TED Conversations

James van der Walt

Social Entrepreneur, Ugesi Gold

This conversation is closed.

I have an ethical question. Is it wrong to use placebos?

I'm starting a rural business. Most of these people are very poor and even cynical about their situation. Now I have a plan to start businesses and learning but I first have to get past the mind set. If I were to offer a placebo pill that helps with "your finances and success" would that be wrong?

The idea is that with the business plans I want people to think that they CAN do this. To fight the ideas of "That this is too complicated or that it's just going to fail anyway". Placebo works on the mind but it's power lies in deceit or believe (maybe even faith). So is it wrong to tell people that this pill will help them get out of this bad situation (together with the community projects I have in mind)


Closing Statement from James van der Walt

Thank you all for a very good discussion to get a clearer view of what a placebo means. Also thank you Sietse Sterrenburg for the article you posted. I think it shows clearly what this discussion was about.

So in conclusion. A placebo is a trick to make your mind think you are being healed which then enables your to heal naturally. But this effect is based in deceit which is not ethical. It is much better to train people to use the power of their mind to get the same effect. The placebo has nothing to do with you getting better after all. Rather embrace the truth and enable people to help themselves.

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    Oct 21 2011: This is the magic feather syndrome from "Dumbo" and it is an totally appropriate way to proceed. The fact is, we have this theme in our stories ("You had the power all the time Dorothy") in every culture for a reason. The linear mind can only imagine what it has already seen to be true, and the best and simplest way to bypass that predjudice is to introduce a "magical" agent.
    It is true that the same tool can be used for "evil" and in fact, pyramid schemes and get quick rich shemes are largely based on the same proposition. Even "housing prices always go up" could be argued as dependent on this principal. But so long as you are employing your placebo to assist others in gaining thier OWN dreams and goals and not enslaving them to your dreams or goals, I would say you are in the moral clear.

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