The Last Word
Scholars of Islam have always maintained that when `aql (intellect) clashes with naql (revelation), then naql should be given an unchallengeable position. Indeed, `aql should never be allowed to clash with naql. That would mean treating them on par, equal footing. But rather, `aql has to be kept one level below, well suppressed, and naql always on top, controlling it, guiding it.
But with the onslaught of `aql in the modern times (actually it is nafs), it gained precedence over naql.
This was the making of modern science. We say ‘modern’ because humans developed science in previous epochs too. But that science, although quite advanced even by modern standards, remained subservient to revelation. Modern science on the other hand, invented such technological tools, produced such gadgets and utilities in such numbers and at such great pace, that it conquered the hearts, and the humans decided to give revelation the option to retire from active life.
Gradually, science captured the minds and imaginations to such extent that it became a religion. Whatever it said, or its spokesmen (the scientists) said, was revelation, the new Bible; but in sharp contrast to the old Bible, this new Bible was invincible and infallible.
Consequently, science changed almost every concept held as true by the humans since times immemorial. One of them was the concept held about mind and heart. Science said assertively that the heart was nothing more than a pumping machine. Its job is to supply blood to the body. It expands to accept incoming blood, and contracts to pump it out. It has no other function and all ideas about it as the “the seat of emotional, intellectual and volitional life, and the center of all moral and spiritual functions” are traditional, mythical, and so, wrong.
The scientific findings were that it is actually the brain which is the seat of emotional, intellectual, and volitional life. It is the brain, and not the heart, that is the center of all moral and spiritual functions.
To facilitate a basic understanding of the brain, the following lines should help: The brain is endowed with a special type of cell. They are called neurons. Some 100 billion neurons in the brain control and direct the activities of the entire body, including those of the heart. The heart-beats of the heart, follow instructions sent across by the mind.
The above is a simple medical illustration of the human brain. (Courtesy, http://phototakeusa.com/).
Different parts (known as lobes) are shown in different colors, which perform different functions. Red area indicates speech control center; light blue handles skilled movement; dark blue commands voluntary movement; the dark green area is responsible for sensation; while light green is for sensory interpretation. The area shown in pink is for speech interpretation. While purple is for visual interpretation; dark purple is involved in hearing and the yellow area is thought to handle hearing.
The above is of course a simple illustration. The brain is primarily for receiving, analyzing, and processing data, and then sending out commands. Millions of data is received every minute and processed. How exactly the brain processes them is not fully understood. But a slightly deeper look into its physical make-up will reveal the novelties.
Like the bricks of a building, the human body’s smallest unit is called a cell. It is not visible to the naked eye. There are about 100 trillions of them in an average person. They come in different sizes and shapes. But most look something like the illustration below.
Cut into half, the above is a common human cell. We shall not go into any further details. The illustration is here for comparison with the brain cells.
Within the brain, there happen to be a very different kind of cells. Known as Neurons, they are drastically different in size, shape and functions from cells in other parts of the body, or even from other 90% of the cells in the brain itself.
(Courtesy: Nature’s Destiny, by Michael Denton
Free Press, 1998, p. 322)
Illustrated above is a single neuron (also called nerve cell) – one of the three kinds of which the brain is composed.
As seen above, it has a cell body (c), an axon (a), and dendrites (d). The dendrites receive signals from other nerve cells and transmit to the nerve cell body where the data is processed. (They are the input channels). The axons carry the nerve impulses from the nerve cell body to other never cells. (They are the output channels). All the billions of cells in the brain are interconnected.
The cell body (c) is like any other cell. It can be compared to a super-computer. It is 0.025 mm thick, and like other cells has a nucleus, mitochondria, Golgi complex, etc. The axon (a) can be a meter long. Some axons are as long as tall a person is: the neuron body is located in the brain while the axon is in the toe. The dendrites (d) are always short and a mere 0.001 mm thick.
As stated above, the neurons in an average brain number 100 billion (1011). They make a staggering total of 1015 connections with other cells. They are electrically excitable, and transmit information by electrochemical signaling. As thought by the scientists, they are also found in the spinal cord and the nerve and ganglia of the peripheral nervous system.
However, as against scientific findings, for thousands of years humans have believed that the heart is the seat of emotions. “Follow your heart,” they would say, if you were dithering over something. Or, “I have a feeling in my heart that this won’t work.” Or, they say about a kind man, “A man of soft heart.” Even a scientist would say, “I love my profession from the bottom of my heart.”
Several statements of the Prophet also accorded the same status to the heart. He would supplicate in words:
يَا مُقلبَ القُلوبِ ثَبتْ قَلبِي عَلى دِينِك
“O turner of hearts, affirm my heart in Your religion.”
He also supplicated in words,
“(O Allah), Guide my heart.”
But, in the light of modern science, how could he have supplicated in those words? Isn’t the mind which sees, hears, contemplates, weighs down the arguments, and then accepts or rejects? Would it not be proper to seek from Allah that the ‘mind’ be guided? After all, the heart does not think!
The Prophet also reported about himself that when he was a little boy, a few non-humans had seized him, cut open his breast, taken out the heart, removed something from it, and cast it away. Then they washed the heart with Zamzam and placed it back. Should the angels not have rather cleansed the brain?
The Qur’an also left no room about the central function of the heart. It said (64: 11):
وَمَنْ يُؤْمِنْ بِاللَّهِ يَهْدِ قَلْبَهُ [التغابن : 11]
“And, whosoever believes in Allah, He guides his heart.”
It said that the heart plays the central role in accepting or rejecting religious truths. It said (50: 37):
إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لَذِكْرَى لِمَنْ كَانَ لَهُ قَلْبٌ [ق : 37]
“In that is a reminder for him who has a heart.”
