Placebo Power

Scientists and academics love to credit themselves with new discoveries—we all do—but sometimes these discoveries are mostly re-discoveries in new wrappers sealed by certifying authorities residing in High Towers of society defended by perception police and publishing minions. A prime case (among countless others) is Dr. Hiram Bingham’s 1911 discovery of Machu Picchu, in Peru, a “lost city” lost mainly in the minds of his Yale sponsors. Although the truth about his discovery is known today, thanks to honest descendants, it remains less well known that it included finding an engraved stone marker placed by an earlier but less well-connected explorer. If you visit Machu Picchu today, you will not find a trace of that marker.

Does the fact that an egoistic Bingham was a re-discoverer diminish the value of his work? No, because thanks to his expeditions and to publication of his findings by the National Geographic Society, that enigmatic stone city has gained the attention of millions around the world. Thanks to Bingham’s discovery, I was able to explore Machu Picchu and adjacent mountains in 1982, before the site became closely controlled and commercialized. What I discovered (and photographed) there will be discussed in a future article. The point here is that rediscoveries can be extremely important even though they are not the first waves to reach the shore.

The “placebo effect” is another periodic rediscovery having tremendous importance to humanity. About one-third of all people suffering various disorders respond to a treatment substitute just as if they had been treated with the “real” thing. The substitution may be an inert pill instead of an opiate to treat pain, or a staged surgical procedure rather than an actual one, or sham needles placed on bogus acupuncture points. The percentage of test subjects who respond to placebos varies with the disorder. Although researchers do not understand why some respond and others do not and why the nature of the illness matters, it seems clear that the differences lie in unconscious patient perceptions and beliefs. This may be why problems widely known to be curable respond better to placebos than problems generally accepted as incurable.

The most recent certifiers have cornered one aspect of placebo effect, an aspect difficult for anyone to dismiss: measurable physiological improvements. This enables researchers to call placebos “the key to the brain’s inner pharmacy.” Placebos are also described glibly as “the power of nothing” in an apparent effort to divert attention away from the fact that the placebo effect is hard evidence of a power of mind when to state it as such would be to admit that it is more than a key to manipulating body chemistry. The fact that placebos have been validated by medical science is troubling enough for science’s Ivory Tower dwellers; broader-based experiments would risk validating “the paranormal” while nullifying the need for pharmaceuticals.

I have personally experienced the efficacy of placebos with respect to relieving extreme pain, and I attribute it to a power of the mind beyond the ability to unlock or block certain molecular structures manufactured by the body. I have come to this conclusion for a number of reasons but will cite one here: The placebo effect does not even require a physical placebo. You can eliminate the physical placebo and see the same result. If you hypnotize certain people and tell them they are holding a pill and that when they swallow the pill they will feel better, they will ingest the nonexistent pill and gain the intended effect. Further, I recall my non-hypnotized mother on several occasions thinking she had a potholder in her hand when she did not, yet when she would pull a pan out of a 350-degree or hotter oven she felt no pain and sustained no burns although she carried the pan across the kitchen. In her fire-walking, she carried the fire.

Something much larger is behind the working of “placebo effect” than medical science has accepted as valid—or possible—and it does not require adherence to any particular religious belief or a conscious intention to hypnotize self or others. It will eventually be widely recognized that the placebo effect is one proof of the Bible passage: “You are gods; you are all children of the Most High” (Psalms 82:6). To put it in the language of NoetiTaoism™: as extensions of Source Energy Awareness (SEA), we create our reality.

[See also the June, 2013 post: “The Emperor’s New Brain.”]

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