Why I Avoid Placebo

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Simon and WSA had great comments about the value of placebo when doing healing sessions or doing self-improvement work. They made a lot of sense, and convinced me that, if you’re trying to maximize your results, you should use placebo along with whatever actual magick you do.

And yet, I don’t plan to use placebo. In fact, I still plan to actively avoid it. This started as an intuition when I read their comments — I intellectually agreed with them, but it just didn’t sit right with me. So I thought about it this morning. Here’s where I wound up:

All of my magick is about building toward something better. Understanding connections, so I can understand shielding. Building techniques to see forms and trace connections, then using them to change the signature of a particular tissue in the body, which in turn builds to a larger technique like complex healing techniques. And I’m not done building yet.

That’s the key, so I’m going to say it again: I’m not done building yet. I’m nowhere near satisfied with my magick, and I don’t think I ever will be. For me, the techniques and successes of today are mostly about knowing that I’m on the right track, and showing me which techniques are good enough to be building blocks for tomorrow’s work.

Sure, today’s techniques are convenient. I’m glad whenever I do healing techniques on myself or get a useful psychic intuition. But that’s not my focus. If it were, I’d be doing a lot more testing with ways to tweak a healing technique, and more actively seeking clients to practice on, rather than focusing on awakening more mental muscles and developing better mental postures. I focus on those things because I’m focused on developing my skills long-term, not on today’s results.

I don’t see placebo fitting into this. To my mind, when you do a healing technique, there’s the actual changes caused by shifting signatures and sending energy and whatever else you did, and then there’s changes caused by placebo. And I need to separate the two, because I can’t build on the changes caused by placebo. Those can’t become part of a larger technique, at least, not in the way I build techniques. For me, placebo is useful but spurious.

And that’s true even if placebo works by the some magickal mechanism, like the person changing their own energy signature. It doesn’t matter. If I knew the exact changes caused by placebo, I could produce them directly, without needing placebo. And if I don’t know the exact changes, then I can’t use those changes to build new models or techniques.

I think that’s my resistance to using placebo, even when it would be useful: Everything I do today is looking to the future. I’m developing building blocks, which I’ll use in better models and techniques tomorrow. And harnessing placebo to make a particular healing session more effective hinders that long-term goal.

But, all these ideas are new. I just articulated them this morning. So I might be wrong. Comments are welcome.

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4 Responses to “Why I Avoid Placebo”

  1. simon says:

    I think its a terminology thing again…

    For you placebo has become associated as a word that means a kind of ‘nothingness’ or a ‘curiosity stopper’ like “the unconscious does it”. In that sense I agree with you that its not very useful.

    I’m just not sure that’s the correct understanding of it:

    The fields of Psychoneuroimmunology and psychosomatic medicine study “the relationships between mental processes and health”and “the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body” or “the relationships of social, psychological, and behavioral factors on bodily processes and quality of life”

    The placebo is a serious subject of study for these sciences and is broken down into specific ways mental behavior affects the nervous system.

    If you’re trying to test for a drug then you want to eliminate the interference of psychological processes on the nervous system and isolate just the actions of the drug.

    But if you’re developing techniques where you want the mind to alter behavior or the nervous system of the body then trying to eliminate the placebo from the equation becomes something of a non sequitur.

    if you’re following that definition at least….

    • Thanks Simon. I had to think about this a while, because you’re asking for an explicit explanation of things that are only implicit for me.

      You’re right: Under my definition of magick — “the mind directly influencing the physical world” — placebo seems to count. Except that, when I think about magick and placebo, they’re as different as drug effects are from placebo. I’ll have to revise my definition at some point.

      But for now, I can tell you why they’re different: Placebo is about my mind affecting my body, and your mind affecting your body, but not about my mind affecting your body. Imagine that a doctor tells me he has a magic pill that I can take to make my girlfriend’s pain go away. (It’s really a sugar pill, the doctor is using placebo.) She doesn’t know anything about that conversation, and she doesn’t see me take the pill. Would you expect my taking the pill to reduce her pain?

      I don’t think magick and placebo work from the same mechanisms, either. Placebo, as I understand it, is about your mind releasing hormones and reducing anxiety, or something along those lines. The only people who talk about placebo in terms of energy are people who already believe in magick and want a scientific-sounding explanation — I don’t think the actual placebo researchers talk about placebo working by the same mechanisms as energy healing.

      Also, getting better at placebo doesn’t lead to external effects. If you somehow practice being placebo-ed, making yourself more susceptible to placebo, and you get really good at producing placebo effects in yourself, that won’t build up to causing changes outside your body (such as healing other people or manifesting). At least, I wouldn’t expect it to — if you disagree, we can talk about that, too. But this is the sort of thing I’m talking about with the difference between magick and placebo: Placebo is strictly your own mind interacting with your body, where magick is about your mind interacting with the external world, which includes your body, but isn’t limited to it.

      Like I said, you’re right about the definition. Thanks for showing me that it needs some work. Also, if you do use placebo in your magick work (like using energy to trigger placebo effects, for example), I’d be interested in hearing about that.

  2. simon says:

    “when I think about magick and placebo, they’re as different as drug effects are from placebo”

    Actually as I finished writing that comment it occurred to me that that’s exactly the model you’re going for and what you’d say in response. Magick that works more like a ‘drug’. And you make a good case for it on this blog rather than the purely psychological paradigm that i came into magic with. Actually its due to things like your blog that i’ve been able to take energy more seriously and stop ‘psycho-log-izing’ it as ‘focus of attention and emotion’.

    I hope all this talk of placebo hasn’t distracted you too much from witting that book!

    • That’s awesome. I’m honored that I’ve helped you change your mind on this.

      And I’ve been distracting myself from my book because my next step is to tie the ethereal software to a sigil, then test it with all of you, and I wanted to finish up all that mental posture work first. But yesterday, I finally connected the software and the sigil, tested it on myself and two friends, and it seems to be working. I need to change some settings to make the ethereal software friendlier. That’s today or tomorrow, then I’ll share it with all of you later this week so we can see if it works, and so you can start working with some of my ethereal software. And then I’ll get back to the book, using that ethereal software in a lot of the exercises.

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