I hope we can look at the placebo effect with wisdom and common sense.
Recent research1 supports the effectiveness and importance of placebos for palliative treatment, to help people access their own ability to feel better. Placebos work subjectively, and by very many people’s testimony can help people feel better and are generally best regarded as palliative not curative.

First, placebos are no substitute for vaccines, necessary surgery, necessary pharmaceutical treatments. They can of course be used in addition to these things. Conversely, there are strong objections to surgery as a placebo. This, even though in cases where a placebo is appropriate, surgery can be damned effective2. Antibiotics should only be given where they are needed. Pharmaceuticals with nasty side effects are shitty placebos.

I have wondered whether pharmaceuticals with very noticeable side effects are favoured in blind testing over gentler substances. The side effects might strengthen placebo effect by tipping off test subjects that they got the real thing and not a sugar pill. In a previous century,  I was a subject for the Salk polio vaccine trials on school children.  I guessed, correctly as it turns out, from the soreness deep in my arm where the needle had gone in, that I had gotten the real thing. (My experience is not proof, only grounds for speculation..) (I am not supposing that a tip-off effect skewed the results in this case- I would guess that polio diagnoses would be largely objective and unswayed by the subjective stuff.)

There may be circumstances in which palliative agents, including placebo, do have a real positive influence on healing and restoring health. For instance, an expectation of pain might lead to muscle spasms that could aggravate an injury. Or, relieving nausea might help someone keep food down. Or, helping someone to return to an appropriate level of activity ..

A placebo should be at least relatively harmless in appropriate use. Good-for-you is even better. Were somebody to eat Brussels sprouts to prevent growing-an-extra-head syndrome, well, in reasonable moderation Brussels sprouts are good for you.

Personally, I strongly dislike the use of deception, even though it may be a way of facilitating the placebo effect.
So.. how to use placebos honestly and effectively? I have speculated around the subjective experiences3.





One notion—that I don’t have the time of day for, although I can’t disprove it — is the concept of ?god as a being who is petty. I could come up with a science‐fiction scenario in which some deity evolved in infinite multiverse to be the petty being some people imagine god to be, but, CRAP.
The ?god I don’t believe in is not petty.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas


We can damn well respect other people, if they are honest and kind. (Note that this is about respect, not deference, which is a different thing.) I respect a person’s human process, although it may be rooted in a belief I don’t pretend to share. Many people express their human core in religious terms. If one were to say to these people, nayh nayh doesn’t exist, they would be likely to misunderstand, to think that we do not share their deepest human experience. They may conclude that we have god‐sized holes in our hearts. I would say, perhaps, that I hear you; I do not believe; this is how I experience the thing. When a belief causes harm, I would say, I do not like the harm that this belief causes. One can respect human culture, tradition, and experience.
Religion, belief, spiritual experience, etc. are human experience and can be respected as such, without any pretense of belief.
Leave aside the question, does any sort of ?god exist. God, in human experience, is EXPERIENCE, a range of human experience that we may perhaps share, although we probably call it something else. God‐the‐experience exists. People do have experience that they identify as god. We can respect human experience. Religion, belief are part of human culture. I hope we can respect human culture when it is honest and kind.
It is not written in the fabric of the universe that the hominids of Sol 3 must never be mistaken. It would be nice if we could be kind.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas


Believers, those of my fellow people who believe or practice a religion…
Please do not assume that those of us who do not believe in God lack a vital part of being human. We are, I would say, as likely as you folks to experience the great love and the great awe. I would call it human experience.
Some individuals who I deeply love and respect are orthodox Jews. I respect them because what they do is simply practice their religion. They don’t try to impose it on me. Folks, simply practice your religion. If, for instance, that religion rejects usury, or the eating of pork, or homosexuality, refrain from doing the thing, state with simple dignity that you refrain because of your religious practice.
I question the motives of people who are abusive in condemning what they perceive as the sins of others. I speculate: Perhaps they have some muddle‐headed feeling of diverting the wrath of their god by pointing at other targets?
Or perhaps they hope that all the loud‐mouthed hypocrisy will hide their own sins? (Perhaps I am underestimating the dynamics of group‐think; I tend to make that mistake.)
If one harms no one and practises one’s religion—that is well worth respecting as a human choice and as human custom—whether or not the god or whatever in question really exists, or cares.
Major and minor bad nastiness has been done in the name of religion. The Inquisition was not nice. Of course, the Stalinists and others have proved that one does not need religion to be a cruel abusive bullying shit. Or, a minor rude jerk.
In my experience, kind loving believers and kind loving non‐believers have very much more in common with each other than they have in common with the unkind sorts.
Bottom line—we not‐believing people DO share your feelings of human concern, believers, although we may not share the belief that these feelings derive from a deity.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas

Beside the Divide

Leaving aside, for now, “does‐god‐exist”:
The word “god” is a way of expressing certain human experiences, good, bad, and complex. It is valid AS EXPERIENCE, whether or not we believe in the terms used to express it. I am not assuming that a deity is involved. I find the human experience to be much and enough.
For instance: In 1992, I visited the site of the concentration camp at Dachau. The place is a hole in the love of god. I do not believe in god.
Not‐necessarily‐existence does not invalidate the statement. (A believer might argue that the love of god does not have holes. The statement remains valid, describing my experience.) During the same trip, I visited the cathedral at Chartres. A sacred place. Again, I am talking experience, not belief. (A believer might suspect that my experience was not entirely subjective.)
Whether or not ?god, sacredness, spirit, etc. exist in any objective sense, statements about such things can be respected as expressions of human experience. And, note, experiences that some may call holy are not denied to non‐ believers.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas

Snow, the Made Up True Story

Snow White.. the courage of the young woman, whose upbringing was so cruelly restricted, to strike out on her own and alone when she found out…
The dwarves took her in because—never having seen an upper-class woman before—they thought she was one of them. The rickets, caused by extreme vitamin D deficiency, she had in common with the dwarves, whose limbs were stunted and bowed because as young children they had been forced to work all day every day in the mines. The cruel restrictions that confined Snow to curtained chambers were imposed by her father the king who was competitive with the other nobility for who had the palest daughter.
About the Handsome Prince, some of it is true, The wake-from-sleep-kiss thing was, of course, an old custom, a formality that had been promoted in a previous century by a pompous advisor to the king, who liked to think that a girl was not really awake until she had a lover. But, Snow really did marry H.P. and they really did love each other.
The story has a sad ending. Just before her 16th birthday, the poor girl died in her first childbirth, her pelvis abnormally contracted by the rickets.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas

The ages..

