Placebo. I like that word. It sounds like a Spanish opera singer. Or like a Ukranian potato dish. Something comforting. Placebo actually comes from Latin and it literally means “I shall please.” Maybe a good motto for an escort service.
The problem for the escort service is that most people, when they hear the word placebo, think of the meaning in the context of medicine: “an inactive material, often in the form of a capsule, pill or tablet, that is visually identical in appearance to a drug being tested in a clinical trial.“ I have my doubts that inactive escorts who look like pills would attract many customers. But who knows? You can’t argue taste.
The administering of placebos is actually required when testing new drugs as a so-called “control“. The reasoning is that if the drug has no more success than the inactive material, it should not be approved for use.
The Mirriam-Webster dictionary goes a bit further in its definition, saying that a placebo is “a usually pharmacologically inert preparation prescribed more for the mental relief of the patient than for its actual effect on a disorder“. There are various subtle assumptions hiding within this definition, but I’ll just leave that for you to think about. The Oxford Dictionary is somewhat clearer: “A medicine or procedure prescribed for the psychological benefit to the patient rather than for any physiological effect.“ Now there’s a can of worms. By that definition, Prozac would be a placebo. I don’t think Eli Lilly and Co. would be pleased to hear that. Oh wait, a peer-reviewed study did in fact discover that Prozac attains no better results than a medicine with no active ingredients. So I guess the girls and guys at Oxford are right.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health comments: “The placebo effect is a beneficial health outcome resulting from a person’s anticipation that an intervention will help. How a health care provider interacts with a patient also may bring about a positive response that’s independent of any specific treatment“.
The question which always wanders into my brain in connection with placebo is, how far does it go? How far into the working physics of the world can belief reach? How much of what we experience in the physical world is the result of an underlying stream of belief systems that we as part of the world tap into?
One of the most well-known and medically documented cases illustrating the so-called “placebo-response” involved a man by the name of ‘Mr. Wright’. In 1957 in Long Beach, California, Mr. Wright’s doctor, Dr. Philip West, injected him with a serum named Krebiozen. Wright, who was on his death bed, had heard of this horse serum that appeared to be very effective against cancer and begged his doctor to administer it. Mr. Wright’s tumours, which were reportedly “the size of oranges”, melted overnight. The thing is, the serum that was injected into Mr. Wright’s veins was a placebo, an inert preparation.
Two months later, Mr. Wright read medical reports saying the horse serum was a quack remedy and suffered an immediate relapse. ”Don’t believe what you read in the papers,” Dr. West told Mr. Wright and injected him with what he said was ”a new super-refined double strength” version of the drug. Actually, it was water, but again, the tumor melted.
Mr. Wright was ”the picture of health” for another two months — until he read a definitive report stating that Krebiozen was worthless. He died two days later.” (Blakeslee, 1998).
If you enter a phrase like “fear lowers immunity” into any internet search engine you typically get over 3 million responses. Enter “fear kills“ and you get well over 9 million entries. Even if you sift out the fevered music videos and the patently misguided contributions, you have a whole heapload (I invented that word just now) of evidence that there’s a kind of dark side to this whole business. If fear were used in clinical trials the effect would be called nocebo – a harmless substance or treatment that when taken by or administered to a patient is associated with harmful side effects or worsening of symptoms (Mirriam-Webster).
I remember watching a film called „Sphere“, an adaptation of a book by Michael Crichton which, to my own shame, I have not read. The fascinating thing for me about the plot was that the people who had contacted the shiny sphere began to manifest their thoughts in the material world. Being a kind of horror story, their fears were manifested and not their joys. It wasn’t much fun for them.
Stanislaw Lem wrote a wonderful novel (which I did read, albeit in translation – my Polish is nonexistent despite my father having grown up surrounded by Poles) called Solaris where something similar happens. This too was filmed. This too led to complications for the characters manifesting their innermost thoughts and desires.
A book published in 2006 called „The Secret“ by Rhonda Byrne has, according to Wikipedia, sold 30 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 50 languages. Not everyone who reads the book becomes a Theosophist à la Blavatsky of course, but apparently the techniques for manifesting your thoughts work well if you’re looking for parking spots.
So, where am I going with this? You get what you believe you’ll get? So it seems. The esoteric community has long expressed the thought that we are all co-creators in this universe. It’s a scary thought. The characters in Michael Crichton’s novel, once they realized that they were manifesting their hidden fears, decided to manifest self-induced amnesia, forgetting that they had the ability to manifest. Maybe the esoteric community is right and we have all collectively administered a good dose of amnesia to ourselves and haven’t a blinking clue of what the underlying currents of reality are really about.
Abraham Heschel once wrote: „Under the running sea of our theories and scientific explanations lies the aboriginal abyss of radical amazement.“
I like that.
If we take this idea to the extreme, we could begin to wonder if not all of the medical interventions that we subject ourselves to today aren’t just placebos designed to convince us deeply enough of our ability to heal that we do in fact, from a level far deeper than the material, biophysical or biochemical level, manifest healing.
Medical science still wants to take the observers out of the equation. Perhaps because we still want easy solutions to our so-called illnesses and deficiencies and maladies. But what if the easy solutions, when they work, only work because they are ways of convincing us to touch a deeper reality? What if the high blood pressure medication I take only works because I and my doctor and my family and friends and co-workers all believe in the little white pills? What if the chemical and tissue realignments were actually the surface manifestation of a deeper realignment of consciousness and wouldn’t even happen if that deeper consciousness didn’t allow for it?
Thankfully, there is research going on to determine the extent to which placebo can be used as a tool to guide us towards more holistic and sustainable health. However, as long as placebos are still considered to be “fake drugs“, as an article entitled “The Power of the Placebo Effect“ published by the Harvard Medical School refers to them, it is obvious that preconceived notions of what interventions result in health will prevent any groundbreaking discoveries, let alone the paradigm shift that seems so necessary.
Are the “fake drugs” and the “real drugs” all the same thing, all just placebos, all just designed to call up our own innate abilities to heal ourselves and, possibly, heal the world?
Now that is scary.
At least the guys at Harvard admit that: “Treating yourself with your mind is possible, but there is more to the placebo effect than positive thinking.“
Thanks guys, I agree.