Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Transplanting Memories: The Heart

There was a programme on Channel 4 called "Transplanting Memories" about those who undergo heart transplant undergoing fundamental psychological changed. Unfortunately, it's been taken down from YouTube, but you can watch it online here. (It requires you to sign up for a free account with Channel 4.)

This phenomenon seems to lend credence to the mystical belief that every cell of the body has an awareness and memory of its own.

What references in particular are there to the importance of the heart in ancient wisdom?

The heart has long been used as a symbol to refer to the spiritual, emotional, moral, and in the past also intellectual core of a human being. As the heart was once widely believed to be the seat of the human mind, the word heart continues to be used poetically to refer to the soul, and stylized depictions of hearts are extremely prevalent symbols representing love.

In religious texts the heart has historically been ascribed much mystical significance, either as metaphor or as an organ genuinely believed to have spiritual or divine attributes.

In Egyptian mythology, the heart portion of the soul was weighed in a balance against the feather of Ma'at, symbolising truth, in the judgment of the dead in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Egyptian sources do not actually reveal whether the heart had to be lighter than the feather for the deceased to pass into paradise - all depictions show only the weighing of the heart, not the actual results, heavier or lighter.

Similarly, in the Bible, this idea emerges in the earliest passages; Genesis 6:5 situates the thoughts of evil men in their hearts, and Exodus 5 through 12 speak repeatedly of the Lord "hardening Pharaoh's heart." By this it is meant that God made Pharaoh resolve not to let the Israelite slaves leave Egypt, in order to bring judgment against Pharaoh and demonstrate his power: "'Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them'" (Exodus 10:1). In the Book of Jeremiah 17:9, it is written that the Lord is the judge who "tries" the human heart. 

The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are traditional Roman Catholic devotional images.

Many classical philosophers and scientists, including Aristotle, considered the heart the seat of thought, reason or emotion, and not the brain.

The Stoics taught that the heart was the seat of the soul.

The Roman physician Galen located the seat of the passions in the liver, the seat of reason in the brain, and considered the heart to be the seat of the emotions. While Galen's identification of the heart with emotion were proposed as a part of his theory of the circulatory system, the heart has continued to be used as a symbolic source of human emotions even after the rejection of such beliefs.
There are also many proverbs concerning the heart in the Bible. (Proverbs 4:23) "Keep and guard your heart with all vigilance and above all that you guard, for out of it flow the springs of life." and (Proverbs 16:23) "The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips." Meanwhile, in Buddhism, there is the very important "heart sutra" and also the fundamental instruction to "avoid evil, do good, and purify the heart." This tripartite instruction is found in Islam also. The wisdom of the heart is exalted and each cell in the body is said to bear witness. This resembles too the Taoist concept of internal alchemy, in which the human body is understood as a microcosm of the whole of nature. To conclude, a Sufi poem from the 14th century:

The Mirror

Your eye has not strength enough
to gaze at the burning sun,
but you can see its burning light
by watching its reflection
mirrored in the water.

So the reflection of Absolute Being
can be viewed in the mirror of Not-Being,
for nonexistence, being opposite Reality,
instantly catches its reflection.

Know the world from end to end is a mirror;
in each atom a hundred suns are concealed.
If you pierce the heart of a single drop of water,
from it will flow a hundred clear oceans;
if you look intently at each speck of dust,
in it you will see a thousand beings.
A gnat in its limbs is like an elephant;
in name a drop of water resembles the Nile.
In the heart of a barleycorn is stored a hundred harvests.
Within a millet-seed a world exists.
In an insects wing is an ocean of life.
A heaven is concealed in the pupil of an eye.
The core at the center of the heart is small,
yet the Lord of both worlds will enter there.

Mahmud Shabistari

Image: "4th Chakra - Heart Chakra" by Lori A Andrus 


  1. One thing I have always noted, is ask a person to 'point to themselves,' and they never point to their heads. Now that would be logical, wouldn't it? This is 'where we do our thinking from,' we are educated in the studies of the mind and thought receptors and corresponding areas to our actions and bodies, but no...we always point to our hearts.

