What’s a placebo



Late medieval medical tradition defined the placebo as a specific medical outcome ineffective intervention; for instance, a sugar pill, or the hands passing over the body, or a sham injection or surgery.


The term placebo (i.e. the Galatea effect) was, and still is taken to mean ‘Whatever pleases me!’ The term nocebo (i.e. the Golem effect) would then mean: ‘Whatever displeases me!’


 A ‘Whatever pleases me’ is an intervention that benefits me, that is to say, that eliminates a block or finds a new pathway to increased survival capacity.


Exactly how a placebo acts upon a bio-system, and there is vast evidence that it does, was until recently a mystery. Oodles of experiments were done and research papers written that offered oodles of opinions, especially amongst medical researchers.  


Let’s try an out-of-the box (hence genuinely scientific) approach to resolving the problem. Let’s suppose that the inventor of the term has only basic Latin and less capacity for subtle observation. So he creates the term placebo for his effective but sham (benefit or pleasure bringing) intervention by deriving it from the Latin placere, meaning ‘to please’. In short, a placebo is something that pleases (or will please).

However, had he known more Latin and observed more closely he would have noticed that the immediate affect of his sham intervention happens as relief, indeed as relaxation, meaning a reduction in stress. He would then have derived his term for a sham intervention from the Latin: placare: meaning ‘to appease’, and called it placato (will appease).


So now we can guess at least half the solution as to how a sham intervention works. A sham intervention functions as a placato (i.e. because it appeases, meaning: it relaxes) rather than as a placebo. The placato de-distresses a bio-system (i.e. thereby ending its fight/flee response). It does that be deciding an undecided situation and which eliminates the negative stress of indecision (hence of uncertainty resulting from incompletion). The stress relief of having decided returns the bio-system to (homeo-)stasis and which allows it to reactivate its perfect health recovery and/or repair operation so that it can do its job, as it does so successfully for about 85% of all common human illnesses.


And, since the placato relaxes (i.e. because it decides and brings certainty) it induces a mild hypnotic (i.e. lucid dream or pretence) state in which an individual can be induced (via instruction, rather than suggestion) to produce just about any affect, psychological or physical, which a medic (or anyone else, now operating as hypnotist) chooses to suggest.


Part 2   Resolving the placebo enigma