Consciousness – Somatic Control – Placebo

Friday, September 11th, 2009 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

Two hundred patients walk into a doctors surgery, each with the same condition. One hundred of them are given no treatment. The other half of them are assured this is a simple problem and given a pill to sort it out. A week later, about 30 more of the second group are feeling better, compared to the first group.

What was this miracle pill?

Nothing at all. Sugar. Chalk. It doesn’t matter.

This is known as the Placebo Effect, and it makes it damned hard to tell if medical treatments actually work or not because anything you try at all seems to work sometimes for some people. Even things we know shouldn’t have any effect at all.


Take a moment to think about how strange this is. An inert sugar pill, if prescribed as a muscle relaxant will make muscles relax. If prescribed as a pill to increase muscle tension, it’ll do that instead. If the patient is told the pill will make them hungry, it will make them hungry. If they’re told it’ll suppress their appetite, it’ll do that instead. If told it’ll increase pain, sure enough pain will increase. If told it’s an effective anesthetic, it’ll reduce pain instead. You can even get people drunk off of placebo alcohol.

The power of the placebo effect can be increased just by changing a patient’s expectation: a big red sugar pill works better than a small blue one. Capsules work better than tablets. More expensive treatments work better than cheaper treatments. Injections, even when injecting nothing at all work better than the pills do.

How can this be?

Clearly suggestion, expectation and perception are important factors in the placebo effect. It would seem that the Neurosomantic interactions discussed last week are the key to understanding the effect.

This rough understanding of the placebo effect begs the question: how can we use the placebo effect in our day to day life?

Activating The Placebo Effect

The simplest way would seem to be to seek treatment, and have some quack alternative medicine doctor convince you that their sham medicine works, then take that. Indeed, this is the route chosen by the Health Service: once actual medicine gives up, ‘alternative‘ medicine takes over. Homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, hypnosis and all the rest. These treatments are, in general, no better than a placebo. But it’s practitioners believe in it, so aren’t lying when they sell it to you.

This simplest way may, however, be expensive, unavailable, or unconvincing to anyone who can read a scientific study.

Is there anything you can do to try and increase somatic control, to increase your own conscious control over your immune system, over the placebo effect, without having to use self-deception, lies and make believe?


The key, of course, is to generate expectation, belief.

You know that when you fantasize, visualize, conjour up an image in your head, your brain approximates, to some extent, the same state that brain falls into when the things visualized are actually happening.

So it would seem a reasonable bet that you can increase your somatic control and so improve your health by visualizing and dreaming that you have increased your somatic control, and so your health. If you can see this strongly enough, if you can believe it, you should be able to activate a placebo response in yourself.

This month’s meditation

When we introduce this month’s meditation in a couple of weeks, we’ll try interrupting a lucid dream to encourage you to dream that you’re becoming stronger, more powerful, to see yourself altering, improving and fixing your immune system, your body, your health. You’ll think about the ways your brain can effect your endocrine system, releasing healing hormones, energizing your immune system, building muscle, reducing fat, generally becoming more fit and healthy.

The longer you can lie asleep, dreaming of healing all sickness, the more chance there is that the placebo effect will be triggered to actually bring you more healing, the more chance you’ll learn to control the placebo effect in yourself.


As well as healing, the placebo effect can be used to sicken. This anti-placebo effect, also known as nocebo, is powerful indeed. It’s thought to be behind much voodoo magic, curses and the like. If you can convince someone they’re going to get sick and die, that may be enough for them to feel ill, stop eating, even have a heart failure. Dangerous stuff.

Knowing this, we know how to avoid falling for such curses: don’t believe them. Nobody can force you to sicken just by telling you to, unless you cooperate by believing it. Scepticism and doubt can save you from voodoo magic!