It also asserted that the heart is the organ where spiritual diseases are located. It said about the hypocrites (2: 10):
فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ مَرَضٌ [البقرة : 10]
“There is a disease in their hearts.”
It asserted this fact for no less than 12 times.
The Qur’an not only gave the prime place to the heart in matters involving religion, but also attributed thought process to it. It said (7: 179):
لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ لا يَفْقَهُونَ بِهَا [الأعراف : 179]
“They have hearts whereby they do not understand.”
All the above goes against scientific findings.
What made it difficult is that not once did the Qur’an refer to the mind or the brain, although humankind knew of its existence and the Arabs referred to an idiot as “dameegh” from which the Urdu word “dimaagh” has been borrowed.
Even if there was room in the above usages to interpret as referring to “the seat of all emotional, intellectual and volitional life, and the center of all moral and spiritual functions – residing somewhere in the human body,” a famous Prophetic tradition has been difficult to reconcile with modern science.
أَلا وَإِنَّ فِي الْجَسَدِ مُضْغَةً إِذَا صَلَحَتْ صَلَحَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ وَإِذَا فَسَدَتْ فَسَدَ الْجَسَدُ كُلُّهُ أَلا وَهِيَ الْقَلْبُ
“Lo. Within the body is a piece of flesh which, if it is ordered, the whole body is ordered and when it is disordered, the whole body is disordered. Lo. It is the heart.”
By identifying the heart as a piece of flesh, this hadith apparently makes a strong case for the heart as placed in the breast; although, to be accurate, since the Prophet did not use the word ‘breast’ but ‘the body,’ there is room for saying that the allusion could either be to the heart in the breast, or, alternatively, to another piece of flesh, somewhere else in the body.
But the Qur’an narrowed the location of the ‘heart’ of its usage by placing it in the breast. It said (22: 45):
فَإِنَّهَا لا تَعْمَى الأَبْصَارُ وَلَكِنْ تَعْمَى الْقُلُوبُ الَّتِي فِي الصُّدُورِ [الحج : 46]
“It is not the eyes that go blind but the hearts that are in the breasts that go blind.”
Thus, the ‘heart’ of the Qur’an and Prophetic statements is narrowed down to its existence within the breast.
The above of course completely contradicted science.
But here comes the surprise of the century. The Qur’an and Hadith stand vindicated. The heart has its own brain, complete with neurons, dendrites, axons, memory, thought processes, data handlers, and rest of the neuron paraphernalia.
Back in 60s neurophysiologists had discovered a neutral pathway and mechanism whereby input from the heart to the brain could ‘inhibit’ or ‘facilitate’ the brain’s electrical activity. It was discovered that the heart is the most powerful generator of rhythmic information patterns in the human body. The conclusion was that as a critical nodal point in many of the body’s interacting systems, the heart is uniquely positioned as a powerful entry point into the communication network that connects body, mind, emotions, and spirit. (http://www.heartmath.org/)
Amazingly, the neurons of the nervous system of the heart, numbering some 40,000, group together to form what could be called the ‘brains’ of the heart. On the one hand they regulate and control cardiac functions of the heart, while, on the other, are responsible for functions like learning, memory (both short and long-term) and even ‘feel’ and ‘sense.’
Indeed, in some respects, the heart seems to be more powerful than the brain. Its electrical field is 60 times greater in amplitude than the electrical activity generated by the brain, and the magnetic field produced by the heart is more than 5,000 times greater in strength than the field generated by the brain. It is so strong that it can be detected with the help of magnetometers from the distance of a few meters from the body. This opens up the possibility of hear-to-heart transfer of information through heart-brain synchronization of two people when they interact.
After two decades of research, it is now firmly established that the brain in the head is not the only brain in the body. There are at least two others, one in the heart and another in the gut. (Thus, it turns out that to say, “I have a gut feeling” is perfectly scientific). In fact, the gut has many more neurons (about 100 million) but the brain in the heart seems to control higher human senses, perceptions, emotions and feelings. It can also ‘remember’ feelings associated with other people and alter the heart rhythm when people meet with each other. Thus, feelings such as of love, hatred, etc. reside precisely in the heart.
By 1991 research had advanced and for the first time the idea of “heart brain” was introduced by the scinetists. By now it is firmly established that the heart has its own intrinsic nervous system that operates and processes information independently of the brain or the nervous system.
The specialists of this newest scientific discipline are called Neurocardiologists. They have discovered a profound communication link between the heart and the brain. And, what is surprising, they have discovered that although communications take place from both directions, more information is sent across by the heart to the brain than the other way round. The messages from the heart are sent to the brain through several pathways to an area called the ‘medulla,’ located in the stem of the brain.
This relatively new area on ongoing research is releasing study results almost weekly. The Institute of Heart Math has now published photographs of neurons in the heart–some taken with a confocal microscope. Researchers call these neurons “the little brain in the heart.”
The heart is not merely a mass of muscles pumping out blood. It constantly communicates with the brain and rest of the body using neurons, biochemicals, blood pressure waves, and electricity. It has its own nervous system impacting on information processing of the brain.
So, once again, the Qur’an and Sunnah have the last word. Naql has precedence over `aql. And the Prophetic guidance in matters confusing, whether allowed or not in Islam was,
“Ask your heart”
What pricks your heart as something “not so good,” is sin.
“Since emotional processes can work faster than the mind, it takes a power stronger than the mind to bend perception, override emotional circuitry, and provide us with institutive feeling instead. It takes the power of the heart.”
– Doc Childre, founder, Institute of HeartMath
60-65 percent of cells are neural cells and not muscle cells as previously thought.