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James van der Walt

Social Entrepreneur, Ugesi Gold

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Does religion cause the placebo effect?

I'm not an atheist. I choose not to be. I have a believe system that guides me and gives me strength. Is the strength real or part of the divine? Who knows. I can however say that it's made an impact on my life purely because I believe in it. Does my conviction give me power? I believe it does.

The placebo effect is well documented and researched. It is very real even though it's only in your head. I wish to propose that it is belief that makes the benefits real. A woman believes that God will cure her so she has a higher change of getting better just because she believes it will.

Blind believe is one of the things that separate us from most animals. We can believe something without proof and let it guide our entire life. We should use this human quality to our advantage. Made that's the power behind positive thinking too?

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    Mar 26 2013: Does music, color, light and/or laughter cause the placebo effect?

    Like many things that effect health, there is part that is an placebo effect and part the is a psychical, chemical or something else affect.
    My point being is that just because there is a placebo effect, we cannot assume it is 100% placebo effect.
    For example: look at eastern medicines, for many years in the west they were assumed to be 100% placebo effect.
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      Mar 27 2013: I agree, we always need to be curious and rule out the placebo effect if possible. This is how most drug studies are done. The drug must out preform known placebo benchmark before it's considered viable. Scary though, I've heard there are some drugs on the market that preform below the placebo effect benchmark.
  • Apr 4 2013: This person can become scared and anxious. He may have insomnia, elevated blood pressure, increased respiration rates. He is using his body to adapt to the situation. Now, this same man may, instead of using fear and anxiety, rationalize about his condition. That may make him calm and centered, and instead of fearing for himself, he may instead opt to take the situation in a logical and rational way. So, his perception of the situation was changed by his beliefs, and his body is also changed by it.
    Religion is just like any other knowledge. It helps you to aproach, understand and deal with the world. Its a reality modulator. With religion you have simple answers to deal with a large scope of problems. Instead of fearing for your life you believe that you will live after death. So, again, your knowledge changes your perception, which, in turn, also changes your body.
    So, considering religion to be a placebo is flawed, because its just a ideology that people believe to be able to deal with events that reality throw at them. Fortunaly many atheists can live with it because they have created their own coping mechanisms. Religion is good because it has been evolving through the centuries to deal with things that effect most people. So you could say its a survical/defense mechanism neatly organized in a nice pack that, most of the times, help people deal with their everyday problems. Its a "mind software" like Windows and Linux are for computers.
    Considering docts cant really "creaty" anything, or "destroy" disease (disregarding surgery and infectious disease), most of the real work on healing is though the patients body. Doctors use the patient own body to help itself. For example, blood pressure drugs use the patients physiology throught drugs that ressemble neurotransmiters, hormones or other chemical transmitters. We "manipulate" the body, not really change it. If healing depends on us manipulating the body, why cant religion, which also manipulates the body, heal it?
  • Apr 4 2013: Using the term "placebo" for religion effect on humans is wrong, because placebo implies that the cause has no real effect on the subject. That is wrong. Religion effect on someone can be properly quantified.

    It is logicaly and scientificaly proved that our enviroment changes our body. For example, whenever we see something dangerous our perception realizes it and engage body functions that prepares us to either "fight or flee". Neurotransmiters, hormones and other bodily functions change to adapt our physiology to a new situation. That has been researched by science. It is the essence of "stress".

    So: Perception -> Physiological changes -> Change in matter (body).

    What is also proved by science is that our perception is changed by knowledge. When we deal with a confortable situation, we are much less prone to have intense emotions. Intense emotions are reflections of bodily changes, like increased heart rate, increased production of cathecolamines, increase or decrease of neurotransmitters.

    Lets look at an example: The first time you drive. When you are starting, you are nervous. Your body is prepared to either fight or run away. You get sweaty hands, increased heart and respiratory rate. Your "enviroment" is unknown and that means you use basic emotions because you lack higher brain functions like learned behaviors to deal with the situation. But as you get better and better, you adapt, create apropiate behaviors and start using less and less emotions and start using knowledge and inteligence.

    That means knowledge changed your perception, which in turn changed the way your body reacts to the enviroment.

    Religion is knowledge. It may not the the real truth, but it is the truth for the believer. That means that this knowledge changes his perception, which in turn changes the way he deals with reality.