  2. LOL! Wow. I am in awe of that observation.

  3. Now, something just occurred to me... when crossing a road, do you see the car as being the "middle" or the headlights... personally, I always see a car as the headlights, the "eyes", so if a car were to pass by reeeaaaaalllly slowly and be several hundred metres long, I might even walk into the main body of the car after the headlights had passed, not literally, but it's as if I would. So is the heart of a car in the headlights, or that's just me...

    Oh, and here's for another thought along your lines... If I said point at your eyes, you wouldn't point at the point between your eyes or either eye... you would point just above wouldn't you? No wonder, people believe in a "third eye", and that point just above is like the centre of that triangle.

    Also, pointing at myself, I might not point at the heart, but at the midpoint of the breastbone. Just me?

  4. Well, yes you are right now that you mention it...dead center. Didn't think about that before. That's where it 'feels' when I am under some great emotional period.

  5. Not just me then.

    I like to focus on that point when I'm breathing and walking. It somehow "feels" right... for me.

  6. Yes, I saw this on Television.

    And, it is indeed food for thoughts.

    I like all this a lot.

    Take care.

  7. Hi Okei

    I just finished watching the entire series. The first woman who spoke, the one that wanted a beer, I saw her talking about this occurrence a long time ago on T.V It is indeed a very interesting phenomenon
    I am pretty certain this happens, but it is strange that it only happens to 10% of the people who had the transplant. This whole think leaves you with more questions than answers. Particularly in regards to Karma.
    Here is my last word on this for the moment. I don't know enough about this to make a comment.
    If I did, it would be mere speculation, so why bother?
    There is however another interesting story, ( not quite the same) about an airplane that went down in the Everglades in the 80's. No one survived. After the investigation was over some of the parts were used in the assembly of a new aircraft. One part in particular was the door of the microwave. Images of ( and I believe it was one) passenger would be seen on a regular basis by all of the crew. There was both a movie and a book written about it. I can't remember the flight # but it was called simply Flight...?. The Ghost of Flight 401
    So, what is this all about.. imprinting? ... I don't know..... the same with the heart... I don't know. I do know this though, I think I might think twice about accepting ANY organs if I needed them...sound like the luck of the draw to me.

  8. Wow, Karol! That's a spooky story.

    And that's not even living cells. If you extend that and think how everything on this planet is recycled, it does make you think.

    It's also making me think of "prime-mover" thoughts. If you want to do something, where does the will come from. Yoga perhaps might say one of the base chakras? And they do have the idea of the heart chakra, as... oh, my! "associated with the ability to make decisions outside of the realm of karma"

  9. Yeah, the chakras are interesting and those that are opened and closed.
    There is an intresting book on the subject by Caroline Myss a medical intuitive who talks a lot about how these centre effect us in our daily lives. "Seven Powers Of Healing" There are so many things in life to think about, you hardly have time to get serious about anything.

  10. I also believe and medical science has gone a long way in confirming that every cell of the body has an awareness and memory of its own. I have yet to find any references or writings specifically to this point, however this is something that I've personally come to understand myself many years ago.

    If we examine what we know of the various cells in the body, we see that they do have a memory of their own and an awareness of their own. Stem cells will function the same way whether in my body or in the body of another, or in no body at all. There is a "knowing" for a lack of a better term within each cell and it does whatever it is that it "knows" to do and the collection of all cells is what brings us the "collective awareness" of a body.

    I also think that a lot of this very thing accounts for the number of children that we have born that have an awareness of things and events that happen before their births, and for other things that we are just now scratching the surface on understanding.

  11. Denise, you're ahead of the game! :^) It is a very powerful thought if you think it through. My hands, for instance, have an innate knowledge of the computer keyboard and where all the keys are, a kind-of muscle memory, but perhaps even more. To what extent are you talking to my brain, and to what extent are you talking to the hands. Perhaps the hands and me have different personalities.

    More seriously though, the Heart!!! As I quoted above, (Proverbs 16:23) "The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips." How did they know? The woman in part one of the series said "I could do with a beer right now" when she didn't even drink beer, and the retired truck driver in the second part suddenly found he could write poetry.

