Pharyngula

We are about to finish Soul Made Flesh by Carl Zimmer in class this week and I’ve been reflecting on how, despite science’s deep impact on how we think and act, we still have subconscious belief in superficial myths that slip out despite our common knowledge of biology and the world around us. For instance, Zimmer illustrates the battle that people like Thomas Willis went through in trying to draw attention to the superiority of the brain over the heart in its control over all our emotional and reasoning faculties. After dissecting thousands of brains, comparing and contrasting the anatomies of animals and humans, anatomies of past (Galen) and Willis’s present (Harvey), and pushing these ideas at just the right time over two decades and through two revolutions, Willis was finally able to solidify the brains mastery over the human body and personality rather than the heart.

Yet despite this great fight to make the brain’s superiority over the other organs common knowledge, we throw it all to the wind with sayings like “she broke my heart,” or, “he has a wicked heart.” Why have these sayings survived, and why do we still feel that emotions and our persons are derived from the heart? Can I say something like, “when she left it was like getting shot through the amagdyla,” or, “I’m so excited dopamine might spill out of my ears,” and not sound completely awkward?

Despite common knowledge about such happenings in the brain, we still communicate better with the myths of the past, such as the belief that the heart is the center for production of emotion and regulation of our actions and thoughts. I guess it really depends on how much we cling to these myths, and how far these myths go in messing true science. Most people know that emotional processes and personality are regulated by the brain, however, it is still easier to communicate our feelings and thoughts (which is essential to any culture) through common myths. Perhaps we’ll all use “scientifically correct” phrasing someday, but what has to happen to completely turn a culture to the truth?

Comments

  1. #1 Heliologue
    October 14, 2007

    “Old” beliefs informed much of the body of language; this, I think, has more to do with said turns of phrase than an active superstition does–at least with respect to organs of cognition.

  2. #2 Christian Burnham
    October 14, 2007

    I can think of so many reasons, but I’ll limit myself.

    1) It doesn’t seem to have been particularly important in the evolution of the brain for us to feel the spatial location of whatever lobe is participating in different thoughts. After all- we’re not exactly going to open our skulls up to do brain surgery if our frontal lobe starts acting up.

    (Of course- this goes back to the question of headaches and migraines. What exactly is nature telling us to do when our head hurts?)

    2) The metaphor of the heart is a pretty good one that has survived even when other metaphors relating to different organs have died off, e.g. Mood being caused by different biles and phlegm.

    The heart is an absolutely essential organ, which represents the motor of pumping around ‘life-blood’. Our pulse is the easiest single indication of life.

    It’s not surprising that the heart is still identified with life, vitality, soul and love. If your heart stops beating then you’re not going to be experiencing much of anything.

    3) The heartbeat is correlated to stress levels. Thus, in a very real sense, the heart is a monitor of your emotional state. People really do have an elevated heart beat when they see a pretty/handsome boy/girl.

    4) Poetic metaphor is a big part of the English language and of our visual language. The heart can be seen as one of the most successful iconic images in our history. If a brand-name works so well then why abandon it now?

  3. #3 rd
    October 14, 2007

    when poets can create poetry about the virtues of the brain.
    may be then. When song writers can write about the brain
    instead of the heart then may be.
    troubadours learned about love poetry from the arabs.
    they have notion of moth and the flame when describing
    love. That is apt metaphor. may be if something like that was
    adopted, it would be better. But then again it may be limitation
    of english language.

  4. #4 Andrew Price
    October 14, 2007

    I think the reason for the persistence of this concept is simple and fairly logical. At least in my own case, every major loss I have experienced has made the area where my heart is _physically_hurt_.

    So people say their heart is broken because that’s where the physical pain is.

    :)

  5. #5 truth machine
    October 14, 2007

    What Christian said (well). As for Andrew, perhaps it’s indigestion — you know, “heart burn”?

  6. #6 Shawn Wilkinson
    October 14, 2007

    I say blame Galen and where he situated the various “virtues” of humanity within the human body.

