03 December, 2010

the heart of the matter

When I took Organic Chemistry I was fascinated by the fact that so many reactions were in fact poorly understood or controversial. This weak grounding was only subtly noted and quickly skimmed over. I noticed a similar thing while reading about how to perform the cardiovascular physical exam in Bates' Guide to Physical Examination and History Taking:
"An extensive literature deals with the exact causes of heart sounds. Possible explanations include actual closure of valve leaflets, tensing of related structures, leaflet positions and pressure gradients at the time of atrial and ventricular systole, and the effects of columns of blood."
Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy

Then Bates goes on to offer a simplified explanation, which is perfectly fine for the purposes of this textbook. It would have been so easy to pass right over this little bit, and under other different circumstances I might have done so. Fortunately, I picked up on it and gave myself a moment to be struck by wonder. I never knew there was still such mystery surrounding the heart. We can make mechanical replacement heart valves and recognize their clicking in chests. I am quite sure we know exactly what causes that clicking and the precise moment at which it occurs. But we cannot completely account for the natural heart sounds? The very same heart sounds that we can hear when we lay our head on the chest of our lover? The very same heart sounds that have been heard for millennia?

Leonardo da Vinci: The Anatomy of Man

We could certainly take this in all kinds of mystical and romantic directions. The human heart is more than it appears to be... man is an unfathomable creation... maybe the answers to our questions about love lie in those heart sounds.... But without going that far, we can simply appreciate the wonder. It may not hold as many questions for the world as it did before da Vinci drew it, or before Netter drew it - or for me before I held one in my very own hands - but there still is some mystery in the human heart. And a little mystery is a beautiful thing.

Auguste Rodin. The Kiss

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science." - Albert Einstein
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