And the second big shift is you have philosophical ideas about the self, starting really from Rene Descartes in the 16th century, who talked about that disjuncture between mind and body. He introduced notions of the reflex and so on, which gave organs like the heart these integral properties—they could pump on their own. So Rene Descartes separated the passions from reason, and this coincides with work like physicians like William Harvey who talk about the circulation of the blood. Once you have the circulation of the blood, then the humoral model cannot survive. We can't be composed of these different humors that move around the body when actually the blood is being circulated all the time. So you have this convergence of philosophical, medical, and scientific belief that ultimately makes the heart less significant in relation to our mental selves and our spiritual selves, and prioritizes the brain. That's how we've ended up now in a very neuroscientific age where we're all about the brain.
Beck: Did they think the soul was something that no longer had any physical component?
Bound Alberti: Interestingly not. Rene Descartes wanted to view the body as still having a soul, but what he did was he moved the soul from the heart to the brain. He put it in the pineal gland, which is just behind the eyebrows. One of the reasons he did that was that facial expressions are very important in showing emotion. And he figured that actually, if you’ve got the soul working behind the eyebrows, that makes sense.
Beck: Scientists were thinking of the heart more as just part of the body, just another organ, but the poets were not having it, right?
Bound Alberti: That's right. So in the late 18th, early 19th century, the peak of the process by which the heart was becoming objectified, you've got the rise of the Romantic poets who reinforced the idea that there was something very heartfelt about what lurks in our chest. Those languages of emotions being heartfelt, hearts rising and sinking, being heavy-hearted, light-hearted, having the heart of a lion and so on—those metaphors and the language in which we talk about the heart, show that we still, even at the very peak of scientific medicine, have those associations of the heart being psychologically and emotionally, even spiritually important.
Beck: It seems like that period of poetry had a really big influence. We still use the heart to describe personality, you mentioned that in the book, like you could be cold-hearted, or tender-hearted, or empty-hearted. The poets kind of won, didn’t they?
Bound Alberti: I see there being a really strong and problematic disjuncture in modern medicine, as a result of these changes. On the one hand you've got the surgeons who do really important valuable work on the heart, transplantations and so on. But when I’ve spoken to the surgeons, they don’t want to imagine that the heart has any more significance than being a pump that sends the blood around the body and beats 100,000 times a day because they couldn’t bear to do their job.