  7. #7 Luis
    October 14, 2007

    For the same reason why you might say to your sweetheart “I’d go to the end of the world with you”, even though we all know that the world has no end.

  8. #8 AntonGarou
    October 14, 2007

    I personally think the reason is two fold:
    1)Metaphors, especially old metaphors like that one, have a strong retaining power- they don’t fade from language quickly or easily.

    2)according to some of the modern psychological theories emotion is simply a cognitive interpretation of the state of the body, and the heart is the most easily perceived indicator that the conscious mind identifies, and so it is “blamed” for emotions in our culture.

  9. #9 SEF
    October 14, 2007

    every major loss I have experienced has made the area where my heart is _physically_hurt_

    That’s why people also say they are gutted!

  10. #10 SEF
    October 14, 2007

    Can I say something like, “when she left it was like getting shot through the amagdyla,” or, “I’m so excited dopamine might spill out of my ears,” and not sound completely awkward?

    No.

    However, were you to write a best-selling novel or film (perhaps set in the future or on another planet) in which the characters had some great quotable lines of that nature, then you might be able to get away with it after that. Lots of stuff in casual usage comes from Shakespeare. Can you compete with that? Can you even reach the cultural presence of things like: “be excellent to each other”, “it sounds better in the original Klingon” and “up to eleven”?

  11. #11 Thrawn
    October 14, 2007

    Shot through the head
    And you’re to blame
    You give love
    A bad name.

    Also, They Might Be Giants played with the heart=emotion metaphor a little in “She’s actual size”
    “She’s stuck
    In my heart now
    Where my blood belongs”

  12. #12 Despard
    October 14, 2007

    Heart aside, I think the stomach is an accurate physiological indicator for many things. Think of how your stomach lurches when you see the object of your desire! When you ‘think with your gut’ (as Sagan famously did not do). There’s a hypothesis that the gut has its own nervous system, which I think is a fascinating idea.

  13. #13 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    October 14, 2007

    Perhaps we’ll all use “scientifically correct” phrasing someday, but what has to happen to completely turn a culture to the truth?

    I am thinking of a word that starts with an “R.”

    The heart has become the poetic repository of emotions, and the symbolism is just so much prettier. How would you react if you started getting Valentine’s cards with a graphic of the brain instead of the heart? I know Teach would prefer it, but it would be less exciting for the rest of us.

  14. #14 Patrick Quigley
    October 14, 2007

    Interestingly the Old Testament locates mental function in the kidneys as well as the heart (and once in the liver as well). The brain apparently was considered unimportant enough to escape any mention in the Bible. An interesting article on this topic from the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology can be found at http://jasn.asnjournals.org/cgi/content/full/16/12/3464. I was particularly taken by the biblical passages showing that God examines the kidneys (or reins) to determine how to pass judgement on them.

    “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10)

    You would think an Intelligent Designer would be able to remember the differences between neurological organs, circulatory organs, and excretory organs.

  15. #15 Patrick Quigley
    October 14, 2007

    I can’t figure out the problem, but the link I gave doesn’t work. Just go to http://jasn.asnjournals.org/ and do a search for “bible” and the article will come up.

  16. #16 Jake Barnes
    October 14, 2007

    A good question in the original post.

    For starters, when talking about “truth”, you should instead talk about the particular biochemical reaction in your organic brain that has been stimulated by the current sensory imputs from your environment.

  17. #17 John Emerson
    October 14, 2007

    I think that this is a completely dead metaphor for anyone who even took science classes in high school. People I’ve known who seemed to take it seriously and literally were usually also superstitious religionists, or people who had systems to win the lottery.

    Knowing that perception, emotion, and thought are all centered in the brain, it still seems right to localize emotions elsewhere — tingling all over your body (excitement), a sick feeling in your stomach (depression or despair) or in the heart (anger, love).

  18. #18 kim boone
    October 14, 2007

    Damasio: “Descartes’ mistake”

  19. #19 bPer
    October 14, 2007

    Bright Lights asked:

    Can I say something like, “when she left it was like getting shot through the amagdyla,” or, “I’m so excited dopamine might spill out of my ears,” and not sound completely awkward?

    I can think of one example – “my brain hurts”. I don’t know where that expression came from. Monty Python (the Gumbies) perhaps?

  20. #20 David Harmon
    October 14, 2007

    I’m with Andrew Price here, but I’ll go on at more length….

    The brain is what we do our perception and thinking with, it’s simply not equipped to provide direct self-examination. The closest we come is the self-modeling that allows for (some) psychological introspection, but that’s not linked to our body-maps.

    On the other hand, when we feel various emotions, we do get feedback from the rest of our bodies — not just the muscular tensions that make our chest or belly hurt(*) , but a bunch of other indicators including, yes, changes to our heart rate. Visceral sensation trumps intellectual awareness, and especially so when we’re speaking from emotion!

    Christian Burnham: What exactly is nature telling us to do when our head hurts?

    Sorry, that’s a teleological error…. “Nature” isn’t saying anything, it’s just that something has set off various pain signals. The fact that those signals aren’t obviously linked to any particular cause or remedy, is exactly why headaches are so annoying (frustrating!), well beyond the degree of pain involved.

    That is, if my arm hurts like heck, I have a whole series of natural responses — (1) inspect it for injury, (2) try flexing the muscles (is it asleep or spasming?), (3) if neither of those pan out, try to favor or protect that arm for a while. If I have a headache, there’s often no “natural” response, so I have to fall back on learned “tricks”, such as taking an Advil, retreating from my strongest current sensation (light, noise), etc..

    * one guess how “my fingers tried to mistype” that ;-)

  21. #21 James McGrath
    October 14, 2007

    In the Bible there are places where it literally says someone ‘boweled’ someone else, the bowels being thought to be the seat of compassion. That’s one of many problems I have with so-called Biblical literalism: it is much easier to claim one believes the whole Bible and takes it literally when the English translation has taken the literal language and turned it into a nice English metaphor.

    In the Apostle Paul’s time, there were debates about whether thought happens in the head or the heart. He sided with Aristotle (who wouldn’t?) and went with the latter.

    http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2007/08/when-paul-gets-it-wrong.html

    I’d be all for updating our language to reflect what we now know. But I’m not sure how likely it is that the language as generally spoken will change. I’m going to go now and watch the appearance of the sun at the horizon as the earth’s rotation brings it into view, but I think most other people are still just going to watch the sunrise.

  22. #22 CRM-114
    October 14, 2007

    Is it any different to say “she broke my heart” than to say “he kicked my ass”, or “I had my hand in it” or “he doesn’t have the balls for it”? They are metaphors where a part of the body represents the whole.

  23. #23 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 14, 2007

    Apart from “sunrise” and “sunset”, let me mention that “heart” is a native English word with a single syllable, while “amygdala”… judging from the way you spelled it, you can’t even pronounce it :o)

    On the subject of headaches, I once listened to my thesis supervisor speaking French very fast for maybe two hours. That was exhausting. Afterwards I had a localized headache in the temples. Could it be that both temporal lobes hurt?

  24. #24 David Marjanovi?, OM
    October 14, 2007

    Apart from “sunrise” and “sunset”, let me mention that “heart” is a native English word with a single syllable, while “amygdala”… judging from the way you spelled it, you can’t even pronounce it :o)

    On the subject of headaches, I once listened to my thesis supervisor speaking French very fast for maybe two hours. That was exhausting. Afterwards I had a localized headache in the temples. Could it be that both temporal lobes hurt?

  25. #25 sailor
    October 14, 2007

    I think several of the commenters here got it right, starting with Andrew #4. The brain is doing the processesing but that is not where you feel it. You feel it in the chest, the arms, the tingling of the skin, increased heart rate and more. Thus allusions to heart and gut (and it the case of horror, spine), are perfectly understandable and have meaning obvious to anyone that shares them. (Judging by some of the comments here, I wonder if some posters have the same systems).

  26. #26 Cuttlefish
    October 14, 2007

    The sound of your voice thrills my temporal lobe,
    My occipital swoons at your sight
    When we walk hand in hand, my parietal and
    My prefrontal are filled with delight.

    My thalamus and hypothalamus know,
    Without anyone having to tell ‘em
    That I’m head over heels, and it certainly feels
    Like I am to my poor cerebellum

    Hippocampally organized memories tell
    Of the way people look and admire us
    It’s like walking with god, but that’s really the odd
    Way I feel my right angular gyrus

    My amygdala swells with desire for you
    But with rage and fear? Nope, nada.
    My pulse will race, and my breath keep pace,
    Thanks, medulla oblongata.

    Master Shakespeare, speaking through Beatrice, might
    Have nearly said it best:
    “I love thee with so much of my brain
    That none is left to protest.”

    http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2007/10/much-ado-aboutthe-brain.html

  27. #27 MH
    October 14, 2007

    A broken heart is a very real phenomena:

    A href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_heart_syndrome”>Takotsubo cardiomyopathy

    No woo involved.

  28. #28 MH
    October 14, 2007

    (I’ll try that again…)

    A broken heart is a very real phenomena:

    Takotsubo cardiomyopathy

    No woo involved.

  29. #29 antimatter spork
    October 14, 2007

    Frankly, I’m just going to have to find a way to work “I’m so excited, dopamine might spill out of my ears” into everyday conversation, because that’s just awesome.

    So in answer to the question: come up with some decent-sounding scientific based metaphors/phrases. Language is about what sounds nice, not what’s scientifically correct. If you make what’s scientifically correct sound nice, than people will start saying it.

  30. #30 BaldApe
    October 14, 2007

    Linguistic metaphors are harder to change than scientific knowledge; and really, why bother? Don’t died-in-the-wool materialists still find the soul a useful metaphor? In evolutionary biology, don’t we all know what we are really talking about when a paleontologist talks about organisms “learning” to make hard parts in the Cambrian explosion?

    One of my favorite quotes is
    “The Jerusalem artichoke, a sunflower native to North America, hence the name.” from Euell Gibbons.

  31. #31 Arnosium Upinarum
    October 14, 2007

    Just several observations:

    “Can I say something like, “when she left it was like getting shot through the amagdyla,” or, “I’m so excited dopamine might spill out of my ears,” and not sound completely awkward?”

    Sure you can. Don’t worry about whether you may appear awkward to others just because you resist the habit of expressing yourself in popular aphorisms and brocards.

    The persons who stray from the well-worn paths of thoughtless discourse are the most likely to establish new territory for others to follow in. It is a switch that turns thinking on. Never mind those who ridicule you from the safety of the well-worn path as you strike out on your own: there will be some who are willing to follow, and in following, some of THESE will get the idea themselves to branch out away from the paths of convention.

    Yes, it might “sound” stupid. So what? Lots of things sound stupid. Just ensure you are not making any stupid statements yourself, and you’ll be fine. Remember that many ideas now considered unimpeachable matters of fact began life as ludicrous notions as judged by the dominating cultural standards of the time. But don’t let that erode your rationality and scepticism, as it has in an endless flow of crackpots throughout history. Those sort obviously go nowhere.

    “Despite common knowledge about such happenings in the brain, we still communicate better with the myths of the past, such as the belief that the heart is the center for production of emotion and regulation of our actions and thoughts.”

    Ah, but do we REALLY “communicate better” by resting on our aphoristic habits? Once a saying in refrain to a circumstance in conversation has been regurgitated often enough, the mind ceases to listen to it at all.

