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With All My Heart

I have long followed the debate among cognitive scientists concerning how brain function is correlated to consciousness in general, and to personality in particular. In regards to the latter, the famous argument about nature versus nurture seems to have, for the moment, come to a compromise: Now, the prevalent theory is that both positions are correct. The two operate in tandem, with genetic endowment setting the basis and experiential learning causing individual growth. This actually appeals to me, as I’ve never liked adhering to extremes.

But there is a third aspect of personality that warrants consideration. In a two-year study of heart transplant recipients conducted by the Vienna University Hospital surgical staff in the 1990s, 6% of the patients reported personality changes after the operation that they recognized as reflecting those of their donors. Another 15% reported changes, but did not accredit them to the transplant itself, but rather to a response to the trauma of the procedure. The remainder denied vehemently—according to the report, suspiciously vehemently—that they observed any inner changes at all. Their denials were considered suspicious because of the strongly defensive nature of their argument, which the study’s authors regarded as a form of refusal to honestly assess themselves. (In a separate case from the 1970s, heart recipient Claire Sylvia wrote a book describing how she had taken on certain predilections of her donor. A Change of Heart: A Memoir.)

Doctors explain this apparent taking on of someone else’s personality as being due to what they call “cellular memory.” This hypothesis suggests that at least some memories are stored outside of the brain, and can be called up just like “real” memories. Adherents of this idea admit they don’t have a good theory for how it might work; it is not established medical science. But it might be one explanation for the observed effects.

If such a thing is true, we might have to reconsider how we view personality. Perhaps the ancient belief that a person’s character resides in the heart is not so far-fetched, after all.


Published by T L Trevaskis

Author of The Forgotten Disturbed. Explorer of spirituality, consciousness and magic. Psychonaut.

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  1. Something going on, obviously. Another consideration is why twins are so strongly connected. My guess is that there is still much to be learned about human biology.

    These kinds of things make one wonder how it would work out if they perfect the use of organs grown in animals like pigs …


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