If you've been exposed to American entertainment at all during the last forty years, it would be difficult to be unfamiliar with the sci-fi character, "Mr. Spock." Spock was a character in the series, Star Trek, the son of a "Vulcan" father and a human mother. In the storyline, Vulcans were a fictitious race that eschewed emotion in favor of reason and logic. However unlikely a successful pairing between humans and a race alien enough to have green blood may have been, the deep conflict in this character made him a useful vignette for the human condition.
This would have very little to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses, except for one of their many ill advised forays into the field of medicine. Shortly after the demise of the first Star Trek series, JW literature began teaching that like the Spock character, human consciousness was divided into a purely logical and a purely emotional side that were often at odds with each other. This week's installment in the science quotes of "Celebrated JW scholars" concerns that episode.
In March of 1971, an article appeared in The Watchtower entitled "How Is Your Heart?" which introduced the idea that the source of human motivations and emotions was not the brain at all, but the heart muscle in our chests:
Nearly forty years later, people who were either not born yet or unfamiliar with Jehovahs Witnesses at the time are sometimes reluctant to grasp the full scope of the claim that was being made in 1971. "They couldn’t possibly have been talking about the heart muscle! Surely they were only depicting a symbolic heart."
Not so. Early on in this article the idea of a figurative heart had been flatly ruled out:
"You may say, What heart are you talking about? You know you have a heart in your chest, one that is pumping blood throughout your entire body, serving every single cell with that stream of life. But do you have another "heart" in your head, a "figurative heart"? Is it part of your brain or is it that abstract capacity of the brain that we call the "mind"? No! The brain, in which the mind resides, is one thing and the heart in our thorax, with its power of motivation, is another thing. (The Watchtower March 1, 1971 p. 134)
Nobody will deny that the body exerts a powerful influence over our emotional state or that our state of mind in turn exerts a powerful influence over the body. But this is not what The Watchtower was saying. The actual claim was that like the brain, the heart actually reasons:
"As we have learned earlier, the heart does not always listen to the mind. There are times when the heart overwhelms the mind despite its force of logic. We must remember that the heart reasons, too, although this has to do not so much with logic as it does with what is taking place in the heart as our motives, affections and desires take shape and gather momentum in a certain direction, whether for good or for bad." (Ibid p. 140)
The same line of thought also found its way into the Bible dictionary produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1971 entitled, Aid To Bible Understanding. Under the heading, "Heart" it stated:
"In Bible usage the "heart" is considered separate and distinct from the "mind," associated with the brain….
The mind may, from experience and study, have information tending overwhelmingly to direct it to a particular conclusion. It may even have the logic and reasoning that point all one way, recommending a certain course. But if the heart has no desire to pursue that course and steadfastly refuses to do so, the individual will make a decision contrary to what the mind offers." (Aid To Bible Understanding p. 728)
This conflict was graphically brought to life at the summer District Conventions in 1971:
"A feature of the program that absorbed the attention of all was entitled "What Is in Your Heart?" The participants in this drama underwent heart-searching situations common to Christians. On the stage giant models of the brain and the heart lighted up as each was "speaking" inside the individual wrestling with a difficult moral decision." (The Watchtower October 1, 1971 p.600)
The basis for the concept had existed for centuries. When we experience strong emotion, adrenaline is released into the blood, increasing our pulse, our respiration and our blood pressure. It was easy for ancient people to mistake a heart pounding out of love or fear of anger, as the actual source of emotion, rather than simply one of many organs affected by it. Claudius Galen in the 2nd century believed the heart was the source of emotions, as did Aristotle in the 4th.
This began to change with the advent of modern medicine in the 19 th century and the effects of brain injuries began to be systematically studied. There was no question that emotions originated in the brain, and men of science began proposing explanations for the actual mechanism:
In the late 1880’s, William James and Carl Lange theorized that emotions were a cognitive response to physiological events initiated by the autonomic nervous system. In the 1920’s Walter Cannon and Phillip Bard, working independently, challenged that theory by asserting that emotions preceded rather than followed autonomic responses. In the 1960’s, Schachter and Singer proposed the two factor theory of emotion, which holds that emotion is simultaneously both cognitive and autonomic. This idea has a wide acceptance today, as it is believed that emotions are an interaction between the limbic system and the frontal cortex
It was against this backdrop that "Celebrated JW scholars" proposed their own theory of emotion; the "Heart theory." It was primarily based on the idea that every Biblical mention of the heart was literal and was bolstered by anecdotal stories of early heart transplant patients.
To their credit, this theory did not last very long. (Although some crackpots still believe it today.) By 1977, The Watchtower was already starting to back away from it (cf. The Watchtower November 1, 1977 p. 659) and by 1986 it had been thoroughly repudiated. (cf. The Watchtower June 1, 1986 p. 15) The entry for "heart" was completely rewritten in the 1988 publication, Insight On The Scriptures, which was the successor to Aid To Bible Understanding.
Today it is just one more curious episode among the many science quotes of Jehovah’s Witnesses.