    Yet, UTILIZING aphorism in order to communicate a novel perspective is by no means out of the question either. In fact, it can become an extremely effective tool. For example, the “heart” may refer metaphorically not to the blood-pumping organ, but to the “heart” of the mind.

    In other words, a careful choice of words and a turn of phrase can be blazingly effective in transforming a typical rote “myth” into a source of new-found fascination aimed at how we all too often ignore definition, for example. A great many other beneficial effects too numerous to go into here also accrue from using the available tools everyone is so attached to.

    Be creative about it, and you’ll see the possibilities. Effective communication (in science or anything else) CAN employ poetry as well as literal prose. See, say, Shakespeare.

    “Most people know that emotional processes and personality are regulated by the brain, however, it is still easier to communicate our feelings and thoughts (which is essential to any culture) through common myths.”

    Of course, that its “easier to communicate” via well-worn aphorism MAY be an illusion. Having SAID something does NOT necessarily mean it has been effectively communicated, if at all.

    There certainly cannot be anything wrong with recruiting emotional processes and common human feelings in the quest to effectively communicate good ideas. People who convey lousy ideas use those tools all the time. Why should they monopolize them? Grab hold, and weild away!

    “Perhaps we’ll all use “scientifically correct” phrasing someday, but what has to happen to completely turn a culture to the truth?”

    Completely turning a culture in ANY direction (let alone to the “truth”) is a tall order. There is a tremendous inertia cultures possess. There is therefore a strong resistance to extraneously applied manipulations that are both legion and apply a considerable pressure to guide its evolution. Some attempts at manipulation (such as “education”, propagandistic indoctrination, and even military force, amongst countless other methods) are more effective than others.

    Of course, there are paroxysms of “revolution” that punctuate the flow, but those are not only relatively few and far between, almost all of them are evolutionary consequences in themselves if viewed from within the context of chaos and catastrophe considerations. Sometimes a great revolution in culture or thinking takes place with no conscious input applied at all. Its mostly spontaneous like that.

    What has to happen to turn a culture to the truth? I realize that you may have posed this question rhetorically in a fit of exasperation. Seriously, the most any single person can possibly do is simply to remain true and honest to “one’s self”. But the key to that – the mysterious room which the key unlocks that is furnished with a potential culture that, unlike our culture, actually assists and encourages truthful and honest behavior – is determined by the individual.

    We individuals have the brains. Not the governments, nor the corporations, nor even the religions. The seat of intelligence lies inside of the individual human head, and nowhere else. Ideas are the true coin of ANY realm, not “money”. That’s where all of our intellect begins and ends.

    The KEY is in our mind-generating brains capacity for identification. (Sheesh, our imaginations have long since been amply demonstrated!). As soon as an individual human being grows up and BREAKS OUT OF HERSELF TO IDENTIFY HER SELF with people and objects and the environment external to her (this may be called intellectual adulthood), the hopeful notion of a truthful and honest culture no longer seems so far away. Go for it…none of us can lose.

    And don’t listen to cynics. They may have the facts, but they don’t always have the required imagination. You want the facts AND the imagination to effectively communicate them.

  32. #32 S. Rivlin
    October 14, 2007

    When a lay or a religious person uses the heart in his/her description of emotions, it is understandable. However, what is one to do when a religious physician does it?

    About two decades ago, William Devries, a mormon, was hired from University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City with great fanfare by the Humana Heart Institute in their (now defunct) hospital in Louisville, KY, to carry out the transplantation of the Jarvic Artificial Heart. Several patients received that heart and one of them even went home, for a while, before returning to the hospital and later to his creator. I remember attending a seminar of Dr. Devries in our department in 1987, at the hight of his stardom. A mild-mannered man and an excellent heart surgeon, the good doctor spoke about the promise of the artificial heart and the difficulties faced by both patient and physician, especially regarding the high incidence of stroke among the artificial heart receipients. At the end of his talk I asked him if the stroke problem could be attributed to a specific function of the natural heart that is missing in the artificial one (I was aiming at hearing his opinion about the possibility that the normal heart is capable of secreting a certain chemical which prevents the formation of emboli, a function that could be missing in the artificial heart). Before I had the chance to finish elaborating a bit on my question, Dr. Devries explained that the natural heart’s spiritual role cannot be ruled out.

