I got a flu shot yesterday. Or, as they call it for “Seniors”, a “High-Dose” flu shot, because, apparently older people need stronger flu shots or they could die. There’s something I didn’t need to know. (And possibly you either.) I just wanted to avoid getting the flu.
Flu shots stimulate your personal immune system so when the actual flu shows up, your opposing antibodies are primed and ready to chase it away and not allow it to come back. The flu shot contains a limited “Junior Flu”, the theory being that this is healthier than combatting the genuine article. (Which apparently, if you are older, can kill you.)
(Cautioning Note: None of this may be medically correct. It is simply the “Conventional Wisdom” of my head.)
At this point, I shall introduce the under-publicized and under-appreciated idea of the “Negative Placebo.”
Yesterday’s flu shot has put me in a weakened physical condition. My energy is subpar, and I feel a low-grade “flueyness.” The pharmacist at Walgreens assured me that I wouldn’t, but I do. Why? Because just as a placebo treatment makes people feel better because they believe that it will, getting my flu shot made me feel worse because I believed that it would.
I got a flu shot, and it gave me the flu. Don’t bother me with “Not possible”, or the more reasonable “Highly unlikely.” Following the “Negative Placebo” trajectory, my brain took the Flu Shot “signals” and ran with them. And now I feel “fluey.”
“You probably just think you feel…”
Okay, moving on…
“The Placebo Effect” has proven that a medicinally bereft “Sugar Pill” can inexplicably – meaning there is no scientific reason it should – make people feel better. In experimental trials for a new medicine, placebos are secretly administered to some of the test subjects, to determine if the new medicine is more successful than the placebo. If it isn’t, it’s embarrassing.
“We worked twenty-five years on this pill. And it works the same as a Lifesaver.”
That is a bad day at the laboratorial office.
Furthermore – and this one knocks me figuratively on my butt. Which is better than the other way but not much.
In repeated experiments – rather than conducted drunk at a Christmas party – test subjects were informed they were getting a placebo, and despite their awareness of receiving an efficacious-free “Sugar Pill”,
…. a startling number of them felt better anyway!
Is that crazy, or what?
I mean, at least the uninformed “Placebo People” thought they were getting a pill that would help them, and believing that was the case, it did.
But these guys…
They told them “We are giving you nothing.” And very simply, the mere process of swallowing a bogus pill – or receiving some other meaningless treatment – believing that doing something is better than doing nothing – even though the “something” they were doing was nothing – led their maladous conditions to demonstrably improve.
That, folks, should not be happening.
Still, a jaw-dropping number – “jaw-dropping” because that number ought to be “Nobody”, because “So you’re giving me useless, pretend medicine?” should not induce a positive effect – and yet those people were reportedly feeling better.
Were they not aware that they shouldn’t be?
All of which leads me to hypothesize – the foregoing being a hopefully persuasive set-up for the following – that
The power of believing is more important than the truth. (The truth being that, placebos, especially placebos specifically identified as placebos, should not successfully do anything.)
Let me say that again, for emphasis. (As I would if I were telling you this in a room.)
The act of believing is more important than the truth.
Meaning, when people believe things, the mountain of the verifiable contrary evidence not only makes no difference to them whatsoever, it, in fact, makes them adhere to those questionable beliefs more tenaciously.
Because – all together now, even if you don’t agree with it, just humor me –
The act of believing is more important than the truth.
Which, to an obsessed pursuer of truth is a massive kick in the sheenayim. (Hebrew for teeth.)
I will not now enter an extended list of widely held beliefs that are effectively unprovable or have been proved certifiably incorrect. You all know those beliefs exist. You may hold a couple of them yourselves. I will therefore not insult you – or insult you further, as you have probably put up with enough guff about them already – by shining a scrutinizing light on those beliefs.
I will only say that, my contention that beliefs… wait. I will only say that it appears to me that the basic process of believing – in whatever it is – is so monumentally powerful, well… just try rebutting those beliefs, even backed by a huge consensus of supporting evidence, and you will feel like you just opened a door and got flattened by a tornado.
You can evaluate an idea’s strength by how forcefully it is defended. People will kill you – or a less prosecutable counterpart – for criticizing, debunking satirizing or going anywhere near their beliefs.
The facts themselves do not provoke such an incendiary backlash. I mean, “The earth revolves around the sun”, “The sun revolves are the earth” – who cares? But place that scientific investigation into the context of a “longstanding, system of belief”…
And Galileo’s under “house arrest” for the rest of his life.
Not because of what revolves around what. But because – last time so it sinks in –
The act of believing are more important than the truth.
That’s my belief.
And I defy anyone to say that I don’t have the flu.
And if I didn’t before I wrote this,
I most assuredly do now.