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.

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