The Sixty Minutes segment, Treating Depression: Is there a placebo effect?, is interesting on several levels. I find all sorts of tangential connections.
If I were a skilled writer, I could perhaps adequately express them all. On the other hand, being a skilled writer might limit my ability to see those tangential connections. Each advantage we inherit is paid for by some shortcoming. The singular advantage that sets humans apart from animals is how we are able to imagine all the positives we would like to have, and imagine all the negatives we would like to rid the world of. We excel at imagining perfection. (See Imagining A Better Way.)
So, what does this have to do with the placebo effect? First, consider that the placebo effect doesn’t work on animals, or if it does, only minimally. I suspect that the placebo effect is actually an intuitive process that helps link us back toward our primal animal nature. That sounds a little far-fetched, so let me explain this if I can…
The cognitive processes that make thinking possible constantly keeps us on edge relative to ‘dumb’ animals. Thought enables us to worry about what may never happen, desire that which is impossible to obtain, plan for the un-plan-able. The result of this is that we can’t help but make mountains out of molehills. (See Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.) Nature abhors a vacuum and so it naturally fills the mind’s immense inner space — trillions of synaptic possibilities — with anything available, be it fact or imagination’s fiction. (See Thinking Clouds Consciousness.)
If we were making real physical mountains out of these molehills, there would be no disconnection from reality — we would be grounded in reality. Chapter 15 hints at this humility…
Our mind keeps us ‘high strung’, and that interferes with an ability found in other animals to respond spontaneously with problematic situations they encounter. Our responses seem to swing from one extreme to the other. Yes, we are very creative and can accomplish much, but at what cost?
Are we as truly successful a species as we think? We can’t even honestly ask ourselves that because society tells us from birth onward what a marvelous creature we are. Moreover, we are so desperate to see ourselves as successful that we are unable to ask ourselves that question impartially. Maybe that is due to the self-doubt that naturally compliments an idealized self-image… As chapter 2 notes, Hence existence and nothing give birth to each other.
It looks like I’ve ended up saying more about the disease that the placebo effect assists us with, than the effect itself. Of course, viewed from a symptoms point of view, that makes sense. The placebo effect is more a symptom of underlying causes than anything real in its own right. This is why I suspect that the placebo effect is the process at work in religion. (See Religion the Best Placebo.)
No wonder I lament not being a better writer and more capable of putting the whole picture I see into words. A picture is worth a thousand words they say… If only I could draw a picture of what I see. The more words I write, the further from the picture I get. Naturally, that is exactly as it should be when writing Taoist thoughts!