1) Print this Page      2) Use right click here - then 'Open page in new window' to translate 

The 'heart' and the 'head'

One of the most influential ideas in religion, especially when it would defend its ideas and beliefs, is that of 'the heart'. It is held that acts done 'from the heart' are superior to those merely motivated by 'the head' (representing reason, logic, and thought as opposed to emotion. Religious or 'spiritual' conceptions of the human heart as the 'seat of emotions' and human feeling are always vague, never defined in any practical or precise way, but always assume the heart is a driving force in human affairs. In one sense it is, being the playground of the desires, longings, hopes, ambitions or wishful thoughts and hence is regarded as the breeding ground of will power. The word 'heart' has many literary and poetic uses and connotations, nearly all of which are inimical and often directly opposed to well-founded intelligence, experiential insight, pragmatism, rational understanding and scientific knowledge. In short, the impulses and longings of the heart are basically non-rational. So there is much confusion about the so-called 'heart', and much conflation of terms altogether in talk about it. It is based on an antiquated and highly erroneous belief of its importance to our supposed soul or spirit, but in fact, the heart is of course nothing but an organ of pumping blood through the body. The usage of 'heart' as a vital innermost core of the human being is so ingrained that one can only hope to modify the understand of the fallacies involved in applying it as if it were a real (but invisible, subtle) organ of personality. The cardinal fact to remember is that our emotions and all those values we consider to belong to the heart rather than the brain, are entirely generated and expressed by means of the brain.

The tendency is to identify the heart with positive values like forgiveness, compassion, sympathy and altruism, as in modern usages like "have a heart", "from the depths of my heart". Whenever the heart is invoked to support romantic notions or religious faith, it is assumed that the human heart is always of a righteous nature and is on the side of the good, the righteous and against 'the heartless'. This conveniently overlooks the fact that the heart is also perceived in negative ways, as shown by the words black-hearted, hard-hearted, evil-hearted, and is where reside human envy, spite, enmity, mistrust, loathing, hate, revengefulness and all other negative emotions . As the supposed 'organ' from which will power springs, the heart cannot be only a fount of goodness, since of course the most terrible evils have been and still are visited on humanity by the strong will of despots, criminals and those who wish to dominate or eliminate their fellow men. Douglas Hume famously and notoriously wrote: "Reason Is and ought only to be the slave of the passions" and he saw human will as “the internal impression we feel and are conscious of, when we knowingly give rise to any new motion of our body, or new perception of our mind” (T II.3.1 399). "If the will did not determine a person's actions, we would have no way to trace those actions to their springs in character, which is the prerequisite for forming moral judgments." In this, he certainly overlooked the nature of many crucial human decisions and actions, which are a result not merely of desire and emotion, but are based upon a wide-ranging understanding of the many circumstances and consequence that determine the conditions of life, health, security and happiness. The will may require a peronal subjective motivating feeling or desire, but it is often directed andf formed to a very large extent by pragmatic concerns and rational knowledge. Human history and experience tach us that when this is not so, the consquences can be serious and even disastrous.

Sai Baba on the heart - a false teachingFor example the slogan "There is only one language, the language of the heart". (Sai Baba). Gurus are ever preaching the distinction between´'head and heart', praising the heart as being what makes human beings human and even holy in nature (whatever that it may really mean and imply). Sathya Sai Baba has referred to the heart as 'the golden womb' where the true or one 'divine' self is located. The head, on the other hand, as in his doctrine the cause of the endless miseries created by the deceiving human mind, the seat of the ego and root of all the ills that beset mankind. (also called 'the monkey mind or 'mad monkey mind' by him). He ignored all the achivements of the human intellect and its sciences and technologies, its social contracts and humanistic values. He advised aspirants to "kill the mind" (through thought-destroying worship, repetition of mantras, holy names, bhajan, prayers) and said he gave diamonds to people (actually synthetic gems) to symbolise 'Die-mind. This extinction of the mind was always the aim of much Hindu doctrine (known as 'advaita' or non-distinction). The language of the head' apparently did not even exist for Sai Baba, for he saw it as leading to confusion about our supposedly 'true being' - and this of course includes the entire intellectual output of all human thinkers and scientists... just for a start.

