Placebo works when you’re told by someone you trust or some label you’ve associated with reliable authority. This medication is going to do xyz. These are the instructions for taking the medication. It’s a necessary system for parsing the world of information. Unconsciously, the placebo and the medication are taken as “proven” if the label, literal or metaphorical, is associated with a trusted source of truth. It’s a necessary dynamic and it works for us all – at first. For most, the faith in authoritative sources lasts a lifetime.
Problems arise when the opportunities created by our tendency to blindly follow authoritative sources are exploited to serve the interests of bad actors. In the wrong hands, manipulation happens. Articles of faith become the end-product of confirmation bias set up by original conspirators – or, often, domino effects of groups bullshitting groups -as the conditions ultimately instilling a belief – a conviction held by some individual – are set in motion, spreading like a virus across a population.
Consider the recently decriminalized cannabis industry. Its taken as an agreed, tested fact that there’s a difference between uppy sativa and downy indica. There’s nothing wrong with this. As a society we must function and as an individual I can’t spend forever researching every single piece of information. Moreover, placebo or not, if the story of how a catalyst works (for most) why publicly expose it as a myth? After all, it is creating the anticipated response in 90% of people, which – by the way – generates further evidence of it being true.
Our minds operate in a continuous story-space, to anchor our perceptions of reality to the real-world we must exist and survive in. Nothing wrong with the methodology. It’s expedient and effective.
Trouble is, for me, the placebo doesn’t seem to work, sadly. Not any more. Which is fine, I guess. Work harder, research deeper, think better, strive for more real results, right? You don’t need your brain to make up a story – or inherit other people’s stories – that may be patently false when you can make your own story out of a reality that’s based on the logic of truth and true experience. Better stories. Less fragile facts. Strong convictions. Firmer foundations.
Blah blah blah.
But what if everything in a human life is story – an everything story, the sum of all your brain’s stories, woven out of your memories as self-experienced and self-manipulated – and it’s possible to use logic, questions, direct experience, evidence, thinking, to expose so much the everything story itself gets collapsed? What if the compelling subjective narrative of life itself is a placebo? What if all emotional attachment comes from the story our brain weaves out of cherry-picked reality, confirmation bias, subconscious cognitive dissonance; balanced enough to serve purpose but by no means objective?
What if the everything story disintegrates; and nothing compelling lies behind?
Is that what leads to bleak existential nihilism? Depression the precursor, to be treated with medication (lower the brain-thinking signal amplitude, make the existential matter less) or cognitive behavioral therapy (placebo positive reinforcement).
Psychologists have their position in society as well earned as anyone else. CBT doesn’t serve me. Medication isn’t necessary; self-reflection has connected the dots on lowering brain signal amplitude though I’m not sure it’s a creatively helpful equanimity.
The most Om of enlightened monks isn’t far from the most vegetative bliss: objective detachment from the samsara, the suffering, the wheel of life after life. Religion may hand a final useful story – the grand scheme of creation, reincarnation, progression and regression, the video game version of human life where to play is to stay unenlightened living bound to the wheel and to not play is to release from the wheel, to be freed from suffering attachment…
… where in the mind’s eye of meditation the egoless consciousness perceives the whole world dissolving into an evanescent GAME OVER and if the Mahayanasanabanana story goes deep enough or the individual’s brain factory settings tilt towards love or optimism, the void might come back to life with RIGHT ON, BODHISATTVA! and return the player to the material game plane in a permanent oxytocin freeflow, arms open to the fellowship of life on the wheel.
At worst this practitioner without a grand creation explanation myth or a brain with natural bliss-spectrum factory setting, the reuptake of material selfhood will be benign inhibition, equanimity even without bliss, tolerance of time and environment and relativity relations (personal or potential), habituated to be what will be without resentment, with an inertia towards objective being – periodic dissolution by meditation; permanent dispersal by end of life.
Benign equanimity but without bliss of placebo convictions or factory settings. Dissociation from time, relations, and the vissisitudes thereof.Across the aggregate of billions of human beings it is an above average formulation of contentment.But it’s a pale fire of earlier life motivations, interpersonal fascinations, creative aspirations.
The placebo trinity once exposed isn’t restored.
First, that time matters, not having enough time motivates, and since ambition satisfaction is a time critical activity, action is driven by dynamic organic harmonics of self. This is the essential fuel of bliss.
Second, that relations matter, in an objective granular moment to moment sense, i.e. get closer to love relationships, drive away from hate relationships, explore depth and distance potential relationships. It fuels the passion of ambition and paints the colours of action’s dynamic organic harmonics. This is the necessary light and heat of bliss.
Third, that creativity matters, in both the sense of bringing together new and original solutions – from the universe, into the world – and the profound communication of your personal creations of newness and originality to the world – to others you love, to strangers you could love. Creativity is the locus of time, passion and ambition. This is the intensity and durability of bliss.
Losing the trinity is to absent the fuel, light, heat, intensity and durability of bliss. And thus the flatline state. At best, duty, fortitude, acceptance of living out the time to come with good grace, charitable action and enough remembered empathy to judge your contribution to the rich vignette of material existence as sincerely positive.
If bliss is irrelevant, if emotion is nihilist, the simple logic of kindness is a reliable path through the existential circumstances between now and end of life disintegration.
Consider it lucky, after all, if the exposing of layer after layer of placebo story doesn’t lead to resentment in the wake of disillusionment, especially if the story of life as a whole falls away and the brain is forced through the paradigm shift of subjective narrative trust to objective existential nihilism.
I suspect the resentment comes from not reconciling the loss of life story with the impersonal truths of maturing conscious existence: that the stories weren’t invented to make a fool of you but got evolved by generations of other human beings as natural coping mechanisms, ways to make sense of shared experience, to steer the majority as best could be managed for the sake of the lineage, from cradle to grave.
It’s nobody’s fault you’ve thought your way through all the smokescreens, misdirections, confirmation biases, social cognitive dissonances, confusion narratives, utilitarian myths and spurious explanations proliferating the cultural imagination of your lineage. It’s also nobody’s fault there’s nothing beyond the vanity fair maelstrom. Nothing, that is, but kindness, duty and a daily drift towards terminal irrelevance.
Dum dum. Dum dum. Dum dum. Dum dum.
Dum dum. Dum dum. Boooooooooooooooooop___________