Learn it by heart.


I am perplexed by the statement “I learnt it by heart”. In fact, the first time, I said “learnt it by head”. My friend laughed at me which only astonished me further. After asking me if I meant heart (whilst still laughing), I explained that my statement, although grammatically flawed, was more accurate since the hearts job is to pump blood around the body whereas it is the head or rather the brain that stores the memory.
I recently watched the movie The Eye (a remake of an Asian horror movie) in which violinist Sydney Wells (played by Jessica Alba) receives an eye transplant then starts to see things that the donor experienced. Although the movie itself is just another inferior remake of an Asian horror film which leaves the audience with the feeling we’ve been there and seen it all before, it did get me thinking about the real life implications of it.
It came to my surprise that the idea that memory can be stored in other parts of the body is not a new one. Perhaps it was Maurice Renard, who in 1920 wrote the book Les mains d’Orlac (the hands of Orlac) about a pianist who receives the hands of a murderer and becomes one himself, that popularised the idea. Since then the story has been remade, so much so that it even appeared in an episode of The Simpsons when Homer receives a hair transplant from Snake, the resident criminal, and becomes homicidal.
It begs to question, could it be possible? Do our bodies have the capability to remember events in other parts of our bodies? In short, yes…possibly. Cellular memory is the notion that human body cells contain clues to our personality, tastes, history, independent of either genetic coding or the brain. The phenomenon was primarily studied in heart transplant patients, who upon waking up displayed changes in taste, opinion, cravings and other personality attributes.
It is scientifically known that neuropeptides allow the brain to communicate with other organs in the body. However, scientist Candace Pert PhD said, “Every cell in our body has its own mind…and if you transfer tissues from one body to another, the cells from the first body will carry memories into the second body”. In other words, according to her, cellular memory could exist. Dr Pert discovered that neuropeptides which were previously only thought to reside in the brain are actually present in other organs, particularly the heart, giving them the potential to communicate with other organs in the body and maybe even store memory.
To back this theory, there have been a number of documented cases where transplant patients have admitted a change in personality. Perhaps one of the most known is the case of Clare Sylvia who in 1970 received a heart and lung transplant from an 18 year old donor who had died in a motor cycle accident. After the surgery Sylvia claimed that she was having craving for beer, chicken nuggets and green pepper – all food she did not like before the surgery. One story even tells of a 27 year old lesbian who upon getting her transplant married a man. And at the most extreme an eight year old girl who received the heart of a ten year old girl. After surgery she complained of nightmares about an attacker and a girl being murdered. After being brought to a psychiatrist her nightmares proved to be so vivid and real that the psychiatrist believed them to be genuine memories. As it turns out the ten year old whose heart she had just received was murdered.
Yet despite the stories, I can’t help but remain a little sceptical. However fascinating and intriguing, the idea that ‘identity’ can survive a heart transplant, is almost like saying that it could survive death. And that delves into a more spiritual field which, as a future scientist, I do not count as proof. The stories, however interesting, are not enough. You cannot prove a scientific theory with stories alone, if that were acceptable, we would believe anything. Furthermore, the stories and “proof” on this theory are targeted at an audience with an interest in the mysterious, the paranormal, and pseudoscience. In other words, the gullible. Until I can see some concrete proof, cellular memory will remain an interesting idea. Till then, I may keep an open mind. Or heart, depending on how you look at it.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/njoroge.mutahi Njoroge Mutahi


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jean-Cooper-Moran/100002837687092 Jean Cooper Moran

    Hello Kagweni, I am Jean who works in the DHPMG with your mother Lucy, hi from us both – heads down for the work today! I have a bit of writing background as I was chair of the Women Writers Network for around three years and also a medical journalist and science writer while freelancing in the early 1990s. Your online feature was both unusual and intriguing and gave food for thought. Liked the ideas and the way you express them. Just a comment “it came to my surprise” is not an English phrase, rather “it suprised me that..” or similar.  Also if you used Maurice Renard as the subject of the sentence (not his book) then use “who” not “that” to follow. either way would work but the book is a thing and Maurice a person so deserves “who”.  Also “it begs the question” not “to question”.

    These are small things but in an online community they are visible. Take this as a small comment about sentence construction and grammar – the real feedback is that you propose an idea, give the supporting (narrative) case studies, analyse them and compare the evidence for one view or another and then make your own judgement known. That is the mark of the analytical journalist whether in arts or science or medicine and I’m sure you will succeed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kagz08 Kagweni Micheni

      Thank you Jean, i’m glad you had some time to look over it and i will definitely use your advice in the future. i will be writing a piece on the extraction of the black death gene next and i hope you will have a look at it.