    For example, someone who doesnt believe in god may get to know that he has a terminal disease. That makes him scared: He doesnt know what to do.
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      Apr 25 2013: "...placebo implies that the cause has no real effect on the subject"

      "Placebo" doesn't imply that. It means that the experimental subject was not given the test treatment, though he believes he received it by getting a pill or whatever (the placebo). Any ameliorative effects on the subject are therefore credited to that belief. The belief had a real effect on the subject, and that's the placebo effect. It seems that a belief or faith in the efficacy of anything, say divine protection or your own competence, is at least related to the placebo effect, though we may not choose to call it that, so as not to broaden the term beyond recognition.
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    Mar 27 2013: Does atheism cause the negative-placebo effect?

    There was at least one study that showed trusting you doctor instead of managing your doctor’s care, showed to have quicker recovery time. I believe the study suggested that was not an increase in stress, but instead the decrease in positive thoughts that made the difference.
    So does the lack of trust in a higher being cause reduced positive thinking, via spending mental time/energy trying control your outcome in life.
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      Mar 27 2013: Please post study.

      As I would argue irreligious thinking actives similar brain chemistry that a religious person would achieve in their belief-based thoughts.

      IF ANYTHING the practice of philosophy, in general, will lower your positive thinking and be more pragmatic with projected outcomes and current situations. Religion itself says nothing about how much positive thinking an individual will endure, there are a lot of Jewish theologians who are just dark people.

      Please post study.
  • Mar 27 2013: This would be consistent with the placebo effect.
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    Mar 26 2013: 'I'm not an atheist. I choose not to be.'
    You can't 'choose' not to be an atheist or a non-atheist without personal deception.
    If you're intellectually honest then you're an atheist or you're not.

    'Is the strength real or part of the divine? Who knows.'
    Why phrase this topic in the form of a question if you've already decided on the answer?

    'A woman believes that God will cure her so she has a higher change of getting better just because she believes it will.'
    Double-blind studies on the effects of prayer don't conclude that, also there have also been studies that conclude that placebos work...even when the patient knows they've been given a placebo pill..
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/dec/22/placebo-effect-patients-sham-drug

    So essentially, such thought experiments don't always statistically work and when they do, you don't need to believe they will...
    So what is the point in having blind belief aspect?
    (Besides potentially harming yourself if the placebo doesn't work and avoiding legitimate treatment because you're too busy rationalizing the results away, because you're believing in it blindly..)
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      Mar 27 2013: Everything in life you believe is a choice. The more you know the more choices you have. Unless you are not aware of the choice then you simply float through life.

      I'm glad you brought up the positive placebo effect. This is one more reason why I think that you can make a choice in what to believe, and depending on that believe it will have negative or positive affects on your life. I also have no doubt that some people will be better at this than others.

      I don't think blind believe is the answer. I'm merely stating that we as humans have that capacity. As for harming yourself with placebo's - I don't think that's an issue unless your believe is negative. We all know we can think ourselves sick.
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    Apr 12 2013: "You choose to accept God, correct? There for it must be conscious. You choose to believe that your faith will help you in life. Maybe god exist, maybe not. Just like the sugar pill you will get the benefits regardless."

    1. A lot of people are given 'God' through indoctrination. I do not necessarily accept 'God' until God is defined.
    2. Yes, but the consciousness of God existed before I did, thus 1. and thousands of years of documents of information relating to an idea of 'God' or many ideas.
    3. People do believe the faith does assist them in life, yes, but this does not inference to the fact it is a 'placebo effect', therefore there exist a physical substance which an individual believes will help them in such a cognitive reaction.
    3.a. As the below will summarize - calling it a 'placebo effect' ignores a lot of relative reasoning behind faith-based conformism and practice.

    It's not that the faith makes people happy or feel enlightened, necessarily. It's that the refusal of the faith will cause dysphoria. If the faith is never challenged they are happy, but there are no sugar pills there is environment and education. This isn't about tricking the brain, this is about straight out brain chemistry relating to social and group-thinking.

