Posts Tagged ‘placebo’

Why I Avoid Placebo

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

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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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Placebo and Phlogiston

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

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There’s been an idea in the back of my thoughts lately: The placebo effect is a lot like Phlogiston*. This post is me exploring that half-formed idea.

*Phlogiston is a discredited 17th-century model of fire, saying it was caused by phlogiston. But there were no predictions: You discovered something contained phlogiston when you saw it burning, and saying “X contains phlogiston” only told you that it would burn. It has become a shorthand for a non-scientific model that only explains after the fact. More on wikipedia.

First, I’m not decrying the placebo effect in general. It is well-established that people sometimes get better, and that their expectation of getting better can trigger a perceived improvement, and sometimes an actual, objective improvement. Placebo is real.

But… One of my exercises for myself, to learn to explain my magick well, is to try and explain my results away as placebo. And here’s what I find:

  • Sometimes, placebo makes the person get better for a short time.
  • Sometimes, it makes them get better for a long time.
  • Sometimes, it causes no result.
  • And there’s no pattern to it. (Aside from the actual magick techniques I used, which, if we’re assuming it’s all placebo, shouldn’t matter.)

Now, I’m not saying this model of placebo is wrong, but it sure feels like explaining away, rather than explaining. Really, it feels a lot like Phlogiston: Once you tell me the results, I can say, “Yes, placebo did that,” but it has zero predictive power.

So, what would a predictive model of placebo look like? It would have odds. It would say, “For condition X, with a highly-believable placebo, Y% of people should feel better due to placebo, and Z% of those should have lasting results.” It would tell you how much the believability of the placebo matters: A doctor from Harvard vs the local community college, or energy healing on a believer vs a skeptic. In short, it would tell you how to design an effective placebo, or how to behave to minimize the probability of placebo. It would say a lot more than, “Sometimes, people just randomly feel better.”

Is anyone aware of research like that? It seems really useful for doing small-scale experiments when you can’t do a randomized controlled trial. Thanks!

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Making Sure Your Magick Works: Avoiding Placebo

Monday, October 4th, 2010

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The only healthy way to become confident in your magick is by testing it and seeing it work.

But you can’t just do a healing session, see that the person feels better, and call it a day. What about placebo? It’s very real, impacting medical treatments, drugs, even surgeries. You need to control for it.

Here are 3 easy ways I avoid placebo in my magick testing.

What the Placebo Effect Is

If you already know about placebos, skip to the next section.

The placebo effect is when you take a sugar pill (no medicine in it) that you think is a real drug, and your expectation of getting better makes you stop hurting.

Modern medicine uses placebo-controlled studies: Randomly assign some subjects to receive a sugar pill. The effectiveness of the treatment is the improvement of the group that got the real drug minus the improvement of the placebo group.

See Wikipedia for more on placebo-controlled studies,

Avoiding Placebo Effects in Magick

Here are 3 ways to avoid placebo in magick:

Make Failure OK

First, make it socially OK to tell you the healing technique didn’t work. Tell friends you need real data to get better. Say you’re trying a new technique — working on this tissue, some change you’re testing, whatever — and it might not work. Make it OK to tell you it failed, so when they tell you it succeeded, you know they mean it.

Work with a Non-Believer

Do healing work for someone who doesn’t believe in magick and therefore expects no results. It’s easy to do, and gives a fair amount of assurance the results aren’t placebo. For best results, have another friend ask the clint about the results, so you don’t get polite white lies mixing up your data.

Sometimes, Don’t Do Anything

Sometimes, act like you’re doing the healing technique, but don’t do anything. This is the equivalent of the sugar pill: They will get all the placebo results, but none of the real magick results. In my experience, they usually report no change (meaning there was no significant placebo effect).

Don’t do this on someone’s first time with you. Saying “That’s because I was doing a placebo control” sounds like the lamest excuse ever.

Proper Placebo Control

The gold standard for placebo controls is a double-blind study — Not only doesn’t the client know if you did a real healing technique, when you are in the room with the client, you don’t know if you’ll do the real technique, either. It’s a lot of work, but here’s how I’d do one:

  • First, meet the person. Explain what you’ll do. Connect to the injured tissue.
  • Go into the other room. Flip a coin. If it comes up heads, do the healing technique.
  • Have someone else collect the results. Don’t tell them whether you did the real healing technique or not.

More on Creating Good Tests

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my post on avoiding coincidence in magick testing.

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