There are a lot of scientific claims by respected writers that actually don’t hold up under scrutiny. For example, in his book The Biology of Transcendence, Joseph Chilton Pearce makes the eye-opening assertion that 60-65% of the heart’s cells are actually brain neurons. Supposedly fact-checked and in print, that seemed like a pretty radical claim. When I couldn’t find any evidence to either support it or deny it, and since Pearce is a cracked cosmic egg specialist and not a cardiologist, I contacted Andrew Armour, M.D., editor of the journal Neurocardiology and asked him. What he told me is that it’s true that the heart contains brain cells, but they only number about 20,000 or so. It was his learned opinion that adding more (or subtracting), would greatly interfere with the smooth function of the heart. So-called heart-felt emotions, he further added, are primarily a neurophysiological effect that is mostly centered in the brain (Even though heart-felt emotions do have somatic components – it’s almost impossible to feel heart-felt with a hijacked limbic system, for example. Heart-felt emotions seem to require significant brainstorms of dopamine and oxytocin, rather than cortisol and noradrenaline).
So, recognizing that all scientific claims can’t simply be taken at face value – the world and we are extraordinarily complex – here’s the latest brain fact that sent me cartwheeling to the library stacks (libraries still have stacks, believe it or not): 80% of the brain’s neurons are housed in a relatively small structure at the base of the skull … in the cerebellum, Latin for “the little brain.”
80%! If I’m on the original design team and I agree to allocate 80 percent of the brain’s resources to cells performing one group of functions, I probably think they’re pretty important (Note: 80% of the brain’s connections are not found in the cerebellum).
These (pur-KIN-gee) cells have massive branching arbors and are primarily responsible for – guess what? – body movement coördination and motor learning – essentially learning to use skeletal muscles effectively. Like how to simultaneously walk and chew gum, or sprint with grace, or dance and not look like a dork. If you can’t do any of these things: 1. you can mostly fault your cerebellum; and 2. you have almost unlimited capacity to actually learn how to do those things and many more with grace beyond measure! Spend a season on Dancing with the Stars. Regularly moving our body would seem to be REALLY important to the brain – a great way to spend a good part of every day, as this recent research from Oz-land suggests.
And One More Thing, or Two
But the cerebellum is also radically wired into the limbic system. It’s got an undeniable reptilian ancestry. That suggests it plays an active role in the fight-flight-freeze response. Which further suggests it’s an active player in forming and retaining traumatic memories – perhaps a central command hub dictating how and where we store traumatic “body memories.”
But here’s something I find most interesting about Purkinje. He also traced fibers in the heart, where they are chiefly responsible for the pump-action that results in … a regular heart rhythm and heart rate variability. I wonder what secret signals that life-long pulsation sends through my vagus nerve bundle to its Purkinje brethren hanging out in my cerebellum when I’m 99% not paying attention?
End Note: Living Life as Art. Last call! Click HERE.