Arriving at where we started

“And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.” – T S Eliot

There is a bit of this sentiment in embodied cognition theory. We can see this in the way our language is riddled with heart metaphors implying that the heart is the seat of some emotions. The idioms show that once it was natural to include more than the brain in our feeling/knowing/aware selves. “He has a broken heart”; “my heart is not in it”; “she is all heart”; “they are hard hearted”, “my heart tells me to do it”. These saying hark back to a time when we did not separate ourselves at the neck, but thought of ourselves as an indivisible whole.

One way to look at the connection of the brain with the rest of us, is to notice, that our conscious awarenesses know our emotional state through its effects on our bodies. We are conscious of our excitement because our heart rate rises. We are conscious of our displeasure because we feel our brow frown. We are conscious of our fear by our breathing becoming weak. The easiest route to consciousness is through the senses and that includes our sensing our own bodies.

Another way to view the connection is to look at where our conscious thoughts come from. We can think of everything having a predecessor. We start with what can be felt by a newborn and assume that growing up provides layer upon layers of elaboration of the things a baby can know. We use nested metaphors and analogies. So the feeling of social comfort can be tapped by feelings or warmth or closeness. Physical pain and social rejection are related.

Embodied cognition research has found many connections. Recently there was an article in the Scientific American by Adam Waytz that elaborated on the heart-brain connection. (here)

Psychology’s recognition of the body’s influence on the mind coincides with a recent focus on the role of the heart in our social psychology. It turns out that the heart is not only critical for survival, but also for how people related to one another. In particular, heart rate variability (HRV), variation in the heart’s beat-to-beat interval, plays a key role in social behaviors ranging from decision-making, regulating one’s emotions, coping with stress, and even academic engagement. Decreased HRV appears to be related to depression and autism and may be linked to thinking about information deliberately. Increased HRV, on the other hand, is associated with greater social skills such as recognizing other people’s emotions and helps people cope with socially stressful situations, such as thinking about giving a public speech or being evaluated by someone of another race. This diverse array of findings reflects a burgeoning interest across clinical psychology, neuroscience, social psychology, and developmental psychology in studying the role of the heart in social life.

We are returning to ways of knowing ourselves that are very old, but, hopefully, we are returning with more understanding.

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