Beliefnet

The brain had its place too, but brain thinking, according to traditional wisdom, was generally regarded as secondary to heart thinking. According to Aristotle—a man not known for letting his emotions run away with him—the truest knowledge was obtained not from mere speculative knowledge (brain knowledge), but from something called the intellect. The intellect was the true center of the human being, and it was located not in the brain but within the heart.

All the truest and most reliable knowledge came from the intellect, whereas those who just used speculative knowledge (brain knowledge) un-illumined by the intellect were essentially like people fumbling in the dark.

To understand why brain thinking was so much less important than heart thinking, it might be useful to use a computer analogy. When we are online, we are plugged into a potentially limitless source of information.

While a high school student writing a paper about the American Revolution on her computer can check a fact on the internet or e-mail a friend with a question about the assignment, a student whose computer connectivity is down will be cut off from all those outside resources and stuck with whatever she has immediately at hand.

In the same way, when a person looks into her heart to see what she thinks about some matter of importance, that person isn’t just consulting her deepest and truest self, but going beyond that self to an immeasurably larger source of wisdom. When people think with their hearts, they are being “intellectuals” in the original sense of the term, using their intellect or heart to link up directly with God.

The French philosopher René Guénon—another writer not known for his gooey sentimentality—put it this way: “This direct perception of truth, this intellectual and suprarational intuition, the very notion of which modern man seems to have lost, is true heart knowledge.”

This “heart knowledge,” says Guénon, “is the direct perception of the intelligible light, of that Light of the Word of which Saint John speaks, radiant Light of the ‘Supernal Sun’ which is the true ‘Heart of the World.’”

The same root that gives us the word “mind” also gives us the word “moon.” Just as the moon reflects the sun’s light, reflective knowledge makes use of a light that comes from a place other than itself. Hence it is always, in comparison to heart knowledge, limited in what it can tell us.

The truest light, on the other hand, is warm light, and that light comes from the sun. Our hearts are like mini suns inside us, and a heart emitting light or heat—like the burning heart of Jesus that we see in Catholic devotional illustrations—is a heart on fire with knowledge that is not reflected, not secondhand, but which comes straight from the source.

Angels, not surprisingly, are said to think exclusively with heart knowledge. Their link to God is so direct (in comparison to our own much more spotty connectivity) that they are never in a position to be distanced enough from him to practice speculative brain thinking even for a moment.

All of this seems to be selling the brain a bit short, but the fact is the best kind of thinking is the kind that combines heart and brain, sun and moon. In that kind of thinking, all the gifts of logic are joined with all the powers of direct godly inspiration to produce a state of mind that in certain mystical traditions was illustrated by a heart with wings.

Another symbol of head-and-heart thinking is an eye within a triangle—an image we see on every dollar bill. When we practice head-and-heart thinking, we can access the truths of our deepest self—that place at our very center where we connect with God—and bring those truths out into ordinary, earthly daylight where they can be of the most use in helping us negotiate our lives.

We feel this heart knowledge working whenever we get one of those strange but undeniably real moments when we simply know something without understanding exactly why we know it. When we just...know.

Somewhere along the way, this conception of the heart as the fiery center of all our truest and best thinking got lost. True thought became rational thought—brain thinking—and heart thought became associated with mere emotion—the kind of thing we associate with those frilly red hearts on valentine cards.

There’s nothing wrong with a nice gooey valentine card, of course. But it’s good to remember that behind all the frills—as behind all the hearts and love references that so fill our world—is something very un-gooey and un-silly indeed.

Love, as John Lennon suggested, really is “the answer,” and in our hearts—our knowing hearts—we know just how deep, how serious and how completely satisfying that answer really is.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus