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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 25 2012: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-558256/I-given-young-mans-heart---started-craving-beer-Kentucky-Fried-Chicken-My-daughter-said-I-walked-like-man.html

    I would like to post this link one more time. There wasn't much response to it the first time.
    The story behind the heart and lung transplant here might be pointing to the possibility that the brain may be just one of many organs that serves as a storage for memories. This is becoming a common phenomenon with organ transplant patience. .... What could this be telling us??
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      Mar 26 2012: I was just about to post a comment regarding regarding the same issue, but then i stumbled across this comment! I also have read different accounts of people receiving certain body parts or organs and then feeling a strange connection to a complete stranger, only to find out that the person actually was the one who had donated the organs. If these stories wind up being true, I think that you cannot help but believe that there must be a connection between body and mind that we cannot yet explain. Maybe the nerves present in a body develop a certain relationship to the neurons present in the brain. This is where the feelings associated with a "gut feeling" come from, this relationship manifesting itself at points in the body as a result of an intuitive feeling because the brain has not yet processed information.
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      • Mar 27 2012: Ariel

        The human being's self imposed materialism has lead us to think that man is a machine, the brain is a computer, the heart is a pump. This way of thinking has got to stop. The heart as you say Ariel is more like a venting system that regulates the flow of the blood. Blood is the carrier of the spirit being in us.
        The blood is not simply pumped around in the body as many think. This has actually been know for hundreds of years... it's only our modern day science that has lead us to this delusion. If the heart was merely a pump, it would not be physically possible for it to pump blood into the minute capillaries that fill the body. The blood seems rather to be self perpetuating. All according to many circumstances both in our outer environment as well as our emotional state of being. A perfect example was given earlier on this discussion by Steven Nikolidakis about under the condition of fear the blood rushes inward from the face... and in the case of shame, the blood rushes outward towards the surface of the skin... amazing I say!! This is really the expression of the experience of the soul in the special fluid of the blood.
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          Mar 27 2012: Hi Daniel,

          Thanks again for the poem. I'm thinking of sharing it with my class tonight.

          What aspect of "modern day science" do you suggest accounts for "this delusion" of the heart pumping our blood through the capillaries? Also recall, science has also shown us the network of smooth muscle which assists the arteries and arterioles, while skeletal muscle movement predominantly accounts for circulation of blood through the veins. Could this what you mean when you say the blood moves on its own?

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