  33. #33 poke
    October 14, 2007

    Most people have some vague sense that the brain is connected to their personality but they don’t identify their personality with their brain. Popular science books on neurobiology spend 90% of their time reassuring people that they miraculously won’t have to give up any of their cherished pre-scientific beliefs about psychology. There’s a major problem with the public acceptance of these ideas that’s going to bite us in the ass someday.

    Our language tends to lag behind our science. The less accepted the science the more we rely on tradition.

  34. #34 Saint Gasoline
    October 14, 2007

    Some people go even further and think that the heart literally IS the seat of the emotions, not just metaphorically.

    And they sell stupid heart monitoring projects to educators to make money off of this absurd crap!

    Don’t believe me?

    http://www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart/index.html

    That’s right, they think the heart has “brain-like” functions because it produces electromagnetism. Someone should tell them that any contracting muscle does so!

  35. #35 eintob
    October 14, 2007

    In Orthodox Christian tradition, the heart is the “seat of the soul”—it contains the “nous” which basically is understood as the mind. That has been taught for a couple millenia now. In Orthodox time that means they might get round to redefining it sometime in the next few thousand years.

  36. #36 cuttlfan
    October 14, 2007

    “Hippocampally organized memories tell
    Of the way people look and admire us
    It’s like walking with god, but that’s really the odd
    Way I feel my right angular gyrus”

    I think I’m in love with the cuttlefish poet… does that count as a scientific reality? :D

  37. #37 Sid Schwab
    October 14, 2007

    Far be it from me to mention my own blog, but I posted recently in a similar, uh, vein…

  38. #38 Patrick Quigley
    October 14, 2007

    Sailor (#24), I do subjectively experience strong emotions in my chest and torso and I agree with you that it is perfectly reasonable for ancient peoples to conclude that emotions originate there. My point is that one would expect a more accurate description from a book written by an omniscient being.

  39. #39 Betsy
    October 14, 2007

    Metaphors are powerful, but they ARE changeable. And I think lack of public knowledge at the level of the street (where language change takes place) about how things really do work in the brain is the problem. By changing the language to promote new cliches and metaphors one could actually change the amount of knowledge the lay person has about the brain, and vice versa.

    Start something. It might catch on! :)

  40. #40 tourettist
    October 14, 2007

    I think the problem is English teachers. Every time a student uses the false head-heart metaphor, the teacher should assign an automatic F. Every time the head-heart metaphor pops up in literature, it should be pointed out as the stale cliche it is, even in Shakespeare. It should be on those tests kids are required to pass these days, “Head for thinking and heart for feeling is: a) a cliche b) not accurate because our brains control feeling as well as thought c) lazy thinking d) bad writing e) all of the above.”

    While we’re at it, how about eliminating the notion that traits are inherited through the “blood line”? One of my embarrassing childhood moments involved correcting my mom that blood doesn’t actually pass between generations and being told by all present that of course it does – what could you possibly mean? That shut me up because you didn’t talk about sperm with my mom present.

  41. #41 Eveningsun
    October 14, 2007

    Isn’t “amygdala” itself derived from a Latin root meaning “almond”? Don’t let on. People might start thinking emotions are not in our heart but in our nut. Heck, we already use phrases like, “He’s nuts about her.”

  42. #42 hf
    October 14, 2007

    I hope you put quotes around “scientifically correct” because you saw some of what your version left out. Emotions couldn’t happen without the brain. But their causes as well as their ‘effects’ involve the whole organism in its environment (I started out more sharply than this, due to hunger). Heartbeat forms a noticeable part of this, as many have pointed out. Tradition and romanticism do play a role as well. I can’t speak to #31.

