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Andrew Leader


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How are different body parts connected to the emotions we traditionally associate with them?

This week in my bioelectricity class, I learned about cardiac electrophysiology. Afterwords, I read an article about the growing field of neurocardiology: http://madurasinghe.blogspot.com/2008/06/neurocardiology-brain-in-heart.html. The heart’s nervous system contains over 40,000 neurons, and is sufficiently complex that it is referred to by some as its own “little-brain”. This little-brain communicates directly with the medulla in the brain-stem, both sending and receiving signals that have to do with hart rate, hormones, chemicals, and pressure in the heart. These signals help regulate other signals to blood vessels, glands and other organs, but they also “cascade up into the higher centers of the brain, where they may influence perception, decision making and other cognitive processes.”

This article made me wonder: Does perhaps the term “thinking with your heart” have a biological basis after all? How did the heart become the symbol of love? How might this association relate to the connection between emotion and heart health, and what makes up this connection in the first place?

To explore the biological basis of emotional experience, particularly as we traditionally associate these experiences with different parts of the body, I also watched the TED talk “Trust, Morality – and Oxytocin” (http://blog.ted.com/2011/11/01/trust-morality-and-oxytocin-paul-zak-on-ted-com/), in which Paul Zak talks about how oxytocin (a mammalian hormone) increases trustworthiness, generosity, empathy, while oxytocin release is inhibited by high stress.

And so I ask the TED Community: What connections might exist between body parts and the meanings we associate with them? For example, when we say we have a “gut feeling,” how might it relate to the activity of our autonomic nervous system on the GI tract? What about the emotional meanings we associate with the eyes, mouth, hands, and so on? Could age-old associations between body parts and emotion be rooted in biology?


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    Mar 23 2012: Being a bit concerned that the quality of this conversation, I feel obliged to introduce some skepticism in this discussion.
    Please don't take it personal, just verify for yourself and then think about it whatever you want yourself.

    I think Hearthmath deserves some debunikng...


    Other than that:
    As my previous post stated: there are many links between brain and the rest of our body (just look at the anatomy of the nervous system: it has sensors, receptors and actors almost everywhere)...
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      Mar 23 2012: THANK YOU Christophe. I was getting a little overwhelmed there! Keeping an open mind is one thing, but it's important to keep things grounded in science and fact. That said, science has its limitations, and it's interesting to see what people bring to the conversation. See my response to Cat Anderson.
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        Mar 23 2012: Might be off topic Andrew,

        But what exactly are the limits of science?
        (I'm interested in your opinion/thoughts about this)
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          Mar 23 2012: Great question. Glad you asked. I suppose this is important to discuss in order to best appreciate the responses I've been getting from some very diverse contingents.

          First, I think we're in the same camp in that I'm primarily interested in using this conversation to find more scientifically plausible connections between "mind and body," such as those I outline at the top of the conversation.

          Moving on to the question at hand, I think many scientists--as well as lay people who value science--tend to subscribe to some level of scientism, "a belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints." (from wikipedia) (not to be confused with science itself). But there are many important questions that are simply not appropriately addressed by the scientific method. For example: Certain historical questions are best tested by gathering primary sources and making inferences. In the comment I just directed you toward, I mention that the existence of a supernatural deity is beyond scientific inquiry, as it can neither be proven nor disproven through reproducible testing of a hypothesis.

          It seems to me that the popularity of science as one of mankind's most important philosophical instruments has risen greatly over the past centuries, particularly with the industrial revolution and the technological age. However, I think scientism has come with it to a great degree. In my opinion, scientism has something of an uglier face, having been used time and time again to justify experiments that would today be considered unethical and to support debunked theories such as racial Darwinism.

          This said, I respect the less scientifically oriented posts on this conversation topic so long as they do not purport to be scientific results. Thank you for helping me keep a watch on this.

          What do you think?
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        Mar 23 2012: Interesting and nuanced stance.

        I do think scientism can be used wrong... though I often do fall into the trap of scientism.
        But that does not mean it is an argument that can refute science.

        Though, when it comes to exploring new ideas and hypothesis, it is useful (if not necessary) to be congruent with scientific knowledge.

        In short: I'm rather wrong by being too skeptical than being wrong by contradicting well established scientific findings.

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