Thinking with our hearts

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Fri, 09 Jul 1999 14:42:43 -0700

Wed Jul 7 21:55:42 1999

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>Date: Thu, 08 Jul 1999 01:04:16 -0500
>From: Michelle Webster <>
>Subject: [NH] Thinking with our hearts
>Terry Collins
>Marketing Representative
>TGS-NOPEC Geophysical Company
>2500 CityWest Blvd.
>Ste. 2000
>Houston, Texas 77042
> An Interview with
> by Chris Mercogliano and Kim Debus
>from JOURNAL OF FAMILY LIFE magazine, Vol. 5 #1 1999
> For nearly half a century Joseph Chilton Pearce, who prefers to be
>known simplly as Joe, has been probing the mysteries of the human mind.
>Author of The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Exploring the Crack in the Cosmic
>Egg, Magical Child, Magical Child Matures, Bond of Power and Evolution's
>End, one of his overriding passions remains the study of what he calls
>the "unfolding" of intelligence in children. He is a self-avowed
>iconoclast, unafraid to speak out against the myriad ways in which
>contemporary American culture fails to nurture the intellectual,
>emotional and spiritual needs and yearnings of our young people. Part
>scholar, part scientist, part mystic, part itinerant teacher, Joe keeps
>in close touch with the most brilliant men and women in each field of
>inure relevant to his guest. He creates a unique synthesis of their work
>and translates the results into a common language-such a valuable
>contribution in these days of increasing scientific specialization. Then
>Joe travels the world wide to share his painstakingly gathered wisdom -
>freely if necessary - with
>anyone he feels can make a difference. We were fortunate enough to catch
>him by phone at his home in central Virginia.
> Chris: Modern neuroscience has been making some startling discoveries
>about the human heart. Can you tell us a bit about them in layman's
> Joe: The idea that we can think with our hearts is no longer just a
>metaphor, but is, in fact, a very real phenomenon. We now know this
>because the combined research of two or three fields is proving that the
>heart is the major center of intelligence in human beings. Molecular
>biologists have discovered that the heart is the body's most important
>endocrine gland. In response to our experience of the world, it produces
>and releases a major hormone, ANF - which stands for Atriol Neuriatic
>Factor - that profoundly effects every operation in the limbic
>structure, or what we refer to as the "emotional brain." This includes
>the hippocampal area where memory and learning take place, and also the
>control centers for the entire hormonal system. And neurocardiologist
>have found that 60 to 65% of the cells of the heart are actually neural
>cells, not muscle cells as was previously believed. They are identical
>to the neural cells in the brain, operating through the same connecting
>links called ganglia, with the same axonal and dendritic connections that
>take place in the brain, as well as through the very same kinds of
>neurotransmitters found in the brain.
>Quite literally, in other words, there is a "brain" in the heart, whose
>ganglia are linked to every major organ in the body, to the entire
>muscle spindle system that uniquely enables humans to express their
>emotions. About half of the heart's neural cells are involved in
>translating information sent to it from all over the body so that it can
>keep the body
>working as one harmonious whole. And the other half make up a very
>large, unmediated neural connection with the emotional brain in our head
>and carry on a twenty-four-hour-a-day dialogue between the heart and the
>brain that we are not even aware of.
> Kim: How does that work?
> Joe: The heart responds to messages sent to it from the emotional
>brain, which has been busy monitoring the interior environment of
>dynamic states such as the emotions and the auto-immune system, guiding
>behavior, and contributing to our sense of personal identity. The
>emotional brain makes a qualitative evaluation of our experience of this
>world and sends that information instant-by-instant down to the heart.
>In return, the heart exhorts the brain to make the appropriate response.
>Of course all of this is on the non-verbal level.
>In other words, the responses that the heart makes effect the entire
>human system. Meanwhile, biophysicists have discovered that the heart is
>also a very powerful electromagnetic generator. It creates an
>electromagnetic field that encompasses the body and extends out anywhere
>from eight to twelve feet away from it. It is so powerful that you can
>take an electrocardiogram reading from as far as three feet away from
>the body. The field the heart produces is holographic, meaning that you
>can read it from any point on the body and from any point within the
>field. No matter how microscopic the sample is, you can receive the
>information of the entire field. The intriguing thing is how profoundly
>this electromagnetic field effects the brain. All indications are that
>it furnishes the whole radio wave spectrum from which the brain draws
>its material to create our internal experience of the world.
