What did the great thinkers think about heart and mind? How did they distinguish between subjects
related to heart and mind?
This is an interesting question but one that can be taken in different ways. What is the mind? That is a
long-standing philosophical topic, still very much debated. What is the heart? Well, on one level it is
obviously a physical organ, and it's not more complicated than that. Unlike the mind, the heart isn't
said to have an additional kind of property: it isn't thought to be conscious, and it is no longer thought
to be the site of the emotions. So the heart is straightforwardly a physical object, no different in
principle from the liver or the kidneys.
However, we do still talk about the heart in connection with the emotions, but only metaphorically. It is
not to be taken literally. In this usage, the heart symbolises passions, especially love. That's why
heart shapes are associated with love. In the middle ages some people believed that there was an
image of your loved one in your heart. Anatomy (in the seventeenth century) put paid to that idea, but
we have the remains of it in our use of silver or gold lockets to keep a photo of a loved one in. If the
heart was for the passions, such as love, the mind was for the more rational, cognitive activities.When
love is so important to us, it is somehow appropriate to associate it with the organ that keeps us alive
and that pumps blood around our bodies in order to get oxygen to our brains. It represents how vital
and central love is.
You asked about great thinkers. Well, the seventeenth century French philosopher Descartes was
someone who helped to make anatomy respectable. By associating the mind with the non-physical
soul, he left what was left of us, our bodies, as purely physical things that can be examined when we
are dead and our souls/ minds have departed. Resurrection will involve just our immaterial souls/
minds, so it won't matter if our bodies are cut up.
For Descartes, the emotions that had once been associated with the heart are just mental states — in
other words, they belong to the mind, not the heart. They are private, subjective experiences inside
us — as are, he thought, beliefs, desires, intentions, sensations and all other mental states. This is a
view that still causes debates in philosophy. Is it true that we know our own emotions first and best,
that we have a special privileged access to them because they are inside us, in our minds (or, as
materialists think, in our brains)? Or are emotions not so much private experiences as concepts,
involving at least some reference to external things such as behaviour?
Take love. When we tell someone that we love them, are we simply reporting an internal experience
(a feeling), or are we making a statement which means, in part at least, that we will behave towards
them in certain ways? Aren't we implying all sorts of beliefs, intentions and desires (that will depend
on the context of the relationship): e,g, that we believe s/he is nice, attractive, smart; that we intend to
see him or her as much as we can; that want more physical intimacy?
It's a complex concept. That is why we have to be very cautious when scientists (on TV programmes
and elsewhere) tell us that they have located love in the brain. That is just as absurd, really, as
locating it in the heart. Just because certain brain chemicals and certain neuronal regions are
activated at certain moments, it doesn't mean that they equal love, anymore than your heart going
'boom-didi-boom' does. The term "love" can be used in many, many varied situations ("I love my
partner", "I love chocolate biscuits", "I love it when the teacher forgets to set an assignment") — do
they all have the same brain state associated with them? It's hardly likely. Can't I love my partner
even when I'm not actually thinking about her? Love is a concept, not any one kind of event. You
won't find it "in" my mind (because you won't find my mind!), nor in my brain, nor in my heart.
If love was a purely private or internal experience, no-one could ever correct a partner who swears
love: "I don't care what you say, you don't love me. I know because you don't phone, you don't give
me flowers, you never give me compliments, you're just not there for me!" Surely, third person
evidence of that kind can over-rule the first person assertion of love?