Saturday, November 17, 2007

Homeopathy, Simulacra, and the Material Culture of Medicine

Simulacra and the Placebo Effect

A very interesting read. I wonder if there has been any work done on what the placebo effect means for material culture?

The following quote was taken from another article on the same website, which can be found here: Homeopathy AIDS Conference

"We know that the placebo effect can be very powerful, because it’s not just about the pill, it’s about the cultural meaning of the treatment: so we know from research that four placebo sugar pills a day are more effective than two for eradicating gastric ulcers (and that’s not subjective, you measure ulcers by putting a camera into your stomach); we know that salt water injections are a more effective treatment for pain than sugar pills, not because salt water injections are medically active, but because injections are a more dramatic intervention; we know that green sugar pills are a more effective anxiety treatment than red ones, not because of any biomechanical effect of the dyes, but because of the cultural meanings of the colours green and red. We even know that packaging can be beneficial.

Similarly we know that sugar pills have no physical side effects. This is great, because there are a lot of people for whom there is little effective biomedical treatment: a lot of back pain, for example, or medically unexplained fatigue, most colds and flu, and so on. Going through a theatre of medical treatment, trying every pill in the book, will only elicit side effects, so a sugar pill might be a great remedy."

It was the first sentence that piqued my interest in particular: that it isn't just about the pill (which does nothing), it's about the cultural meaning of the treatment. That is to say, the meaning given to the thing has more significance than the thing itself. I don't believe that this should be applied across the board, but it does give an interesting insight into the soul of the culture, here rendered completely distinct from its body by nature of that body being totally inert.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Written in the Flesh

Written in the Flesh

A twelve minute short video introduction to the works of David Cronenberg. I thought this was very interesting in light of the discussion we'd been having in class about what industry and technology does to the way we think about the human body. Warning: disturbing content. Cronenberg tends to make videos that are really, really messed up.

Material Witnesses

"All of the subsystems of the Chang'e 1 are in normal operation so far," said Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for the China National Space Administration.

The Chang'e 1 has survived the most critical part of its journey, Pei said. It had to enter the moon's orbit at the right time and speed, otherwise it could have hit the moon or flown by it.

He said the satellite's success was a sign of China's advanced engineering. "The project is a comprehensive demonstration of China's economic, scientific and technological power."


Not simply a demonstration to, but a material witness to, I would say. The Chinese economy is now capable of producing things which reach for the moon and the stars.

It is a strange thing to think that humanity's footprint in the universe has gone well beyond the planet Earth. Satellites orbit the Earth and other worlds in our solar system. Radio signals rocket away into the black at the speed of light, and some of them will have traveled more than 50 light years by now. We are a very noisy, messy people. I wonder if we will be noticed?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Thousand Plateaus (Capitalism and Schizophrenia)

I'm still trying to digest the readings that we had from this book. As near as I can tell, the author's argument is a total rejection of the medieval concept of natural order, and encourages us to think of the whole world as a rhizome. He goes on at length about why rhizome-thought is good and 'binary logic' is bad. Multiplicity good, duality bad. Subject/object bad. In rejecting all dualities, he falls into duality, with his multiplicity on the one side, and singularity/duality on the other.

His point seems to be that 'the system' has multiple points of entry and exit. He would probably object to calling it 'the system,' saying that this demonstrates binary-logical thinking. He encourages us to consider all the possible factors involved. That the wasp and the orchid are not closed systems, but interrelated. He makes a few good points. The world is more complicated than 1 and 0, and things seem to exist in relationship with each other and not in isolation.

The problem with his model as I see it is that generalizations, singularities and dualities are absolutely necessary. If we are to take into account every possible factor every single time we talk about anything, exploring every inch of the rhizome-structure both above and beneath the ground at every point of access, we shall never say anything at all; we shall rather contemplate and admire the Rhizome. He encourages contemplation and admiration, but renders criticism all but impossible. Certainly it is helpful to get a larger picture of the processes and secret chambers hidden underground that connect things in unexpected ways, but at some point you have to stop contemplating and take action.

We need to organize our data. Doing so makes it intelligible. The ability to choose this and not that is freedom itself. If I am not free to choose this and not that, but must take all of it without discriminating between useful information and peripheral information, I am not sure that it is possible to do anything with that information. In that state, it is, not does.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Huge Research Project

So I'm taking a class at Sonoma State on research and literary criticism. As a part of this class, I am required to come up with a topic for, a proposal for, an outline for, and then to write a twenty page research paper with a minimum of sixteen sources. The paper must be in MLA format, and Wikipedia cannot be used as a source. I thought that last restriction was a masterful touch.

What am I going to do for my research project?

I am going to chart the economy of Hell.