    Most of all though, it really shows how we can "work on" ourselves, and how important it is to respect our whole body, and not be so brain-centric.

  12. Question... what do you think the heart of a long-time meditator, say a Buddhist monk, would look like? I'm imagining it would "know nothing", it would be like a perfect heart if it were transplanted with no memory whatsoever... because memory is attachment, and all attachments have been removed in a purified heart. And without attachments, it would be a source of great peace and wisdom of seeing things how they really are. Is wisdom a freedom from heart-knowledge, or is there some "knowledge" that a purified heart would have? What do you think?

  13. First off, great question... however for me.... I see what you are saying and agree that memories are attachments or can be, however I also know that without some "memory" then we would not remember what "attachments" were/are, and therefore would likely repeat the process of having to learn what they are and detach again, sort of by default. So what I think is that there would be some memory... the heart would still hold some "knowledge" within... even if sufficient enough to remember what problems come with "attachments" so as not to get "attached"!

    So I think that even the purified heart would have some memory.. the memory of the great peace that came as a result of detaching and understanding the pain of attachments... and of the wisdom that came as a result of seeing things as they really are. For without that "memory" or that understanding.... how would that understanding/wisdom carry on??

  14. Oh I dunno. Way to deep for me. I'd sort of rather guess that 'consciousness' is installed into the equipment and is dispersed in elements throughout it. Look at phantom limb syndrome. I would imagine we are much like 'the control central only we have 'auto-matic pilot, so we do not have to use the machinery 'anew' eachtime we wish to do something over and over again. (Like think.)
    I do not imagine that the heart of one person, would be grander scale than the heart of another person. Did not Buddha say we are all Buddhas? So each would have the same basic configuration of heart, but ones intention, would be what made it different than the others.

  15. Denise, I like your thinking! Very philosophical. Maybe like Newton's Law about an object moving in a certain direction, it will keep going in that direction unless a force is acted on it. But if the memoryless state were like an object at rest, then any disturbance will set it moving again. So it depends on whether the state of peaceful concentration of a monk is something very still, or actually something very dynamic. And your reasoning suggests the latter!!!

  16. Rose, we all have the same configuration, so I guess I'm asking, how does our heart consciousness differ? If it were just "muscle memory" then the intelligence wouldn't be very deep, and the brain is the real control centre that matters. Of course, it's deep, and very speculative...

  17. Yes, I agree... and yes, I do see that the state of peaceful concentration is something very still... but actually is very dynamic. Think of it like this... that the peaceful state that very still state... is not like an object at rest but one that is moving in a certain direction, and will keep going in that direction, unless a force disturbs its path. Rather than seeing it as an object at rest, having a disturbance setting it in motion again.. what about seeing it as a very actually very dynamic, moving forward in a certain direction and only stopped along its journey by a distraction or disturbance. :)

    When the mind is trained and stilled is when the most dynamic movement or direction really takes place.... however it is not really "memoryless"... but encompassing of all "memories".. not attached to any...or distracted by any... and that is what to me is actually VERY DYNAMIC! :)

  18. okei said "Rose, we all have the same configuration, so I guess I'm asking, how does our heart consciousness differ?"

    Let's think about this a little differently for a moment. What says we have the same configuration? What I mean by this is that if each cell of my body has its own independent ability to have memory and that collectively it joined with other cells and their memory to be expressed in the organ called a heart... then that heart consciousness could have the same configuration by design, but not the same interaction one cell or group of cells with another.

    Also, as each cell is "taking its place" based on what it knows within itself.... it is still impacted by the chemical exposures that it comes into contact with in my body that it might not be exposed to in yours. If it then "remembers" those things and is impacted by them through it's "life"... then it will also carry that collection of "knowing" or "memory" with it... as it always has and will differ as a result of those things.

