a rounded shape which causes it to pump blood less efficiently.
The rational side of me knows that people who have had heart transplants haven’t become different people. They haven’t been given the heart of an axe murderer and suddenly become evil. They are still determined, still brave, still caring, loving… they are still them. They still have their ‘soul’. So maybe science is right after all and the ‘brains’ of the gut and heart are simply just biochemical reactions and the neurological connections are to parts of the brain we just don’t understand yet. Leonardo da Vinci was denounced as a sorcerer for attempting to find the soul by dissecting the brain… Kind of puts the Mona Lisa into perspective. Maybe we will never really know about the soul and it’s true that there are ‘ghosts in the machine’, and we are really just machines #matrix.