The best attested effect in medicine. Here:
One common explanation for the efficacy of some alternative medicine is the ‘placebo effect’. If there is a placebo effect, it still has the healing effect. So why not go with that? It doesn’t really matter what’s in the black box: the mechanism of healing isn’t the crucial thing, all that matters is that when you take this particular tablet, it relieves your headache.
Yes, a placebo can be very useful, and it may be that some of the effect of conventional medicine is achieved through placebo. But, of course, we know that it’s not just placebo when we’ve done the science. We know that, in fact, these drugs really do have medicinal effects. You might think that it’s worth prescribing placebo just because it’ll make people feel better. Some doctors in the past have done precisely that: they have prescribed sugar pills to alleviate somebody’s depression, say, and the pills have worked just fine. But when it comes to other serious diseases which you want cured, a placebo is not going to work. It may improve your mood; you may feel happier; it may reduce the pain to some extent, if you believe it’s going to have that effect. But if you actually want somebody cured of a serious illness such as cancer, a placebo won’t work. There’s also the question of whether state funds should be given to fund placebo treatments. If lots of people believe blancmange head rubs cure headaches should the NHS then be funding that kind of blancmange treatment? I think the answer is: No, the NHS should not be funding that. If that’s so, then neither should it be funding these alternative medicines, even if they do work as placebos. In many cases it’s clear that that’s all they really are.
There’s a particularly pernicious aspect of this, because people who are ill are often desperate, and looking for miracle cures, and some alternative therapies are supposed, according to their exponents, to be superior to conventional medicine in their ability to remove the symptoms.
No. Lots of people who have a headache just want headache relief. They know what to do with their lives afterward.
If headache relief doesn’t work, a deeper issue should be sought. But there is usually no urgent reason to avoid simpler remedies first.
Most wars on the placebo effect are wars against the reality of consciousness.
Put another way, part of what is happening to any human being is what he thinks is happening to him. He may be mistaken, but it is still what he is experiencing. So understanding the placebo effect is part of treating the whole person.
See also: What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness
The war on the human mind