    So I agree with your thinking that if the heart consciousness were just "muscle memory" then the intelligence would not be very deep... and the brain might be the control center ... however... I think we know that is not the case.. for even in the cases of those that are considered brain dead.. the heart still continues on its path, until it is stopped. Also, without getting to gross here.. we also know that other functions of the body continue on even after "death" and they would not be able to do so if they did not have some "know how" independent of both brain and heart.... at least that's the way I see it. :)

    I would like to also add here.. that this is a wonderful discussion and I'm really enjoying it! I like thinking and having discussions "outside the box"! LOL

  19. Denise, you make a good explanation for syncs, those coincidences which could be random, but we ten dto believe that would be too unlikely.

    But more interesting, the monk's heart in dynamic stillness, "Nibbana" maybe. You say the body can function on its own, but the key here is the difference between automatic function (autopilot & reflexes) and intelligent function. Arguably, reflexes are intelligent also, but the intelligence is the installed programming, the "software" of the heart. To extend the analogy, a monk's heart has plenty of RAM and perfectly functioning software, very efficient and nothing redundant. True intelligence is the "programming" of the software. Would a transplanted heart have the intelligence to program its own software, or as you described it... "remember not to have attachments"? And you answer yes, because it's running a very dynamic stillness program that recognizes any attachment and lets it go, so actually the heart is running some very powerful software which operates upon itself.

    Is it worth distinguishing between "ordinary software" and "meta-software" that is involved in programming itself? I think there's a genuine distinction. If so, intelligence is evidenced by meta-software, and of course we run into philosophical problems of who the programmer is, where the original "will" comes from etc.

    So, not wishing to get stuck on that, it seems that the purpose of meditation and "purifying the heart" would be to develop good "meta-software".

    Is the brain directing operations? Perhaps. I think so. Either that, or as Rose suggests, some higher power. Oh, and Rose, I wonder if you saw that video on water that Rob (canopusarchives) posted on his site at the end of last year? The idea it might carry energy, vibes, and since we are largely water, there probably are some deep implications if this were found to be true and could be better understood.

  20. Dr Dean Radin, a former researcher on the military project Stargate, which looked into the phenomenon of 'remote viewing' and psychic premonition. Radin hooked ordinary subjects to a lie detector in order to measure changes in galvanic skin response. He then flashed at random a series of photos, some of which were violent or erotic. One would expect galvanic skin response to spike when such pictures appeared, but Radin discovered a strange phenomenon. Subjects tended to respond a few seconds in advance of the actual image flashing on the screen. In other words, they sensed an event before it occurred.

  21. I have had experiences where I see in my mind's eye an image before it occurs. Just yesterday I saw a flash of a sign in my mind just moments before I turned a corner and actually saw it. Also, I think there is a state of sleep that prepares us for the activities of the day, where we live out the coming day in a dream state before it actually happens.

  22. I'm with you on this... and I also find it very interesting that you chose the analogy of "software" also. :)

    Yes, I agree with you that there is a difference in our understanding of what is automatic functions and what is intelligent function.... however which is really the more intelligent? Is the auto function that are our reflexes not the more dynamic than the intelligent once that we have to think or reason to perform?

    As with software.. it cannot run independent of itself. It has been designed to run in unison or through drivers that are already predetermined that it must have to be able to execute and perform whatever it is designed for. Without those aspects, no RAM, no computer, no drivers, and no OS, the software simply will not function. However, given those aspects, the software does a lot of functions and performs countless lines of executions (activating code) to actually accomplish its objective.

    However, as with software... it can be "recoded". It can be redesigned, after its implementation to function in a different capacity than originally designed, however, it's SOURCE or main code still exists.. it is just that parts of it are turned off, turned on in a different sequence, or used as the basis for other coding to execute a different function all together.

    Yet the point here to remember in the case of the software analogy, the SOURCE no matter what it is... remains even when it's "modified".. and what it was originally able to do, when the aspects required to activate it were present, are still there.... :)

    Yes, as we all know with software that it can be designed to create new functions and write new code itself depending on specific things that it encounters. As when we install a new program on our computer, our OS will recognize that we have done so and will in essence "reprogram" itself to accept whatever the dictates of this new program is within itself.

    So when the monk who has stilled his heart, then yes, I can see very clearly where that process would "rewrite" the source code and create through the dynamic software already running within, something that would operate much differently than before, yet still be able to maintain all the "source".

