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Heart vs mind: what makes us human?

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About this work


Presented by David Malone, this documentary looks back on the history of how the heart was perceived and, in particular, the way it has been replaced by the mind in terms of emotion. Malone seeks to bring back the idea of the heart as a poetic inspiration. The programme opens with footage of open heart surgery and surgeon Francis Wells talks about what fascinates him with the heart but believes that ultimately it is no more than a complex pump. At the British Museum, Richard Parkinson shows an ancient Egyptian papyrus which shows the importance of the heart to the ancient world. At Wellcome Trust, Fay Bound Aliberti talks about how Galen saw the heart. The role of William Harvey in understanding the movement of blood through the body changed all previous understandings of the heart whilst the philosophy of Rene Descartes had also viewed all the workings of the body as being analogous to machines. But earlier drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, displayed here by Martin Clayton, show how advanced his understanding of the heart was centuries before the ideas of the heart as a mechanical pump. Dr Phillip Kilner is a consultant in cardiac imaging, he scans Malone's heart to show the patterns of the blood flow in his heart. Malone meets some scientists who are turning emotion back to the heart; such as Professor Peter Taggart is trying to find ways in which emotions physiologically do affect the heart - we see an experiment in which he proves the beat of the heart responds in relation to emotion. Professor Robert Patterson is researching the reasons for there being neurons, like we have in the brain, in the heart. A final experiment shows Malone having a brain scan whilst being shown a series of images - when the fear faces are in step with his heart, his brain reacts more powerfully, when they are not, his brain has a less powerful reaction. So the processing of the mind could be seen as being affected by the heart.


UK : BBC 4, 2012.

Physical description

1 DVD (60 min.) : sound, color, PAL


Broadcast on 10 July, 2012

Creator/production credits

Written and presented by David Malone. Produced and directed by David Briggs.

Copyright note

BBC Scotland



  • English

Where to find it

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