Time is spooky shit. 1984 used to be the future. The changes that the ‘now’ has gone through, the close presence of two or four decades before my birth— because they were in my parents’ time, because so many artifacts of that early 20th century were still hanging around when some of us were young —sometimes I feel like some strange being who has lived for centuries. As a small child, I knew an unfortunate model for ageing, an example I was determined I would be nothing like, a woman born in 1880, a Jewish girl from Romania who was sent across the ocean with a family who had offered to raise her as one of their own—and instead used her as servant or slave. When she grew old enough to leave that situation, where, I imagine, any physical weakness on her part would have been spat on, she went on to marry and to raise a large family in hard times, setting aside any weakness or illness that might have afflicted her and carrying on with whatever needed to be done, from her sense of duty, honor, and what is right. No damn wonder that as an old woman she took a sour glory in infirmity and decay, wore it as a badge of finally‐I‐am‐entitled, of I‐have‐earned‐this.
When I was a child, not at all understanding, I was horrified and disgusted by her willful decrepitude, her theatrical ill‐health, her meanness to her
mentally retarded daughter—who she treated as she had herself been treated as a girl, I suppose. (Years later, my father told me that I remind him of that woman, her courage, he said. What I don’t know…)
I have been fortunate to also have had a very, particularly, unusually good model for ageing. More on that later.
The disrespect that elders meet with nowadays:
Part of the problem may be the adage, respect your elders.
Unfortunately, the phrase invokes an old‐fashioned deference‐respect. Any call for deference may well meet with rebellion.
Speaking for myself, I don’t like deference, I don’t want deference: I want mutual, one‐to‐one, person‐to‐person respect.
Part of the reason for the elder‐disrespect we see may be the 20th century custom of mandatory retirement.
Mandatory retirement: why that? I suppose that the reasons are complex.
After the wars, I suppose, it would have seemed like a good idea to get rid of the old guys, to give their jobs to the returning soldiers, partly out of appreciation for the veterans, and perhaps, gawd knows what those guys we have trained to shoot and kill will do if we don’t get them working. Mandatory retirement, as it became a part of social custom, fostered a disparaging attitude toward older people.
There has been an assumption that inventive creativity is a quality particularly of the young. This is in my experience a misunderstanding, one that has, I think, been enabled by the mastery trap.
As one gets older one is expected to be a master of what one does, not a beginner.. To innovate, one must be of a mind to plunge into new territory, where one does not have mastery.
The human body (which of course includes the brain) imposes its state on us. Physical problems are real, may afflict us at any age, and the probability may increase as we get older. Nevertheless, with luck and determination one may perhaps remain oneself.
The world told me when I was a girl, just damn dance to that damned old tune they sing to girls … you can’t—you aren’t—you shouldn’t—you don’t. I didn’t accept it then. Older people hear a similar tune. I won’t live as if I were unable, or waste whatever life I may yet have, just because of what might at some time be a limitation for somebody.
That fog, sometimes it looms before the darkness.
I have lost several friends to dementias. The process of healthy ageing is, I think, very different.
I say that the much slower process of healthy ageing is different because I have seen this in the person of a great and inspiring lady, in her late 90s as I wrote this. A person of dignity, grace and intelligence, a healthy model for ageing, she remains herself, my mother.
The self, I see from observing healthy ageing, is not a thing; rather, the self is a process. As a brain slowly changes, in the course of healthy ageing, the self may in the process create or find a place for itself.
Again, respect for elders.. I propose this as a reinterpretation of the old ‘respect’ your elders” meme:
Please respect each of us as the individual person we have proved to be. What we have done still counts. To the extenthat we have been competent, we have earned the right to be regarded as competent—and not incompetent— until proven to be otherwise.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas

Brooms, and ideas that are not necessarily true

So, why are brooms associated with witches?
Witches: people, particularly women, thought by somebody to have some power that might scare somebody…
Suppose you are a woman—many generations ago—alone or in the company of children. Some man comes to your door. You attend the door; you are holding a broom. Not an unfriendly gesture, because brooms are for sweeping the floor. So what if he intends to rape you, or kill you, or your daughter, or your granddaughter…
Suppose that defense were necessary. Say, he goes heh heh heh and walks across the room and grabs the little girl. Possibly, if it were to come to that, you hit the bad guy upside the head with the stout handle of your broom.
Speculation, of course, is not necessarily fact.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas


If human experience were dense enough, if enough were going on in our process of living, and in our notice, and our dreams, I would expect that there would, by chance, be striking coincidences.
(This because there would be so damn much stuff to coincide.) Our experience is dense. Does that explain those particularly striking coincidences that look to us so much like paranormal and transcendent experiences? This is a question. This is not a statement intended to settle things, masquerading as a question.
The coincidences.. some of these are how‐the‐hell‐could‐this‐have‐happened‐by‐damn‐chance events. I am speculating that even though the probability of any one of them happening without some cause other than random chance may be closeto nil, the chance of SOMETHING damn strange arising by random coincidence may be, perhaps, moderate. This does not. of course, rule out the speculation that some instances of—for instance, precognitive dreams—may turn out to indeed have a cause that would surprise a lot of people.

From Molten Wood and Feral Ideas