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Science and Heart

Viewed 2316 times 2014-5-31 23:39 |Personal category:intuition|System category:Others| heart, brain, mind, science, research

In my two previous blogs Can Your Heart Think? and Insights into the Heart I introduced the idea that the heart is probably much more significant and important than what our regular education teaches and what common sense tells us. In other words I believe that the idea found in early Chinese medicine scriptures that heart is in charge of our thinking has a valid basis. All Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist thinkers who pointed to the wisdom of the heart were not just dreamers, they talked about something that is real. I also promised in my blogs that I will introduce recent scientific researches that may change how we understand and perceive our hearts. Heart is not just a metaphor for the center of feelings, but it actually can remember, learn, feel and even think. It can process information outside and inside of the body independently of the cranium brain.

I will focus on the research that has been done by the Institute of HeartMath. I am sure similar research is being done in other places and institutes around the world, but this institute in particular attracted my attention about 1.5-2 years ago. I am not their affiliate, neither I am promoting them, I mean I don't get any material gain from that except the feeling of contentment that I could share something meaningful and important.

If you are at least slightly interested in this topic I would recommend to go to their website and read their 70 pages e-book "Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance" with subtitle "An Overview of Research Conducted by the Institute of HeartMath". If you don't have much time, just read the first part out of 12 - "Introduction" - and you will get an idea what it is all about. If you are too busy to read even an introduction, then jut let me try to give here a short summary of that. They also have a section of Research Publications, with scientific articles, many of which were published in peer reviewed journals. I found particularly interesting the section called "Intuition Research", and by reading my blog "Your Best Friend - Intuition" you will probably understand why.

The section of "Intuition Research" tells that: "...studies show a surprising relationship between the heart and intuitive processes, suggesting the heart participates in receiving, processing and decoding intuitive information. Compelling evidence indicates the heart can receive intuitive information before the brain." You can go straight and read the article "Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart", which actually recreates an experiment done before and gives a very interesting analysis and conclusions about that. In that experiment it was found that when people are being shown emotionally charged pictures, there is certain evidence that shows that hearts somehow respond and react to those pictures seconds before we actually see those pictures, and certainly before the brain even starts to process them. In conclusions it is being mentioned that: "This study presents compelling evidence that the body’s perceptual apparatus is continuously scanning the future."

In the Introduction of the e-book the authors of the Institute say: "For centuries, the heart has been considered the source of emotion, courage and wisdom. At the Institute of HeartMath (IHM) Research Center, we are exploring the physiological mechanisms by which the heart communicates with the brain, thereby influencing information processing, perceptions, emotions and health. We are asking questions such as: Why do people experience the feeling or sensation of love and other positive emotional states in the area of the heart and what are the physiological ramifications of these emotions? How do stress and different emotional states affect the autonomic nervous system, the hormonal and immune systems, the heart and brain?"

"The answers to many of our original questions now provide a scientific basis to explain how and why the heart affects mental clarity, creativity, emotional balance and personal effectiveness. Our research and that of others indicate that the heart is far more than a simple pump. The heart is, in fact, a highly complex, self-organized information processing center with its own functional "brain" that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways. These influences profoundly affect brain function and most of the body’s major organs, and ultimately determine the quality of life."

Yes, you didn't misread it, they are talking about the heart's "brain":

"After extensive research, one of the early pioneers in neurocardiology, Dr. J. Andrew Armour, introduced the concept of a functional "heart brain" in 1991. His work revealed that the heart has a complex intrinsic nervous system that is sufficiently sophisticated to qualify as a "little brain" in its own right. The heart’s brain is an intricate network of several types of neurons, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells like those found in the brain proper. Its elaborate circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain – to learn, remember, and even feel and sense."

Another exciting part in these introductory e-book is the section called "Head-Heart Interactions". Let me quote a few passages from there:

"Traditionally, the study of communication pathways between the "head" and heart has been approached from a rather one-sided perspective, with scientists focusing primarily on the heart’s responses to the brain’s commands. However, we have now learned that communication between the heart and brain is actually a dynamic, ongoing, two-way dialogue, with each organ continuously influencing the other’s function. [...] Moreover, our research shows that messages the heart sends the brain can also affect performance."

Their research shows that "the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neurologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves) and energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions)." The last 4th way and the statements they said about this way of interaction between the heart and the head really shocked me or rather amazed in a very positive way:

"The final two studies in this section are concerned with energetic communication by the heart, which we also refer to as cardioelectromagnetic communication. The heart is the most powerful generator of electromagnetic energy in the human body, producing the largest rhythmic electromagnetic field of any of the body’s organs. The heart’s electrical field is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain. This field, measured in the form of an electrocardiogram (ECG), can be detected anywhere on the surface of the body. Furthermore, the magnetic field produced by the heart is more than 5,000 times greater in strength than the field generated by the brain, and can be detected a number of feet away from the body, in all directions, using SQUID-based magnetometers. Prompted by our findings that the cardiac field is modulated by different emotional states (described in the previous section), we performed several studies to investigate the possibility that the electromagnetic field generated by the heart may transmit information that can be received by others."

Wait a moment, let's pause here, it is just too much to process in one take. Are you saying that the heart can communicate and send signals to the brain? And it has been doing it all the time for ages? And we never knew about it? Nobody told us in schools about that? Everybody was focused on all powerful and all dominating brain? So now it is not a true picture anymore? And it never was? 

I also never heard before that heart's electrical field is so much greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain. While magnetic field is ridiculously greater - 5000 times - than the magnetic field of the brain. And you can actually measure this field outside of the body? It is not science fiction, right? Don't you think that it shows the great potential of the heart? I know most of us have no clue what electric and magnetic fields are, and we don't know it is somehow related with our thoughts and feelings. But think about it again, every thought and feeling that we have must have some impulse of electricity, as well as electric and magnetic field. If these guys in IHM tell us that heart can process the information that is around in a form of electric and magnetic fields independently of the brain, it is just another way to tell that heart can think if thinking is ability to process information, make conclusions and send signals about that information to other parts of your body.

I know I risk here to be criticized and even attacked by some people by maybe jumping to conclusions that reach much further than what was found in these scientific studies. If you do want to criticize and point any inconsistencies that you see here, you are welcome to do that. However, let's focus first on the idea itself and lets first get familiar with their findings by reading the articles I mentioned and the e-book that I am quoting here.

Below is the last quotation from the booklet, which I think is the scientific explanation or an analogy of what ancient Chinese and not ancient only believed about qi  or the subtle energy that is behind every thing, every event, and every phenomena. Again, this is my way of interpreting the findings, but please read it by yourself and make your own conclusions:

"Thus, the last two studies summarized in this section explore interactions that take place between one person’s heart and another’s brain when two people touch or are in proximity. This research elucidates the intriguing finding that the electromagnetic signals generated by the heart have the capacity to affect others around us. Our data indicate that one person’s heart signal can affect another’s brainwaves, and that heart-brain synchronization can occur between two people when they interact. Finally, it appears that as individuals increase psychophysiological coherence, they become more sensitive to the subtle electromagnetic signals communicated by those around them. Taken together, these results suggest that cardioelectromagnetic communication may be a little-known source of information exchange between people, and that this exchange is influenced by our emotions."

Here it was my first attempt in public to present in a little chaotic and free way the scientific findings about the heart by trying to integrate them with some simple and daily ideas that we may find dear. I know this topic is also the furthest away from our main direction here where we talk and discuss life and experiences in China. The most direct connection to this China topic here is that I found about the institute while living, studying and working in China. I found this amidst my research on Chinese thought and ways of thinking. It always seemed that Western science intimidated the philosophic knowledge that comes through Chinese culture. You can talk about the heart with people, with Buddhists and Daoists as well, but as long as science does not give any validation to their ideas, a lot of us don't trust enough these traditional ideas. Unless we are so strong in our experience, knowledge and thinking that we don't need any confirmation from the society and we can stand on our own.

In my second year in China, I was wondering a lot what is this "Tao" or "Dao" 道 that so many people find important. Does it have any real meaning behind it? I just got to know my future master studies adviser, who is acknowledged in China in Confucian, Buddhist  and Daoist studies, so in one of my first talks I asked him, what is "Dao"? How can I understand it? His answer was unexpected but left me a strong and positive impression. He said: "You need to use your heart to experience it." 你要用心去体会道。That was the answer from a distinguished scholar.

Let's use our hearts, we have the right to do so.


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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  • Dreams - Signs of Reality 2014-5-10 07:33

    juliuy: Thanks for the comment! It is not only our brains, hearts also do a lot during the sleep.

    I used to fly and visit some people through the windows in  ...
    "body is afraid of the spirit" will get me thinking for days!

    I didn't know it's bad to go through winows, sounds interesting. I always used the door- slipped in when I see it open ^^

    And when I change places, I can't be sure where I am when I wake up, similar to your experience but doesn't necessarily mean I think of the previous place fondly. After coming back to China, several times I had dreams that I was still back in the house I stayed in Korea, and when I woke up it took me some time to notice that I came back ^^

  • Dreams - Signs of Reality 2014-5-9 23:23

    Maierwei: Sleep is a speed recovery for the body, so of course it has a meaning! But our brains are still unsolved and nobody knows what exactly happens while o ...
    Thanks for the comment! It is not only our brains, hearts also do a lot during the sleep.

    I used to fly and visit some people through the windows in my dreams. Until I was told it is not good to go through the windows in your dreams. It is a bad sign or something like that.

    Somewhere it was said that body is afraid of the spirit. Sometimes we are scared of what is real  

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