When we (self and wife) were in Atlanta, Ramya had a dental operation (to remove a painful inner tooth). I was waiting outside the operating room expecting her to come out holding her chin gingerly and saying, ga ma tut puld, and bravely smiling. Instead she came out on a wheelchair with her eyes closed (she was under sedatives) pushed by a grave looking nurse. My heart jumped in its cage, missed a beat and ran berserk for a moment. You may know the feeling. Well, it’s more than a feeling. The feeling has physical basis. The heart actually jumps, stomach churns, eyes pop out and finger nails eject and hit the walls (alright, I made up the last bits). Last week’s New Scientist has the details.
Why does one really seem to feel the emotional response known colloquially as a “broken heart” in the middle of one’s chest; indeed actually in the region of the heart?
A metaphor offers a clue: the Japanese emphasise the stomach rather than the heart. Also, in English we speak of “not having the stomach” for something. In healthy people it is the muscular viscera that draw attention to themselves, particularly those of the heart, oesophagus and stomach. Though they are under involuntary nervous and hormonal control, their physical reactions give dramatic feedback.
The heart reflects emotions by the intensity and rhythm of its actions, for example in shock it leaps and pounds. Anxiety can cause actual stomach aches and “lump-in-throat” oesophageal spasms.