Where does consciousness originate?
It is generally assumed that conscious awareness originates in the brain. The premise of this belief is that the brain is special, and different in composition to the rest of the body. It is assumed that the brain rules the body, and defines your personality and who you are. The possibility of a human brain being transplanted into another body has always been seen as complex but feasible. If such an operation were to conducted, then an individual’s personality and conscious awareness would be expected to transfer over to the new body. For this intention, many people up on death have already elected to have their bodies cryogenically frozen until such time that medical science can provide them with new bodies.
In a similar vein, many technology theorists that assume that the essence of an individual’s conscious awareness and personality will soon be able to be ‘uploaded’ into a complex computer program, perhaps piggy backing off an artificial intelligence [A.I.] core program. In fact Ray Kurzweil, the foremost guru of technological singularity is always collating further information about his departed father, so that he might get to see his conscious personality re-animated in the near future into an A.I. computer or android.
The Problem : Do we have two brains?
There is a problem with this whole premise of swapping conscious awareness at brain component level, and the major problem is with the heart.
Recent scientific studies suggest that consciousness emerges from the brain and the body acting together. There is a growing body of evidence which now suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in the process.
The heart is far more than just a working pump. It is in fact a functional brain that organises and processes its own set of information. It then communicates instructions to the cranial brain and the rest of the body, by using its own hormonal system, its own integration into the body’s nervous system, neuron broadcasts, and electromagnetic fluctuation signals. Most surprisingly of all, in recent studies the heart brain has demonstrated certain dominance over the cranial brain. Our brains will always concede to orders from the heart, whereas the heart can choose to ignore warning signals and instructions from the brain.
Examination of the heart at cellular level shows that over 65% of its component cells are neurons and neurotransmitters. A neuron is an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals. These cells were assumed to be found only within the cranial brain and the nervous system.
The hearts neural infrastructure and complex circuitry allows it to operate independently of the brain in order to feel and sense, and remember and learn. Its stand alone endocrine hormonal system is integrated with the heart’s own nervous system which contains over 40,000 sensory neurites. It uses these to process feelings and sensory information, and then sends issues instructions to the cranial brain via the vagus nerve running through the spinal column. The heart’s own electrical and chemical signals are much stronger and potent than those issued by the brain. This is why it is possible to monitor the heart from any position around the body.
This is not its only method of communication, and this can be demonstrated by heart transplant recipients who maintain a functioning heart-brain relationship despite the cut in this link.
The heart has a magnetic field which is 500x the strength of the brain’s own magnetic field. The heart uses this magnetic field as a carrier wave and synchronizing signal for the whole body. It does this through rhythmic electromagnetic field interactions, and has been doing this since the body was a 20 day old foetus. Back then, the heart used rhythmic electromagnetic pulses to help implement the formation of the rest of the body’s cells and organs. The brain did not start communicating until the 90th day.
There is another use for the heart’s potent magnetic field which can extend several feet away from the body; and this is for interactions between people and other living things. There is now evidence that a subtle yet influential electromagnetic or ‘energetic’ communication system operates just below our conscious awareness. Energetic interactions possibly contribute to the ‘magnetic’ attractions or repulsions that occur between individuals, and also affect social relationships. It was also found that one person’s brain waves can synchronize to another person’s heart.
The heart also responds to when an individual’s emotional moods. When a person is happy, the heart’s rhythmic patterns are coherent, and the neural information being relayed to the brain facilitates mental clarity and decision making, and increased creativity. The heart induces a positive mental attitude. When the heart senses negative emotional feelings, its rhythmic electromagnetic pulses become incoherent which in turn affects the brains neurological states restricting the brains neural and cognitive capacity and inducing a negative mental state and attitude.
Heart Transplants and inherited memory
Whilst the operational possibility of a brain transplant remains only theoretical, we have been conducting heart transplants since 1967. John McCafferty is the longest surviving heart recipient currently following his operation 32 years ago.
If a heart can be successfully transplanted from one body to the next, surely this answers the argument that the brain rules the heart.
Well not entirely. The transplanted heart is able to function in its new host only through the capacity of its intact, intrinsic nervous system. Over time, it can forge a new nervous bridge to the vagus nerve running through the spinal column connecting to the brain, but will communicate through other ways in the meantime.
There is also the issue of inherited memory in organ transplant recipients to be considered. Dr. Paul Peasall published his study, “Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients That Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors” in 2002. He questioned 150 heart transplant recipients and found a consensus among them that demonstrated changes in attitude, temperament, vocabulary, patience levels, philosophies, and tastes in food and music. Here are a few examples from his findings.
The most stunning example of transferred memory was found in an eight year old girl who received the heart of a ten year old girl. The recipient was plagued after surgery with vivid nightmares about an attacker and a girl being murdered. After being brought to a psychiatrist her nightmares proved to be so vivid and real that the psychiatrist believed them to be genuine memories. As it turns out the ten year old whose heart she had just received was murdered and due to the recipients violent reoccurring dreams she was able to describe the events of that horrible encounter and the murderer so well that police soon apprehended, arrested, and convicted the killer.
