The notion of the heart as a private, internal book of accounts survives in our modern comic books and graphic novels. Instead of a book revealed on the chests of the souls awaiting judgment, we have iconic symbols visible on the chests of superheroes.
“Culture” refers to the process whereby particular kinds of learning contagiously spread from person to person in a community and minds become coordinated into shared patterns, just as “a language” or “a dialect” refers to the process whereby the different speakers in a community acquire highly similar mental grammars. (p. 427)
Learning mechanisms for different spheres of human experience –language, morals, food social relations, the physical world, and so on – are often found to work at cross-purposes. A mechanism designed to learn the right thing in one of these domains learns exactly the wrong thing in others. This suggests that learning is accomplished not by some single general-purpose device but by different modules, each keyed to the peculiar logic and laws of one domain. (p. 426)
The Beat Goes On
We are now deep within what Ong (2000) called a period of secondary orality. How will the retrieval of speech as a dominant medium of communication once again transform the metaphor of the heart? I have suggested that the metaphors in our language not only reflect deep seated beliefs about such things as the seat of consciousness and the nature of memory, but as transformed by the dominant medium of communication, shape public discourse concerning such topics as cognition, individuality and intellect. In spite of our contemporary obsession with computer-centric metaphors of consciousness, the heart metaphor remains powerful. If there is a connection between speech dominated communication and locating aspects of consciousness in the chest, will we continue to act as if knowledge originates in the brain, or will the notion of a deeper wisdom emanating from somewhere in the chest gain ascendancy?
It is not an accident that many portrayals of mechanical men in our media are concerned with their acquiring feelings or a heart. The Tin Woodsman in The Wizard of Oz (1939) searches for a heart. The android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) searches for his creator’s “emotion chip” in order to become more like humans. Enhanced by aural electronic media in our era of secondary orality, the portrayal of the heart as the site our deepest knowledge may explain why the scene between Gandalf and Aragorn cited from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King works for us. Lacking concrete objective evidence one way or the other, Gandalf “knows in his heart” that Frodo is still alive. The implicit message is that having knowledge or intellect isn’t enough to be fully human, you have to have the right “gut instinct.”
What appeared to classical societies as a characteristic of human anatomy has slowly, over the ages, become a metaphor. No one today believes that the seat of consciousness can be found in the heart or lungs, and yet the references persist. In primary orality people assigned different aspects of cognition to different organs. We are content in most cases to let the heart represent all feeling or emotion. When placed in opposition to the head or intellect, the heart prevails in modern cultural references as the deeper source of wisdom and the more reliable arbiter of reality.
If there is a deeper seat of wisdom that we all possess, and if this notion, dormant in the era of literacy becomes dominant in the era of secondary orality, why should anyone listen to academic experts or subject matter experts of any type? Much of our current public debate between a faith-based vs. reality based orientation may be a manifestation of this heart/head split. This illustrates the danger of a hidden metaphor like that of the heart. If a country can be governed “from the gut”, what need is there for subject matter experts on foreign policy, economics or political agendas?
…the intellectual is no longer to direct individual perception and judgment but to explore and to communicate the massive unconsciousness of collective man. (p. 269)