Monday, March 12, 2012

Hence II: Taking Your Placebo

Scott Bradley

All religions and philosophies are ultimately placebos. And there is no one within the common norms of human awareness who is without one. Some placebos, no doubt, are more effective than others, but that efficacy is largely dependent upon the needs and inclinations of the one adhering to it. It would be no simple task, therefore, to pronounce upon the relative value of any one of them. We must simply find the one best suited to our own make-up, if we find ourselves severed from those which have previously led us.

Assuming that we know our philosophy to be a placebo, faith in fact (truth) seems impossible. Our philosophy can only be tentative, our paradigms 'working'. Our philosophy becomes "unfixed".

Can a placebo be effective without faith? The traditional placebo is effective because the one who takes it believes it to be what it is not. Its efficacy is thus rooted in the power of belief, not the 'pill' itself. Is it possible for a philosophy which is known to be a placebo, known to be a mere working paradigm, to still effectively deliver the placebo-effect? Or is ignorance (in the sense of false-belief) a prerequisite for bliss?

Judging from my own experience, these questions are largely mooted by the fact that belief tends to creep in and adhere to even a philosophy of non-belief. The fact is, we default to belief, because it 'works' and we 'need' it. Yet Daoism, at least as expounded by Zhuangzi, suggests we can hold ourselves in a place of "drift and doubt" and find our placebo-effect there. Still, even this requires a kind of faith — an implicit belief in the efficacy of surrender into the unknown.

I call this kind of faith, trust. Belief has an object — something in which to believe. Trust, on the other hand, is both surrender into the inexplicable and unalterable givens of one's reality, and an affirmation of those givens. Life is received as given and lived as it is. It is not explained.

Trust has its placebo-effect, but it does not require a belief to receive it. This may be indelicate, but I can think of no better way to say this: If I am not mistaken, placebo originally meant dildo; and a dildo delivers its intended effect quite apart from any need to believe it is anything other than what it is. The object is to obtain the effect; there is no need for belief.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. I (ego) = unconsciousness

    Doing (eg have faith) = conscious mind

    Doing not doing = conscious unconsciouness ...

    There was a butterfly on the glass of the door of the locked dojo this morning - just stuck at the glass. It was drawn to the sunlight on the other side of the glass. I worried that if I opened the door it would fly back into the dojo; so catching the butterfly carefully my cupped hands I opened the door. As I watched it oriented itself in the sunlight & flew away, 'I' felt that might b grateful . . . Then I realized that alternatively I could have simply opened the door - as we do when we use the dojo - & left the butterfly to find the way itself.

  2. ps. doing-not-doing = unconsciouns consciousness = non-judgemental consciousness = empty mind


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