>Perhaps most importantly, we now know that the radio spectrum of the
>heart is profoundly affected by our emotional response to our world. Our
>emotional response changes the heart's electromagnetic spectrum, which
>is what the brain feeds on. Ultimately, everything in our lives hinges
>on our emotional response to specific events.
> Chris: How does this emerging knowledge apply to children and their
>healthy development?
> Joe: Children's emotional experience, how they feel about themselves
>and the world around them, has a tremendous impact on their growth and
>development. It's the foundation on which all learning, memory, health
>and well-being are based. When that emotional structure is not stable
>and positive for a child, no other developmental process within them
>will function fully. Further development will only be compensatory to
>any deficiencies.
>So, the first and foremost thing that must occur, if you want
>intelligent, successful and healthy children, is that they must have a
>positive emotional experience. There is forty or fifty years worth of
>research from places like Harvard University, the University of
>Arizona's medical school with people like Schwartz and Russick, and
>HeartMath out in California to back this statement up. It all begins
>with children feeling unconditionally wanted, accepted and loved. This
>is the key to the entire operation. You can have everything else: a high
>standard of living, the most expensive school system, the finest
>teachers in the world; but if the children are lacking that initial
>experience of being unconditionally loved by at least one person, and if
>they do not feel safe and secure in their learning environment, then
>nothing is going to happen very positively. This cannot be overstated.
> Chris: There would seem to be a lot of implications here for the way
>we educate our children.
> Joe: The crux of the issue of education is that there are only two
>types of learning; one is true learning and the other is conditioning.
>Conditioning is a fear-filled response by the older, or what we call the
>"hind," or "reptilian" brain. This is the reflexive,
>survival, maintenance brain that responds as if threatened. A form of
>learning does take place here, but it's conditioned learning and is
>intimately associated with the emotional states of hostility, anger and
>If you want true learning, learning that involves the higher frontal
>lobes - the intellectual,creative brain-then again, the emotional
>environment must be positive and supportive. This is because at the
>first sign of anxiety the brain shifts its functions from the high,
>prefrontal lobes to the old defenses of the reptilian brain.
> Kim: It looks like you can make a case that our development is based,
>perhaps, more on nurture than on nature.
> Joe: The new research around this issue is quite intriguing. In
>England, researchers have come up with the hypothesis that the
>environment profoundly changes the genetic structuring within us, that
>it is the biggest influence of all on our DNA. There are studies now that
>show that our genes are not at all locked into unchanging programs as
>thought, but in fact are profoundly affected by our environment,
>particularly our emotional environment. In the May issue of Science,
>there was an article that discussed how the mother's emotional state
>during pregnancy determined the direction that evolution would take
>place within her developing fetus. Her state of well-being determines
>whether fetal
>brain development concentrates on the frontal loves or the ancient
>reptilian brain involved in survival.
>This is probably the most explosive information to come along in quite a
>while. And this makes perfect sense because the heart is the first organ
>to form in the fetus, within ten days after conception, and it has to be
>because it furnishes the electromagnetic spectrum upon which DNA itself
>depends for its instructions.
> Kim: Are you saying that even after conception our genetic make-up
>continues to change?
> Joe: Absolutely. And after birth as well, where you continue to see a
>shift of emphasis between the reptilian brain and the emotional and
>cognitive brains. Not only do you have these shifts occurring during the
>first eleven years of life, you also have this huge redundancy of stuff
>in the brain. Around the age of eleven or twelve the brain undergoes a
>fine tuning and begins to decide what it can get rid of. The brain
>begins to shed the excess neural connections in either the ancient
>survival brain or in the new intellectual brain. What is removed depends
>upon children's life situations at that time. The question of whether
>they feel safe and loved, or whether they feel like they must protect
>themselves against a
>hostile world has a profound effect on the intelligence of the child.
> Kim: Okay, so what about kids who were raised in negative households
>and who haven't had that unconditional love? What can we do to reverse
>this process and empower them to grow up to be whole persons?
