Sunday, January 01, 2012


Dogs can respond to placebos when administered by their owners. Nicholas Humphrey interviewed by Richard Dawkins for “The Enemies of Reason” (part 2)

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist whom I find rather irritating, arrogant and anti-spiritual.
So, I was curious when I read:
Richard's eyes grew wider and wider as I gave a defense of alternative medicine, saying of course it works, and it works for a reason, because it gives people a safety signal.
It gives them the belief that they are in a secure environment in which they can now release their healing resources, they can afford to let down their guard.
Richard put the lengthy unedited out-takes from the interview on his Website. It's a very strange bit of film because the camera's wandering all over the place. Richard and I are throwing ideas around.
Nicholas Humphrey

So, I went to the video and I heard amazing things:
Eighty percent of the effect of Prozac has been shown to be placebo.  (part 2)
Curiously while the healing is placebo, the side effect of suicide in teenagers is actually attributed to the pharmacology.

And they introduced me to a new term, Darwinian Medicine:
until less than 100 years ago, there was hardly anything a doctor could do that would be effective in any physiological medicinal way—and still the doctor's ministrations often "worked".
That's to say, under the influence of what we would today call placebo …
The reason this works is that it reassures people—subconsciously —that the costs of self-cure will be affordable and that it's safe to let down their guard.  It’s an evolutionary situation… how we use our immune system… we don’t want to get better before [it’s] time, if in fact it’s not safe to do so. 

Not yet safe to get better! 
Humphrey is speaking about how evolutionarily an organism never wants to spend all its energy at once.  We always need to hold a bit in reserve for the next disaster. 
But, I think of cancer patients, real survivors, not recovering until their entire life patterns have been altered.  The body didn’t heal until the psychological stress, the life rules of their environment, have been altered also.

This is a deep healing indeed.  And Humphrey has expanded his investigation into broader implications which make me wonder about our specie’s current push to awaken much quicker than in the past:
If placebo medicine can induce people to release hidden healing resources, are there other ways in which the cultural environment can "give permission" to people to come out of their shells and to do things they wouldn't have done in the past? Can cultural signals encourage people to reveal sides of their personality or faculties that they wouldn't have dared to reveal in the past? Or for that matter can culture block them? There's good reason to think this is in fact our history.

And all of this speculation that resonates and excites a Yes! comes from two hardcore scientists:
How far do you think the so called alternative practitioners believe the mumbo jumbo…?
In many cases they are self-deceiving.  Well it’s not even self-deceiving.  They have seen in their own experiences that these treatments work… They have to invent a rationale and then all sorts of nonsense may come… some spiritual and magical explanation…
Supposing you were Jesus and that lame men got up and walked when you told them to. 
You’d be rather impressed with yourself.
But, I am sure it was placebo effect.
Humphrey  (part 3)

And I am not so sure we understand all the layers at which placebo operates.  Dawkins and Humphrey also admit that there may be new laws of physics awaiting discovery.  Dawkins says he’s even suggested to the true believers that they aim at a Nobel Prize.
I like that notion an awful lot.
In fact, it harkens back to why I learned meditation in the first place.  I wasn’t interested in ending my suffering or world peace or getting better grades. I wanted to see if the rumors were indeed true – did Jesus really walk on the water?
Because, if that were true it would change science for millenia.
It would change everything.
Or so I thought when I was nineteen.

Which puts me in mind of yet another personally irritating man, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, writing last October about the discovery of a faster than light particle:
It cannot be. Yet, this is not a couple of guys in a garage peddling cold fusion. This is no crank wheeling a perpetual-motion machine into the patent office.
These are the best researchers in the world using the finest measuring instruments, having subjected their data to the highest levels of scrutiny, including six months of cross-checking by 160 scientists from 11 countries.
But there must be some error. Because otherwise everything changes.
We shall need a new physics.
A new cosmology.
New understandings of past and future, of cause and effect.
Then shortly and surely, new theologies.

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