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.