> Joe: well, to me, the whole thing again boils down to the heart. The
>kids you're speaking of have been deprived of adequate heart-brain
>nurturing. They have been operating in an environment of deep
>deprivation and the only thing you can do is to somehow or other provide
>them with a nurturing environment where they feel safe and loved and
>I know it sounds too simplistic, but really that's the whole story.
>These young people need audio-vocal communication, nurturing, play, body
>movement, eye contact, sweet sounds and close heart contact on a
>physical level. Look at Marianna Caplin's new book that just came out
>called Untouched. It's a brilliant, incredibly well-documented work that
>right up there with Ashley Montique's classic book on touch written
>thirty years ago. It deals with the touch-starved American child who has
>never received enough emotional or physical nurturing. We must
>understand here that the emotional and physical are essentially the
>same. So many American teenagers today have been deprived of touch and
>love from the very beginning of their lives.
> Chris: What happens to them as a result?
> Joe: They try to make up for that lack with all kinds of culturally
>provided substitutes that don't satisfy their needs. For the past
>fifteen years Ann Morrison in New York State has been working with
>hard-core teenage criminals in maximum security prisons, young people
>between the ages of fifteen and twenty who are considered by society to
>be unredeemable. She laments at how the public doesn't understand how
>easily salvageable they are.
>Through storytelling, play acting and a whole series of activities like
>that, Ann just wins over these largely uneducated and illiterate teens.
>All of a sudden they're reading, they're writing their on poetry and
>they're expressing themselves in a variety of ways. She started out by
>following her on heart's instincts. With great love, she sent in and
>began quietly telling her stories, even though they had the TVs going
>and they are doing all of the usual child, noisy, rambunctious things
>that teenagers do. And she as able to reach them because she was offering
>something that they had never had - a mother figure, a compassionate
>woman friend.
>As Margaret Mead said, "Art is the language that is the language of the
>heart, that is the language of the emotional structure."
> Chris: Didn't you once say that imaginative children are never
> Joe: Well, in Sweden there is a group of doctors who claim this to be
>true. Their studies show that children who have an abundant capacity for
>creating inner-world images are never violent. Plus whenever they're
>faced with violence, they are able to imagine and implement alternative
> That's what Ann Morrison is giving those young people, the opportunity
>to re-fashion their internal worlds, to establish the heart/emotional
>brain connection that was never allowed to develop during their
> Chris: I think I've also heard you say that television is the
>arch-enemy of imagination. Exactly what is television doing to our
> Joe: Television literally prevents neural growth in the developing
>brains of children. When young children watch too much, it suppresses
>the capacity of their brains to create an internal image of some thing,
>or some one, or some event not presented to the sensory system by the
>environment, which is the essence of what we call "imagination."
>Researchers used to think that it was only the content of the
>programming that was negatively affecting children. Now we have ample
>evidence that the technology of the device is very harmful in and of
>itself. In other words, the simple act of watching television has
>profoundly negative
>effects on the physiology of human beings.
> Chris: How so?
> Joe: It's a long story, dating all the way back to the early 1960's
>when it was discovered that kids' minds go catatonic in front of the
>"tube." This has to do with the way that the brain reacts to radiant
>light, which is the light source of television and computer monitors,
>and reflected light, which is what brings us the rest of our visual
>experience. This is too complicated to go all the way into here, so let
>me just say that the brain tends to close down in response to radiant
>light sources. We've all seen how hypnotized children get when they
>watch television for any length of time.
>My biggest concern has to do with the way the television industry
>countered this effect by introducing what are known as "startle effects"
>into children's programming. A startle effect is anything that triggers
>the brain into thinking that there might be an emergency out there and
>alerts it to pay special attention to the source of the disturbance.
>Television accomplishes this with sudden and dramatic changes of
>intensity of light or sound and a rapid shifting of camera angles.