  43. #43 AL
    October 14, 2007

    Almost any idea which seems like common sense, or appears to be intuitively correct but turns out ultimately to be wrong can be traced to Aristotle. Mainly ideas of physics, such as a force being required to keep an object in constant motion, but also ideas in physiology, such as that the heart is the seat of all thoughts and emotions. Aristotle was very good at presenting what seemed to be intuitively true.

  44. #44 Village Green
    October 14, 2007

    “Every time the head-heart metaphor pops up in literature, it should be pointed out as the stale cliche it is, even in Shakespeare.”

    Shakespeare is never stale. The acting and directing may well be, but the words have great worth and beauty. As for “heart” in the metaphorical sense, I see nothing wrong with words having several meanings. Nobody really believes that the heart is the center of love and affection, but it is useful to have a word to describe the feeling in a poetic way.

  45. #45 Heather Kuhn
    October 14, 2007

    Despard @ #12:

    The nervous system in the gut actually exists. Heck, one of the premier researchers on the subject wrote an entire book on the subject for the lay reader. Now, the author may be overstating things in calling it a “second brain,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

  46. #46 David Harmon
    October 14, 2007

    sailor @#24: (Judging by some of the comments here, I wonder if some posters have the same systems).

    Strangely enough, this is a fair question! Given the crowd (intellectual, science/math-oriented, and especially verbal as all get-out, I’m pretty sure a few of the commenters here are at least mildly autistic. (I know for sure that one of them is, namely myself!)

    Now, all the autistic disorders vary a lot among individuals, but one common feature of my own condition, NLD, and of other Autistic-Spectrum conditions, is that we don’t get proper feedback from our bodies! It’s certainly not a coincidence that many A-Spectrum folks are “intellectualized”, distanced from their own emotions. (My last shrink dubbed the pattern “brain on a stick” — I’m not quote that bad, but it can be that dramatic.)

    In my own mild case, I have trouble distinguishing between, say, an upset stomach and hunger — I just get a general feeling of “complaint” from my stomach. (At least until I get nauseous spasms, or my blood sugar drops.) Similarly, my awareness of surface pain is pretty unreliable — after bumping into things, I need to visually check myself for blood or bruises. Likewise, I have poor awareness and control of my own body language and facial expressions, and it’s hard for me to interpret the same from others.

    Often that comes across as a “detached” attitude, or an apparent lack of emotion or empathy. in fact, I certainly can feel emotion, I just might not realize that I’m feeling it! E.g. I can confuse the physical signals of emotion with other issues, folding, say, the nausea of worry into that same “complaint of the stomach”. Similarly, I’m able to empathize with people, after I’ve established rapport with them — but that’s a bit harder for me than for “normal” people.

    On the other hand, I can easily pick up emotional aspects of written material. Books and blog posts can bring me to tears or fury far more easily than interpersonal interactions. With film and drama, I respond to plot and dialog much more than to the “acting”, unless they’re really chewing the scenery. Conversely, if I’m struck by the “woodenness” of an actor, you can darn well drive a nail in him and hang a picture!

  47. #47 Karey
    October 14, 2007

    Well I for one am gonna start saying I’m so excited dopamine’s coming out of my ears.

  48. #48 PMembrane
    October 14, 2007

    The Japanese word kokoro is purely abstract but corresponds in usage almost perfectly to the metaphoric English use of “heart”.

    It also looks nifty written in katakana:

    ???

  49. #49 Gelf
    October 15, 2007

    “She broke my brain” — Useful phrase. I use it all the time; it just means something different. E.g., to a buddy, “sorry, I wasn’t listening. That girl over there broke my brain.” Also useful in describing the cognitive dissonance that results when, say, the cute, shy, mousy librarianish chick tosses off an unexpected double- (bordering on single-) entendre.

  50. #50 Keith Douglas
    October 15, 2007

    If one wants to answer the question asked above, perhaps one has to also ask why we still say “the sun is rising” and so on.

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