Head or heart

No. 6 – Head or Heart

Posted on: Friday 21st August 2015

If you had just one question to ask someone in order to try to find out about them, what would it be? “Introvert or extrovert?” “Morning person or night person?” “Liberal or Conservative?” Take a moment to think. You may or may not be onto something – and whatever question you choose says a lot about you!

According to Dr Christian Garrett, author of ‘Great Myths of the Brain’ and editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog, one powerful question might be this: “Where do you locate your sense of ‘self’, in your heart, or in your brain?”

The mystery of the ‘self’ or the ‘soul’ or our mysterious animating ‘personhood’ has fascinated and confounded human thinkers since the beginning of time: we know that we are more than just physical beings and that in fact we need to take account of the psychological too (we are, in some sense, psychsomatic unities, though how, precisely, remains a mystery); we know that as humans we differ from most other species on the planet either by degree or radically (depending on your view or evolution and or creation) and we have both a sense of our self-awareness and a hunch that whatever we are physically, that is neither the totality of things while we live, nor the end of the story when we die – but from the beginning of time, the location of this ‘extra bit’ and its quality of endurance has perplexed philosophers, sages and religious writers.

Christian Garrett’s conjecture is that whatever the truth of our mysterious composition, our sense of how we ‘hang together’ is determinative of how we engage the world and go about living. Recent research from Dakota State University analysed the responses to challenging hypothetical moral choices by self-described ‘heart-locators’ and ‘head-locators’. The differences were stark. ‘Heart-locators’ (most commonly female) consistently suspended rational function to make choices that preserved life and prioritised the building of connections (‘have a heart, guv!’); ‘head-locators’ placed harsh justice and abtract moral frameworks over compassion and chose things that were ‘fair’, even if ultimately wasteful. (‘heads win. The rules are the rules!)

What is your sense of yourself? Head or heart? As with most intuitive frameworks our answer probably depends on the situation. Like most people, we can probably do both: think with our hearts or with our heads. It’s just that we get lazy and stuck in one way of operating!

Why not this summer play to your ‘other side’?  Instead of rushing to engage that God-given brain and rational intellect, think with your heart for a bit. Or vice versa. And be surprised.                       Fr Alan Gyle