>Eventually, however, the brain starts habituating itself to the
>situation, realizing that these are just false alarms, and it starts to
>tune out again. As a result, every ten years or so the television
>industry has had to up the
>ante by making the startles bigger and bigger, until finally what we
>have are periodic bursts of violent imagery in children's cartoons and
>so on, to the point now where there are an average of sixteen bits of
>violence every half-hour. Here the nature of the program content does
>matter. While the higher brain, or neocortex, knows that the images on
>TV aren't
>real, the lower, or the "reptilian" brain does not. This means that when
>a child views violence on television, the reptilian brain sends a series
>of alarm messages up to the emotional brain, which in turn immediately
>contacts the heart. The moment the heart receives any indication of
>negativity or danger, it drops out of its usual harmonic mode into an
>incoherent one, triggering the release of the single most potent hormone
>in the human body, known as cortisol. Cortisol instantly wakes up the
>brain and causes it to produce trillions of neural links in order to
>ready the individual to face the emergency.
>Then, as soon as the heart gets the message that the coast is clear,
>another hormone is released to dissolve all of the new neural pathways
>that weren't used to make a quick, adaptive reaction to the perceived
>threat. The trouble with current-day children's television programming
>is that there's never any letdown, and the brain of the average American
>child, who has watched 5000 to 6000 hours by the age of five of six, is
>suffering a great deal of confusion as a result. The massive
>over-stimulus from TV is causing the brain to maladapt in ways
>previously thought impossible. It is literally breaking down on all
>levels of neural development.
> Kim: can you give us any specific examples?
> Joe: I'll give you a couple. The German Psychological Institute has
>conducted a twenty-year study of 4000 children per year, children who
>have watched the average 5000 to 6000 hours of television by the age of
>six. Researchers found that twenty years ago young people could
>distinguish between 360 different shadings of a single color category
>like red or blue. Today it's down to about 130. That's over a 2/3 loss
>of their ability to detect shadings of color. Now, this is strictly a
>neuro-cognitive breakdown. The most serious change they uncovered was a
>breakdown of the brain's ability to cross index its whole
>kinesthetic/sensory system. That is, more and more children's sensory
>systems are acting as isolated components in the brain and less and less
>as coordinated whole gestalts.
>When they placed the young test subject in a natural environment that
>had no high-density stimuli, such as come from television, they grew
>very anxiety-ridden, bored and tended toward violence. The final
>disturbing finding of the German study is that there has been over the
>same twenty-year period, a 20% reduction in the children's awareness of
>natural environment. This fits right in with Marcia Mikulac's studies in
>the 80s on evolution, where she discovered a 20 to 285% reduction in
>American children's ability to bring in environmental sensory signal as
>opposed to that of children from pre-literate, non-technological
>societies. So, the German studies back up what we've already known about
>the desensitization of children who are exposed to the inappropriate
>stimuli from sources such as television, rock music and computers.
> Chris: Jerry Mander pointed out in his book on television that when
>television was first introduced it was advertised as this wonderful,
>democratic technology that would make everybody's life better and serve
>as an educational tool available free of charge to all. And the American
>culture of the fifties bought this fantasy lock, stock and barrel. So
>how about computers in the 90s?
> Joe: Well, computers fall into essentially the same category. Here's
>one example that demonstrates how they can have the same debilitating
>effects on the mind that television has. Researchers took a single page
>from a fourth grade level textbook that had explanatory writing and a
>couple of diagrams or pictures on it and asked three groups of people to
>review the information. Group A was given the piece of paper itself to
>study. Group B was shown a movie of the page, and group C viewed it on a
>television screen - which is exactly the same as a computer monitor.
>Twenty minutes later they tested them on their comprehension and
>retention of the material. Group A, who held a paper copy in their
>hands, averaged a retention level of 85%. Those who saw it on the movie
>screen had a
>retention level of between 25 to 30%, and those who studied it on the TV
>monitor had a retention and comprehension level between 3 and 5%. When
>they mixed the groups up and tested them again with different pages from
>the book, in every case the retention and comprehension was identical.
>This again has to do with how the brain is constructed and the way it
>responds to radiant light rather than reflected light as a source of
>information. And it should make us pause to consider, but it won't.
> Chris: Why?
> Joe: I attended a computer conference at the University of California
>at Berkeley during which twenty-one of us from all over the world spent
>four days discussing the computers-in-education issue. At that very time
>the State of California had a 500-million-dollar bill pending for a
>pilot project of K-12 computerized education. They asked me to come and
>speak to any legislators who would listen and give them a report on what
>we had discovered during those four days at Berkeley. The woman
>engineering this,
>who at the time was head of the Republican strategy department, was
>fired for asking me to come and speak. It just goes to show you how much
>money and power is involved.
