Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Placebo Effect & Mind-Body Dualism

Having read neuroscientist Mario Beauregard's The Spiritual Brain, I am intrigued by "The Magic Cure" in today's Boston Globe, on the power of placebos. Beauregaard presents the placebo effect as one piece of a cumulative argument for mind-body dualism.

The article states: "In the last decade-plus, however, the accumulating data have sparked a renewed interest in the placebo as a treatment in its own right. Numerous studies have shown that it can trigger verifiable changes in the body." 

The essay has a funny and interesting quote from a U-Michigan scholar: "“Medicine is intensely meaningful,” says Daniel Moerman, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Michigan at Dearborn who coined the phrase “meaning response.” “It’s this highly stylized, highly ritualized thing.” He urges us to “forget about the stupid placebo and start looking at the system of meaning involved.”"

The bulk of the article is about the ethical issue of giving people fake pills, even if they "work" to heal. My interest is the Beauregaard thesis of: change the mind, and you change the brain. Here is the claim that the "mind" exists independently of the physical brain; viz., "mind" cannot be fully reducible to the physical brain, having causal efficacy re. the physical brain.