Re: The Placebo Effect - Self Deception at its Finest

Robin Hanson (
Thu, 10 Jun 1999 13:30:20 -0700

At 10:30 AM 6/9/99 -0700, you wrote:
>Given the principles of extropians and other transhumans, by our very
>nature, we seek to systematically eliminate all placebo effects one by
>one, till we are left with none. Yet our biology seems to count on the
>presence of this effect in order to maintain good health and/or recover
>from negative health. This has been positively shown in many scientific
>studies. I see this as a conflict of interest in the results of our long
>term genetic evolution and the direction our goals are leading us to in
>our short term memetic evolution. As such, it would eventually be
>desirable to eliminate the placebo effect from our biology and/or
>substrate of reinstantiation.

There are a whole bunch of issues of this same form: We observe some subsystem of ours that seems to have some counter-productive feature, and we wonder how we're going to get rid of that feature while keeping all the positive features of that system.

The first priority in such cases I think is to indentify the evolutionary function of that "bad" feature. One should be *very* cautious in redesigning any system where one doesn't understand the functional rationale of the original design features.

Regarding the placebo effect, my theory is that we evolved to rationally reduced our stress levels given the appearance of care by our allies. Such appearance indicated that they would remain our allies, and with more allies we were likely to suffer fewer crisis events, and so needed less of a stress-response. Reduced stress-response meant our bodies invested more in long term health. Today, our bodies still react to the appearance of care by reducing stress.

At a general level, this still seems a reasonable functional approach. Many details may be off now, however, such as how much care now indicates allies will remain, how much the lack of allies now leads to crisis events, or how strong a stress response is needed for modern crisis events.

For more, see: or .ps

Robin Hanson   
RWJF Health Policy Scholar             FAX: 510-643-8614 
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 510-643-1884 after 8/99: Assist. Prof. Economics, George Mason Univ.