PUBLIC LECTURE: Art & the Heart: The Role of the Autonomic Nervous System & the Polyvagal Theory of Stephen Porges
|Art & the Heart: The Role of the Autonomic Nervous System & the Polyvagal Theory of Stephen Porges : A Public Lecture by Alexander Cohen
In the late nineteenth century, the study of the human flourished – both as an entity of flesh, blood, bones and nerve tissue, and as a vehicle for emotion that was also subservient to external forces. This study was heavily influenced by the emergence of a school of hard-heads: practitioners of singular introspection, measurers and quantifiers. Among these was Charles Darwin. Whilst pursuing his phylogenetic pilgrimage of the whole animal kingdom from salamander to superman, he also wrote The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals (1872). In this work he set out the indissoluble connection between the brain and the heart, and described the nexus forged between them by the vagus nerve.
A growing band of thinkers between then and now has looked upon humankind, as well as the human individual, as both a product and a reflection of environment. The development of quantitative means of assessing stress, anger, sorrow, personal inadequacy, depression and loneliness – all reflected in disturbed functional modalities – has helped to forge the history of emotions as a discipline. This talk will trace the development of these studies from the nineteenth century onwards. It will culminate in an appraisal of the Polyvagal Theory propounded by Stephen Porges which, it will be argued, offers much to enrich our understanding of emotion in both population groups and individuals. Art weaves its way through the whole.
Alex Cohen is a Clinical Professor in the School of Medicine at The University of Western Australia. His clinical and investigative career has been in the fields of general medicine and endocrinology. He has practised as a consultant physician and endocrinologist at Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Western Australia, and has held appointments at the University of Oxford and Harvard University, where he lectured and researched diabetes and pituitary disease. His past appointments include presidencies of the Australian Medical Association (WA), the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges of Australia. He is also an emeritus Chancellor of The University of Western Australia. His work and life ethic has been a pursuit of the Comedie Humaine in medicine and life, a passion for music and literature and a genuine liking and respect for all humanity.
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