Book Review: The Dynamic Heart and Circulation September 13 2017
Edited by Craig Holdrege
Reviewed by Ronald Koetzsch
Most of us learned in high school biology that the human heart is a four-chambered mechanical pump. The size of a fist, it sends blood to the lungs to be oxygenated and then sends the returning oxygen-rich blood throughout the body in the roughly 60,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries. Even considered only as a mechanical pump, the heart is amazing. The heart beats, without ceasing, about 72 times a minute, over 4,000 times in an hour, about 100,000 times in the course of a day, 365,000,000 times in a year, and about 24 billion times in the course of an average lifetime!But the heart is much more than a pump. Over eighty years ago, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the founder of Waldorf Education, remarked that, while the heart has functions that can be interpreted in terms of a pump, the heart Is better under stood as an internal sense organ. Recent scientific research is corroborating this view. It has shown that the heart is in fact a sense organ that is constantly monitoring and responding to what Is going on in the entire body and that It is important in various functions of the human organism. For example, according to heart transplant studies, memories are stored in the heart, and there are many documented cases of a heart recipient remembering experiences that were the heart donor's, not his own. *
The Dynamic Heart and Circulation is a collection of essays about the human heart. The writers of these essays, most of whom are anthroposophical physicians and research scientists in Germany, use a Goethean approach. This method of studying nature emphasizes the direct observation of the phenomenon in itself, in its processes of change, and in its relationship to other phenomena and to the environment as a whole. Goethean science seeks first to describe the object of study from many points of view and within its context and thus to achieve a deep, many-sided appreciation and understanding. The method was formulated by the German scientist, poet, and dramatist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Rudolf Steiner—who received the highest level scientific and technical education available in his day—preferred the Goethean approach, refined it, and used it in his own researches. Waldorf schools use a Goethean or phenomenological, approach in the teaching of science.
In his introductory essay, Craig Holdrege—a longtime Waldorf high school biology teacher and currently head of the Nature Institute in Harlemville, New York—laments the common understanding of the heart as a pump. But he observes that the approach of modern mainstream science tends to result in just such abstract models. Isolating, analyzing, and trying above all to explain a phenomenon, it typically creates an abstraction that is only partially related to what is actually existing in nature. The abstract model has some value, but It is usually created out of a simplistic, limited, and fixed view. The life and dynamic quality have been extracted from what is studied.
Holdrege argues that the heart must be studied in context as part of the human body and as part of entire human being. He then presents five essays by researchers and physicians in Germany. These five essays consider the heart from various points of view – anatomical, embryological, morphological, and so on.
The human heart is revealed to be a wonder of biological design that performs many more functions in the human organism than generally understood until now. Even in its form and movement, the heart belies the mechanical model. While it seems to be made of simple bands of muscle fiber, these are in fact complex spiraling intertwined fibers in complex clockwise and counterclockwise patterns. The interior surface of the heart has spiral grooves that reflect the movement of the blood in the chambers—and also create this movement. What the blood does as a fluid in the heart has taken form in the muscle. In the two atria, the blood moves in opposing vortex patterns, one clock wise, one counterclockwise. In systole, or contraction, the heart moves downward and rotates on its axis, and in diastole, or relaxation, it moves upward and rotates in the opposite direction.
The heart is constantly monitoring, through the blood and the nervous system, what is going on in the other internal organs, in the other, peripheral parts of the circulation system, and in the body as a whole. It senses changes in blood pressure, biochemical composition, warmth, and muscle activity and responds accordingly. The heart is in constant communication and cooperation with the other organs and with the entire system of arteries, veins, and capillaries. It is the heart muscle that gives warmth to the blood and hence to the entire body.
Also, the heart is intimately related to our emotional and psychological life. It immediately reflects our changing emotional and mental states. The heart can be understood as the center of the human organism, connecting and mediating between the upper and lower parts of the body, the upper pole of the brain and nervous system and the lower pole of the limbs and metabolic system.
This excellent book, easily understandable for most readers, gives us a living picture of the human heart. In doing so, it reminds us of a broader truth; that the human body in each of its parts and in its totality, is, in design and function, an absolute miracle.
Materialistic science would have us believe that this miracle and all the others, large and small, that fill our world are the product of blind chance and impersonal processes. An alternate view—that of the spiritual science taught by Rudolf Steiner—views the world and everything in it as the consciously wrought creation of a benign and loving cosmic intelligence.
*See Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., The Heart's Code: Topping the Wisdom and Power of Our Heart Energy (New York: Broadway Books 1998).
See also Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., Linda Russek, Ph. D.. and Gary Schwartz, Ph. D.,"Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients that Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors." Journal of Near-Death Studies (January 2002).
Readers are referred also to the work of the HeartMath® Institute, based in Boulder Creek, California. This organization, though not connected to Anthroposophy, has carried out scientific research that can be seen as supporting many of Rudolf Steiner's assertions about the heart. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: (831) 338-8706.