Claire Sylvia, a heart transplant recipient who received the organ from an 18-year-old male that died in a motorcycle accident, reported having a craving for beer and chicken nuggets after the surgery. The heart transplant recipient also began to have reoccurring dreams about a man named ‘Tim L’. Upon searching the obituaries, Sylvia found out her donor’s name was Tim and that he loved all of the food that she craved, according to her book A Change of Heart.
This phenomenon of possible cell memory is not just limited to heart transplants. Nearly a year after the receiving a liver transplant, doctors discovered that Demi-Lee Brennan had changed blood types, and she had also acquired the immune system of the donor due to the stem cells of her new liver transferring over to her bone marrow. In effect she had had a bone marrow transplant. The majority of her immune system had also switched over to that of the donor.
How cellular memory might work
Cellular memory might be possible because of neuropeptides which exist in all the tissues of the body. These neuropeptides are a way for the brain to communicate to other bodily organs and for the organs to relay information back. However it is unknown whether these newly found circuits could indeed store memories as the brain does. Due to the high percentage of peptides in the heart, this organ is seen to have special potential in the study of these phenomena. However this does not explain why all transplant recipients do not have these experiences? Perhaps the explanation lies with the sensitivity of the individual.
In medical experiments conducted on different animals, it has been found that when limited cells are transplanted from one part of the body to another, they adopt and take on the structure and purpose of the indigenous cells which now surround them. For example, cells taken from a foot and placed into the brain have been witnessed to change into neurons. This observed principle of living cells adapting to their new environment can so far only be explained theoretically. The most obvious explanation is that the RNA in the surrounding cells holds a genetic blueprint for the particular purpose and structure of the organ it is part of. This is the principle on how a newt (and potentially a human) can re-grow a leg which has been cut off. The body builds new cells, or replaces existing ones with something that conforms to the blueprint.
The other explanation is held within the governing and coordinating abilities of stem cells. Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In laboratory conditions, body organs have literally been grown from single stem cells. It is envisaged that the future of human transplants will take the form of using stem cels from the original organ to externally grow a replacement organ before transplanting.
Thus the body shows that through stem cells, and DNA blueprints passed through mRNA to proteins in cells, the body can replace and repurpose the calls of all organs including the brain and the heart. Thus the long term effects of cellular memory transfer should be limited. However, in some cases of transplanted hearts and other organs, they are not.
To me this suggests that there is a case for some explanation here which is less biological, and more spiritual.
If we consider the nature of the memories which have been passed on from the donor following heart transplants, these inherited memories often relate to personality traits. Particularly in those cases where hearts have been transplanted into sensitive recipients, the demonstrated changes tend to be in attitude, temperament, vocabulary, patience levels, philosophies, and tastes in food and music. This suggests that a part of the donor’s consciousness has been transplanted.
However, in many of the recorded examples, the personality traits which have been passed over are relate to the expressive sensory desires of the donor. That is what they liked to eat, what they liked to wear, and what they liked to listen to.
These sense based memories are a major part of our character make-up and personality, but they lack the more intrinsic higher sense components of our memories. Who we loved, what we knew and believed, what life experience had taught us, and what our aspirations were. Perhaps that part of our consciousness cannot dwell in the cellular memory of heart or other body parts. Perhaps that part of the conscious awareness is distinctively separate from the body and may leave the body upon death.
Our Divided Souls and the Afterlife
The Binary Soul Doctrine [BSD] advocated by the writer and psychologist Peter Novak based on the understanding of ancient Gnostics states simply that humans possess two souls which split at death. The unconscious self going on to reincarnate again and again, while the conscious self ends up in a type of limbo judging itself for all eternity.
This BSD theory proposes that human consciousness (left brain) is mortal, and up on death is cast into limbo trapped within its own memories which it can no longer add to. That in effect is the limbo, purgatory, or hell which older religious cultures refer to. The human unconsciousness [the divine spark] is eternal and rejoins the source before choosing to reincarnate again. In the next life it will bond with another human mortal spirit soul.
This doctrine does not conflict with the principles of inherited memory from organ transplants. Nor does it contradict the notions of reincarnation, out of body, and near death experiences. It neatly fits in between eastern and western spiritual understanding.
A passage in the old testament of the bible; Hebrews 4:12, refers to the soul and the spirit being two separate identities forged into one … “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
So the question remains; does the head rule the heart; or the heart rule the head. I think this quandary is a little too like that other question about the ‘chicken and the egg.’
Peter Novak. The Lost Secret of Death, 2003
The Heart, Mind and Spirit, by Professor Mohamed Omar Salem, 2007
Lorimer D, Thinking Beyond the Brain: A Wider Science of Consciousness, 2001
Armour J A (1991), Anatomy and function of the intrathoracic neurons regulating the mammalian heart.