Yeah. That's a doozy. Even so, this is my aim. Hell is called eternal separation from God. Eternal in this context is not so much a measure of duration as it is a statement of the kind and quality of separation. In the same way, Consumer society appears dead set on producing an eternal separation from the natural world. For the purposes of this argument, nature may well stand where God stood, for when we are finally lost to the one, we shall be lost to the other as well. When everything around us, the mountains, the hills, the forests, the streams, the oceans, the earth in all its mystery, the animals, and finally even ourselves and each other are no more than material for production and consumption, then shall be written above the gates of our cities, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." Then shall we echo the sentiments of Milton's Satan, looking down over the wreck of our world, finding it good, and murmuring, "Myself am Hell."

If it seems impertinent that a writer with a background in poetry and literature should take on such a project, I can only make this reply: we fight with what weapons we have. This is my task, and with any luck, I shall do it well.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Stars Knew That...

I looked out the window and saw my reflection over the world beyond
I didn’t much care for it.
I strained to see the street, the courtyard, the stars, the trees beyond
To no avail: my own reflection blocked my view
The air conditioner hummed, and I sat, and looked for inspiration
Finding none, my gaze returned to my reflection, and I sneered.
It sneered back. How could it not?
I did not want to see myself, but as I looked into its eyes, I stopped.
I laughed, and stepped aside, and looked upon the world, and saw not ‘me’
The night was clear, the stars shone bright, and cars were passing in the road
And all the night went on.
You can’t see truth by your own light: the stars knew that.
I didn’t.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More Relevant Now

Mark Twain's War Prayer:

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Looking Back

Hard, dull, cracked brown bark;
Green, green moss growing in the cracks;
An old child’s tree-house falling off it,
Boards rotten through and soggy with rain;
The old tree looms large in memory,
But it’s less large here looking at it..

Beneath a dreary February sky,
The withered old tree, covered
in new leaves
and fragrant, white flowers.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Two men walking down the road,
And each not unfamiliar with such company,
Heard a birdsong drifting through sun-dappled leaves
Of stately birches there on either side.
“Now there’s a happy bird,” one said.
“He’s being territorial,” the other replied.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

More Perspective Fiddling

Blue Cups

by P.H. Wise

“How many cups are there, Paul?”

I look at the cups. They’re clear blue plastic cups, and the kitchen is bright, because the sun is up and shining through the window. I look out the window. Big black birds fly around in circles way up in the air. I point at the birds and ask about them, and my mom says, “How many cups, Paul?”

I don’t want to count cups. I want to go outside and play. Mom is always having me count cups or dishes, and then taking some away and making me count again and asking me how many she took away. I like the glass cups better, but Mom doesn’t let me count them anymore because I break them. Andrew tells me that he knows how many cups there are, and maybe I don’t know because I can’t count them.

I count them. There are eight clear blue plastic cups. I tell Mom, and it makes her happy. She takes some away and makes me count again. Andrew laughs at me. I tell Mom that there are six cups now. She asks how many she took away. I count on my hands, and then tell her that she took two. Andrew says he learned that faster than me. I hate him. He took my A-Team van and threw it into the creek behind Safeway, where there are lots of blackberry bushes, but there aren’t any blackberries on them now. I want to go read about Aslan and Lucy and Mr. Tumnus, or find blackberry bushes at the creek below the big house where the mean old man lives, but Mom says that I can’t until I count more.

I hate cups.



Child-narrator this time. I suppose that much was obvious.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Long Day

Long Day
by P.H. Wise

It had been a long, long day. My hair was soaked through and plastered wetly to my head. I was cold. My second floor apartment was warm, and I knew I’d get there once I got out of these wet clothes and into something more comfortable. I kicked off my heels, stripped off my stockings, and took a moment to luxuriate in the feel of the warm carpet beneath my damp toes. I went into my bedroom, took off my wet clothes and got into my pajamas. They were warm, and my mood improved immediately.

Lightning flashed in the window, and a crack of thunder split the night. There, out the window: lightning flashed again, and by its brief light, I saw him. I saw him standing in the rain, soaked to the bone, looking up at the lights of the apartment complex with a strange expression, like a drowning man in search of something – anything – to keep from going under.

Our eyes met. Our eyes met, and he looked at me in my warm pajamas with my wet, bedraggled hair as if I were a goddess. My heart was moved to pity. I smiled down at him, and his eyes widened, as if he were surprised that anyone would notice him. He bowed deeply, gratitude shining in his eyes. It was only a moment - there and gone - but he seemed strangely content as he walked away into the rainy night, and I watched thoughtfully until I could no longer see him.


Author’s note: This vignette is my first attempt at a female narrative voice. I'm reasonably well pleased with the result.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Blackberry Patch

Patch of blackberry bushes
Sound of water in the creek
Cool breeze on a warm day
Sweat beading on my forehead
fingers, juice-stained
hands, thorn-torn
Sweetness stolen from a prickly, harsh, unyielding thing