One can see how he applied it in his regressive form of 'spiritual education' education (inset scanned text excerpt). The supposed heart is one of the shibboleths of so-called 'spiritual education' as not uncommon in religions, some faith schools, and New Age substitutes today. The schism between the rational and the irrational mind of much traditional religiosity - as seen in the contrast created between sacred and profane living - is based on the fantasy of two different realities - that of (outward) worldly life and a supposed (inner) eternal spiritual realm. It underpins most religious moralism, suppression of the individual, the critical mind and not least arises with the age-old stigmatization of women. The schism between the rational and the irrational mind of much traditional religiosity - as seen in the contrast created between sacred and profane living - is based on the fantasy of two different realities - that of worldly life and a supposed eternal spiritual realm. It underpins most religious moralism, suppression of the individual, the critical mind and not least arises with the age-old stigmatization of women. Apart from being vague on traditional superstitions rather than facts, this dichotomy has many bad consequences for those who adopt it and apply its apparent meaning to themselves in tending to think rational motives are not really good compared to the positive emotional values ('acting from the heart') and ... especially deceptive in connection with following the dictates of  'spiritual masters', 'gurus' and like moralists. Since the emotions cannot easily be transformed from negative to positive - certainly not though acts of will or tricks of thought - those 'aspirants' who harbour negative emotions will often suffer from ineradicable guilt feelings, which the basic feelings remain in the subconscious (i.e. or "in the heart") and will weaken self-esteem and confidence, tending to reject rational arguments about the matter and so distorting perceptions and social relations outside the sect or cult to which they adhere. Experience shows that such emotions can usually only be modified through some major shock to the awareness or else a long process of maturing or possible by rational forms of psychological therapy.

  It is obvious today that desires and the emotions arise in the human mind, which is to say the brain (with the most instinctual perhaps arising in the cerebral cortex) . The emotions or passions, desires and non-rational impulses are generate neuron connections in the brain and they are virtually inseparably bound up with thought, arising from the brain's neuronic pathways. These neural circuits are sustained and reinforced by repetition and memory. These circuits get modified and can change radically, though this occurs when the mind has new perception, is open to new ideas and seeks further relevant information. It does not occur where the reinforcement of ideas through constant repetition, one-sided concentration on a limited set of ideas, beliefs and desires where there is a lack of critical evaluations and curiosity for all sides of an issue. Therefore, the contention that our goodness or supposed "sacred qualities" reside in our hearts is a confused and obsolescent viewpoint. Thus also, the fanciful opposition so often quoted by those still bound up in religious views, between 'the head and the heart' is an empirically and rationally empty and misguiding construct.

Religions tend to praise the heart as being what makes human beings human and even holy in nature (whatever such divinity may really mean and imply). But the heart is not special to humans. However, from ancient times the crucial nature of the heart to life was soon observed and it was variously concluded that it is the organ that houses the life force. It was believed to be the seat of human emotions because it beats faster when excited or fearful and so on, and when it stops, we die. It was a short step to thinking it is where the personality resides. Some religious doctrines and philosophies held that there is a strict dividing line between humans and animals, a divinely ordained difference. Evolution and modern biological sciences shows there is no such thing. All animals have hearts, and in the higher mammals at least, is is increasingly being shown that they have very similar emotional reactions as ours, all according to the level of their physical and neurological evolution.

When feelings become too detached from reasonable judgement or are in opposition to the thinking mind (the 'head)' - they easily become deleteriously irrational. In depth psychology these impulses have been shown to arise from the subconscious mind and will often be disturbed, obsessive or compulsive and involve strong affect. Contrariwise, reasonable feelings, sympathies and antipathies--- they are not irrational or unduly projective of false qualities onto others, being based on rational value judgements, on necessary or else natural desires and the concerns and cares of normal life.

The alleged difference between speaking and acting "from the heart" and "from the head" (which is seen as comparatively cold and even negative) is a miasma. That one can distinguish roughly between 'the language of the heart' and 'of the head' does not alter this tricky dualism. In all cases it is ultimately the brain and never the heart which controls the feelings and impulses of the body and emotions, and which also controls the forms of expression used for both feelings and abstract thought. The prosaic and the poetic are simply different general forms of language with each their appropriate sphere. Precise language is less open to ambiguity and false interpretations than the former. The precise kind of prose such as is most used in non-fictional literature, in standard journalism, and in the many sciences are less open to wide interpretations and meaning distortions than the former. The language used from medicine to mathematics, the law to philosophy, technology to business and of course, in much everyday conversation - is neither more nor less an expression of human values than are the symbolic and emotive styles which use literary, tenuous, and sublime imagery.

A monograph on "The History of the Heart" by Ole Martin Høystad of Syddansk University (215 pages) combs through religion and philosophy from the earliest records up to modern time and charts how the heart became a symbol of our essential desires. The work is mainly historical and - though it illustrates the wide range of different and conflicting speculations about the nature of the heart as a symbol - seriously lacks sufficient critical insight into the overall fallacy which makes that non-mental and non-emotional organ into something more and 'higher' than the brain, compared to which it is a relatively primitive organism