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Where does the brain end and the heart begin?

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During a recent class that my husband, Grit, was attending, the subject of having a change of heart came up. Some philosophical comments were being made about love and having a forgiving heart when a noted neurosurgeon pointed out that all these thoughts were well-stated, but the reality of the situation is that the heart is just a pump. It is your brain where all your emotions and sensations come from. Feelings, as well as thoughts, originate in the brain.

So, does the brain rule the heart or can the heart rule the brain? Just what is the truth here?

A simple heart figure has long been known as a symbol for love, and we all talk about heartfelt emotions, our heart's desire. Who can forget the pounding heart when the person you fancied in high school walked up to talk to you? Your brain wasn't pounding, your heart was. Remember these words from that old song, "Heart and soul, I fell in love with you"?

In actuality, the heartbeat is not a brain function. It is an impulse provided by the heart's own specialized electrical system that then travels through the muscles, making them contract and pump the blood around the body. When the heart has stopped or is not beating correctly, it can be shocked, which causes the heart-muscle cells to stop beating for a moment. But just like rebooting a computer, it will then restart itself with a normal heart rhythm.

Candace B. Pert, author of "Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel," claims "Memories are stored not only in the brain, but in a psychosomatic network extending into the body ... all the way out along pathways to internal organs and the very surface of our skin." She feels there is a connection between memories, organs and the mind through cellular receptors.

Paul P. Persall, M.D., a psychoneuroimmunologist and author of "The Heart's Code," suggests, through his research with 150 heart and other organ-transplant patients, that the cells of living tissue have the capacity to remember. He and two colleagues did a study titled "Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients that Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors."

Based on interviews with transplant patients, they reported some striking parallels about cellular memory. The reports can be easily found on the Internet if you are interested in reading them. One story tells of an 8-year-old girl who received the heart of a 10-year-old girl who had been murdered. The 8-year—old began having dreams that were so specific her mother notified the police, and through those descriptions the murderer was found. It makes you wonder.

Since I have a good friend who had a heart transplant in the past year, I decided to call him and see what he thought. His donor enjoyed watching professional wrestling. He said, "I didn't like professional wrestling before, and I don't like professional wrestling now." Then I spoke with his wife, who believes that many of the changes the people feel are the result of the medications they must take (anti-rejection drugs, steroids, etc.)

Their opinions certainly fall on the side of the prevailing understanding of memory — that love, our emotions and our personality traits are a function of the brain. But really, does it matter whether the mind and body are separate, drawing a distinction between physical reality and sensory experiences? Love is love, and ain't love grand?


E-mail: sasyoung2@aol.com