    So given the heart that is transplanted, and which has by either being stilled and "rewired" accordingly, it is, at least to me, totally possible for that transplanted heart to not only retain that "rewiring" but also result in the OS (body) that it is put within being also "rewired" accordingly.

    As with a transplanted heart... we all know that for a time the heart does not function. It does not keep beating when taken out of the body, however it is very viable and it's programming can be "reactivated" once it is implanted into another body, where those specifics that it requires to function are available.
    Once the heart is implanted, it then "remembers" what it is to do... and starts functioning again as it did before without the "rewiring" of the new OS. That is why when a heart transplant is done... the person is given "anti rejection" medications so that the heart does not create a "new program" or get affected by the "OS" body, that it is put within and can function as it "remembers" to.

    So to think about the monk's heart that has been disciplined to this stillness... to the point that many monks are able to accomplish where the function of the heart is decreased well below normal.... that heart would still retain that "reprogramming" even when transplanted, and therefore cause the patient to have a lower than normal BP as a result of the "heart's rewiring".

    This is a very interesting discussion.... but I have to leave for a bit.... I'll be back a bit later though to read more!! :)

  23. Denise said, "So given the heart that is transplanted, and which has by either being stilled and "rewired" accordingly, it is, at least to me, totally possible for that transplanted heart to not only retain that "rewiring" but also result in the OS (body) that it is put within being also "rewired" accordingly."

    Lots to think about, Denise. I think what you said here is the "heart" of the matter, pun not intended.

    I think I use the metaphor of software because I've wondered in the past about consciousness and what makes us believe we have it, but computers don't, contrary to scientific belief. And there's something called the "Chinese Room" experiment where a room with someone inside with a Chinese brain on computer simulates a Chinese person though he knows no Chinese. The argument then goes that the guy has no understanding, but operates effectively and passes any test, so a completely automated computer running the Chinese room would similarly have no understanding... therefore computers can't have consciousness. I keep meaning to go back and read more about this whole thing to understand it better. Apologies for going on a bit of a tangent.

  24. Makes me think, re: this heart video also, "Authorities" don't like to admit to things out there that are unexplained, Because the unexplained undermines their authority. (Think Jean d'Arc... God's visions had to come through God's agents, the priests, who themselves were subjects of the crown, which was why she was seen as a heretic.) It's the same today, except with religion replaced by science. Not to disrespect science obviously, but even the scientists don't know sometimes and people in positions of authority don't like facing up to that.

    Are there any theories in Buddhist psychology that could explain "anticipatory response"?

  26. It's freakish. I used to have a song 'pop' into my head. Not a common one you know, like, its a hit song they play it every ten minutes on the radio, but older pieces that don't get much air time, and it would be playing.

    Incidence with once I was watching videos on utube and I don't know what possessed me, but I noticed there was a full episode of an old twilight zone on tv. Like it took six installments to watch a half hour show. So I am watching and at the end they advertise the next coming episode...something about, 'cleopatra,' being alive in the 20th century, then the clip ended.

    I was filled with a strong knowledge that, though this 'utube' is canned and has nothing to do with 'a time frame,' that I would be able to turn the tv on, and not only would twilight zone 'be on' at that particular moment, but that the episode would be playing that was advertised to be next.

    It was. Just one example. Weirdness.

  27. As for coincidences, how about this... I posted an audio clip from youtube of a radio DJ whom I'd been a big fan of who sadly passed away recently. He was credited with introducing Dire Straits to the world, but his big work was in world music.

    A couple of days after I posted this, I turned on the radio at a time when they quite often play world music, and it turned out it was one hour into an old Charlie Gillett show (that went on for another 45 minutes), exactly the show I had posted(!), and the 3-minute clip I posted began about 20 seconds in after the point I turned the radio on. All of that could be attributed to likely coincidence... apart from the timing!!!

  28. Dear Denise, your contribution on this Blog, is simply outstanding, fist-class.

    Really intelligent, true and profound in all its details.

    Thank you so much.