> Kim: But, so many occupations these days involve computers. How do we
>teach young people what they need to know about computers without
>relying on them too much?
> Joe: At that four-day symposium at Berkeley we concluded that
>everything hinges on age appropriateness. One professor from MIT made
>the passionate plea that we must encourage children to develop the
>ability to think first, and then give them the computer. After that the
>sky's the limit. But if you introduce the computer before the child's
>thought processes
>are worked out, then you have disaster in the making. This is because,
>as Piaget pointed out, the first twelve years of life are spent putting
>into place the structures of knowledge that enable young people to grasp
>abstract, metaphoric, symbolic types of information. The capacity for
>abstract thinking developed as a result of the natural concrete
>processes that have been going on for millions of years. The danger here
>is that the computer, which operates by the same artificial,
>cathode-ray-tube technology as the television, will interrupt that
> Chris: TV and computers aside, I get the sense from a lot of young
>people I know that they feel something is missing from their lives. Have
>you noticed this in your travels?
> Joe: I've often talked about three important characteristics of all
>teenagers. The first is a feeling they have of great expectation that
>something tremendous is supposed to happen in their lives around the age
>of fifteen or sixteen. The second is the feeling that some greatness
>exists within them. The third is a longing that is so intense it can
>never be assuaged. And so at this point teenagers begin looking for
>models of who they can be, someone to help them define and put that deep
>longing into perspective. And what do they get? They get MTV, they get
>rock stars, they get all of the rest of the trash in movies and on
> Kim: This is the stage of life when many other cultures encourage
>spiritual growth through things like coming-of-age and rights-of-passage
>rituals. Do you think the absence of these in our culture is one of our
> Joe: Certainly, but the things you're speaking of are vehemently
>blocked by our society because they're not economically viable. They
>can't be given a dollar value. Young people looking for something of
>meaning and substance out there have a terrible time finding what
>they're seeking because they are locked into our cultural system. Look
>into Ralph Nader
>and Linda Coco's new book on the corporate exploitation of children.
>It's a bomb shell. For instance, when Ralph Nader approached Bob
>Pittman, who invented MTV, and asked him if he realized the profound
>influence they were having on fourteen year olds, the guy leanedback and
>said, "Ralph, we don't influence fourteen-year-olds, we own them."
>Today there are actually entrepreneurs in the marketplace selling
>programs to corporations detailing how to exploit the child mind! In
>other words, we are totally set up right now as a consumer society, and
>changing that fact would literally threaten our economy. I don't think
>you can change this reality on any large-scale basis. You can only try
>to work around
>the edges and hope to reach one individual at a time. No one's going to
>change the overall system. All we can do is appeal to parents who have
>ears to hear and who are willing to take the risk of getting their
>children out of this madness and protect them against it.
> Chris: What advice would you give to individual parents of teenagers
>about how they can help them to pursue their deepest desires?
> Joe: Well, first of all a great many teenagers have no idea what their
>desires are because they haven't been given the opportunity to find out.
>So, we can start by helping them to identify their desires.
>Next, we can start being more proactive rather than reactionary. Most of
>the crises that are occurring in our young people today are arbitrary,
>that is they're created by the culture itself. Instead of spending
>millions of dollars trying to fix what's wrong with teens we should
>invest in educating people to be good parents, to love and nurture their
>babies and young children so they don't have huge problems later on. The
>first four years of life are the most important. In Sweden, new mothers
>are given three years of maternity leave. It used to be one, and now
>they've upped it to three so that mothers can stay home with their
>children. And they're giving fathers a one-year leave of absence with
>full pay so that both mother and father can be with their child for the
>first critical year. So when you ask what can we do with our teenagers,
>I say we can begin by preventing the damage right from the very
> Kim: So you think there's hope for us?
> Joe: There are some extraordinary things happening right now, in
>little pockets all over the world, examples of true coherency in a
>massively incoherent system. And when this global economy nightmare
>we've unleashed finally self-destructs - as I think it has to -these
>small pockets of coherent intelligence will then manifest themselves and
>provide the impetus and the wisdom for the changes necessary to create a
>world in which children can reach their full potential. I am very
>optimistic about this.
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