    What effects the final cause of both 'placebo effect' and 'faith-based states of mind' may be ontologically similar but the exact nature of the cause, goes beyond even those two concepts. What causes someone to feel better on false premises? (To simplify it to such a simplistic answer (placebo effect) shows disregard for the nature in which humans think, a complex activation of evolutionary factors and cultural responses PLUS more)

    Let me put it this way. Religious belief or faith, is not at the extent of taking a red pill or the blue pill, lol.

    Faith in anything develops overtime with communal and cultural interactions. The reasoning one would believe to take a pill and feel better, is a cultural+individual causality.
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    Mar 27 2013: Fundamentalism practices does provide a lot for optimism biases to develop. But, a placebo effect is something which an individual is conscious of, and is knowingly accepting. While religion regards something primal (subconscious) and unconscious, and stimulates a lot of metaphysical desires we have as humans. It's a bit shallow to say religious knowledge is based on a placebo effect, because whether they are really 'knowledgeable' about various positions and ideologies of God in general, will affect her own thinking positive thinking. How strong is the thought of God to her? Will demonstrate whether or not the placebo is the primary cause for motivation to get better. Perhaps, to the individual, God is found within family or community more often than a deity, because the thought of God would be attached to the emotions her friends/family give her.

    Not as simple as what you are proposing, but it is a good jump off point.
    • Mar 27 2013: you define placebo effect wrong, placebo effect is a result of medical testing of drugs, where people who where sick (in some way) where given sugar pills without them knowing it is not actual drugs. These people then started seeing improvements. So the placebo effect is totally in the unconcious part of the brain.
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        Mar 28 2013: "But, a placebo effect is something which an individual is conscious of, and is knowingly accepting."

        They accepted the sugar pills believing they were more. It is not strictly unconscious, they had to be aware of the fact this pill may do something.

        Its just as much conscious as unconscious.
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          Mar 28 2013: You choose to accept God, correct? There for it must be conscious. You choose to believe that your faith will help you in life. Maybe god exist, maybe not. Just like the sugar pill you will get the benefits regardless.
  • Mar 27 2013: The planet would benefit more from us asking Who Am I. Questions, ideas, and debate on God lead to further and further fragmentation of human thought as is evidenced in the world. See the God/Religion debate for what it Actually Is and it will fall away. Then turn inward. Death waits for us all. Do your work
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      Apr 9 2013: Who am I. The most important question to answer for yourself. However, some are not ready to ask these questions as they believe it's answered by their religion or faith.

      I enjoyed this question so much but I figured I should move on to the next question. Once you know who you are, what do you do with with knowledge? I had this debate with a friend of mine and he thinks the next question to be answered is "What constitutes and good life?".

      Death awaits us all. Lets make our waking conscious period count. Ask many questions :)
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    Mar 27 2013: It maybe. But, who can separate mind of body effects? In my opinion they are so integrated that the effects on one of them affect to the other, like or not.
    And if religion causes placebo effect, anyway welcome!
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    Mar 27 2013: Belief in the non-existent God, and that which quantum physics demonstrates is highly improbable (IF there is a god, it bears no resemblance to the God of Abraham), is a choice. Unless one was raised in a family of atheists, atheism is not a choice. It's a realization.

    This said, Christianity has a track record that is opposite of all that it says it stands for. Is that mayhem and cruelty a placebo effect that you can live with? You could call it a placebo effect. You could also call it denial or delusion. Whatever works for you works for you. But as soon as you use your "placebo effect" to turn against all who are different than you (as is happening in the USA), and a religion of love and peace becomes a religion of abuse and tyranny, then it's time for eyes to open and behaviors to be seen for what they are.
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      Mar 27 2013: Consciousness can alter reality. This quantum experiments have shown. By merely expecting a result that result will be produced. Sounds familiar? Lovely topic ;)

      In essence I agree with you. The old image of god with a white beard is redundant. However the fact remain that people are accomplishing extraordinary acts (both good and bad) in the name of their religion/believes. No matter how naive this might seem the effect cannot be ignored. The good thing is, for those who realize that the old believes are irrelevant and drop them are free to choose a new believe system. We have to believe something. Is this denial or delusion? I don't think so. Else everything is a delusion, because the question of the existence of a greater purpose or god can never be answered. So to decided there's no-god is the same as deciding there is one/many gods. It comes down to what do you want to accomplish in your life and does your believes push those ideals.