Soul Searching within the Heart (or Brain)

While reading Stiff, another book authored by Mary Roach [“see Bonk for Oprah’s Book Club], and which explores the practice of using human cadavers for medical research, automobile safety, and military defense, it appears that many ancient civilizations believed that the heart was the center of thought and contained the soul. The brain was just a bowl of mush (clearly there was no need for a neuroscientist, dammit). The Egyptians called the heart ka, and it remained in the person post-mortem so that it would travel with the respective person to the afterlife. While the other organs were additionally preserved and stored for use in the afterlife, the brain was scooped out through the nostrils with a golden ladle. Many of the Greek philosophers, including Aristotle, also believed that the heart was the mecca of thought. Hippocrates “did not comment,” but was closer to the truth as he suspected that the brain did serve a purpose: it was a mucous secreting organ. Wrong, but close enough.

The most absurd hypothesis engendered by one of the world’s most revered thinkers and inventors, however, was that of Thomas Edison. He believed that the brain was controlled by “life units,” as he astutely described in his diaries; “We do not remember [consolidate memories]. A certain group of our little people do this for us. They live in the part of the brain which has become known as the ‘fold of Broca’ [in modern, saner times, the fold of Broca is referred to as Broca’s area and controls speech]. There, may be twelve or fifteen shifts that change about and are on duty at different times like men in a factory. Therefore, it seems likely that remembering a thing is all a matter of getting in touch with the shift that was on duty when the recording was done.”

Clearly, the light bulb never when on in Edison’s head and/or the wattage were too high.


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