Where do you think?

Did you see news reports at the beginning of August that a British man was the first to be fitted with a totally artificial heart? I listened to a radio phone-in that evening; the presenter was asking whether or not an artificial heart was a Good Thing. He commented that research had shown that the human heart contains neurons brain cells (“neurons”) and is part of the nervous system – in other words, part of our “mind” lives in the heart.

This sounded completely nonsensical to me – and to some of the phone-in’s callers – but as it’s years since I graduated in psychology I thought perhaps I’d better check it out. An internet search the next day came up with an astonishing article by psychiatrist Professor Mohamed Omar Salem, which you can read here:

Salem refers to research revealing that the heart not only contains neurons but also a complete nervous system – in effect, a “little brain”. The implication of this, and other research to which Salem refers, is that consciousness does not arise in the brain alone, but in the whole body, with the heart playing a significant role.

The part of the article which really struck me, though, was his final comment regarding “the concept of the spirit as the non-physical element, or the field, of the mind that can communicate with the cosmos outside the constraints of space and time”. This led me to one of Salem’s references – Thinking Beyond the Brain, a book edited by David Lorimer of papers by distinguished scientists and philosophers presented at the Beyond the Brain series of conferences.

When I studied psychology the prevailing view was “behaviourism”. Psychology had nothing to do with how humans thought – it was about observing how we (and animals) behaved. Modern psychology did not allow “introspection” as a tool; “mind” and “consciousness” were not considered scientific enough for study. I learned more about what makes me “tick” in my first one-week NLP course than I did in three years of my psychology degree.

Lorimer’s book shows that some psychologists are now beginning to think outside this particular box. The current orthodox scientific fashion is to regard “the mind” mechanistically, as a product of the chemical and electrical processes of the brain, but there’s significant evidence – not “proof” – that the mind may be able to exist outside the brain and body. I personally feel that there will never be definitive “proof” – the sceptics can always come up with another explanation, however far-fetched.*

Therapies which do not limit themselves to the usual bounds of the individual – or to three-dimensional space and linear time – are known as “transpersonal”. To clarify this a little, I’m a member of the Association for Transpersonal Hypnotherapy; the Association’s website explains the concept and lists a number of research areas in the field. My particular interest is in parapsychology, or psychical research, the scientific study of the paranormal, including in particular research on past life regression, which I use regularly in my hypnotherapy practice.

Parapsychology offers the strongest evidence – but not of course proof – that consciousness is not limited to the brain. I’ll be taking a look at some of that evidence in another blog, but for now I’ll just say that it’s strong enough for my personal satisfaction. I try not to hold “beliefs”, but for me the evidence indicates that there’s more to our minds than the mechanical processes of the brain – and heart.

*Funnily enough, I remember writing a very similar sentence back in 1973 – little has changed.