slumber-powered

after the sleeping comes the waking up.

Posts Tagged ‘health’

Faith healing and magic

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

The girlfriend just finished James Randi’s The Faith Healers, which I read earlier. We had a long and emotional conversation about Randi’s statement that those who believe in faith healers don’t question the reality of what they’re seeing. Especially in light of the fact that Randi was a professional magician.

She argued that Randi was being hypocritical, criticizing those who follow and fund faith healers for being gullible and absolutely blasting the healers for being liars and cheats, while depending on a similar suspension of disbelief to earn his living. She also noted that faith healers provide a service to their devotees, with the placebo response to their “healings” making folks feel better.

I don’t agree on the first point. The difference between a magician and a faith healer is something I’ve heard a lot of magicians say: Magicians are honest about their dishonesty. As an adult, you know going in that they are performing are tricks or illusions. That they have no skills that others can’t develop. That they are not tapping into some power outside of themselves. Some of them even dare you to figure out how they’ve created the illusion. Faith healers do none of these things. They may be using magicians’ tricks, but they claim that God is working through them and really, truly causing something unusual to happen.

Magicians work on two levels. Viewers who suspend disbelief can see the seemingly impossible happen. Those who view it all as trickery can marvel at the skill with which the magician makes it seem like the impossible is happening. Faith healers have only the first level. The healing works if and only if you believe the impossible really is happening.

Even more important, magic is entertainment. You don’t base life decisions on what magicians tell you. You pay your money to have fun for an hour or so. At worst, you go home and spend hours trying to reproduce something you saw. Faith healing is not entertainment. At its best, it’s a comforting ritual and a connection with others who have similar beliefs. At its worst, it can inspire a dependence on the healer and other sources of spiritual authority, undermining the devotees’ confidence in themselves and their control over their lives.

It’s harder to argue about the placebo response. Many doctors have ethical qualms about handing out pills that do nothing for a patient (although that doesn’t stop some of them for giving out antibiotics to treat viral infections). If it makes a person feel better, what’s the harm, right? Hell, who I am to argue about this stuff? I used to get regular acupuncture treatment and massages. They did nothing for my underlying condition, but they did make me feel better.

But is that really a service to the person being treated? They feel better, but they also might forgo a doctor’s care (like I did) in favor of the placebo results.

Is it better to tell yourself a lie (not necessarily a big one) or to accept the reality of the situation and work with that?

I’m not sure where I stand on this issue yet. I’m evolving.

In Randi’s world, lying to oneself and others about the nature of reality is never acceptable and he has no tolerance for those who do lie, especially when they can cause others harm. None. This makes him and his ideas tough to deal with. It’s a tough and scary world, in a lot of ways. Scares the heck out of me a lot of the time.

But it’s still empowering. It gives you the ability to make changes for yourself, to protect yourself, to make yourself who you want to be, without help from external forces (other than a little help from your human friends).

Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Should I just take the sugar pills now?

Posted by c. wagner on November 4, 2009

This is just plain weird to me. The placebo response is getting stronger. It’s harder for new medicines in the United States to outperform sugar pills.

Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

Maybe the homeopaths and their sugar pills really are on the cutting edge. Maybe I should stop making fun of them….

Nah. That can’t be it.

A few studies exploring why this seems to be happening have been published.

These new findings tell us that the body’s response to certain types of medication is in constant flux, affected by expectations of treatment, conditioning, beliefs, and social cues.

In other words (and in part), as we’ve gotten used to pills curing what ails us, our response to any old pill has become more powerful.

And, in attempting to figure out why, researchers have learned a lot more about how the nervous system works. Pretty cool.

Read the article at Wired.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is hope overrated?

Posted by c. wagner on November 3, 2009

“Hope is an important part of happiness,” said Peter A. Ubel, M.D., director of the U-M[ichigan] Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine and one of the authors of the happily hopeless study, “but there’s a dark side of hope. Sometimes, if hope makes people put off getting on with their life, it can get in the way of happiness.”

The researchers told divided people with the same medical condition into two groups. The first they told that their condition was permanent. The second was told that the condition was reversible. On follow up, the folks in the “permanent” group were happier overall than those who were expecting a change.

It seems like accepting things the way they are may make you happier than waiting for the day that things are better. Lemons and lemonade, to sink to the level of cliches.

Read the summary from the University of Michigan.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Happy End of Smallpox Day!

Posted by c. wagner on October 26, 2009

From Wikipedia:

1977 – The last natural case of smallpox is discovered in Merca district, Somalia. The WHO and the CDC consider this date the anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, the most spectacular success of vaccination.

Break out the party hats, streamers, cake, and beer!

Posted in Pictures | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Is charisma really that powerful?

Posted by c. wagner on October 23, 2009

Yesterday, I posted my reaction to an article in Pediatrics about people who won’t take their kids to the doctor because of their religion. Once I calmed down a little, I took notice of the fact (okay, the girlfriend, who also read the article, pointed it out) that something called the “Faith Assembly” in Indiana was responsible for an out-of-proportion number of the reported child deaths.

One should never dangle a researchable fact like that in front of a librarian.

A quick trip to Wikipedia later, and I knew more about the Faith Assembly. And learned that my instinct that it was a cult-like community was spot on.

The charismatic leader of the community, Hobart Freeman, was a piece of work. You don’t have to read very far into the article to realize that any group under his sway was going to be in medical trouble. The dude had a heart attack, claimed he was healed by faith, threw out his medications, and promptly suffered repeated attacks of angina.

Of course, it gets worse.

John F. MacArthur in Charismatic Chaos says that (p237) “Freeman and the Faith Assembly congregation utterly disdained medical treatment, believing that modern medicine was an extension of ancient witchcraft and black magic. To submit to a doctor’s remedies, Freeman believed, was to expose oneself to demonic influence.”

Whoo boy. And because of that totally nonsensical belief, local authorities estimated that 90 people who would otherwise have lived, died.

Posted in Recent reading | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

No blogging for me today.

Posted by c. wagner on October 22, 2009

Ai hatez mai tummee. Blerg.

Posted in Pictures | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

I didn’t know water could talk.

Posted by c. wagner on October 21, 2009

Here’s another edition of “I have no idea what these people are thinking”!

Homeopathy! No side effects! All natural! Available over the counter!

But how does it work?

The folks at Depleted Cranium give the long answer.

The short answer is “it doesn’t”.

Posted in Pictures | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why am I not surprised this happened in Sedona?

Posted by c. wagner on October 21, 2009

Ah, Sedona, Arizona. I’ve now seen so many skeptics and debunkers profiling so-called psychics and healers in that town that I’m no longer surprised by anything I hear coming out of it. I think Penn (of Penn and Teller) summed it up best when he said you could find “every kind of crystal-sucking, vortex-fucking whackjob that’s ever made a buck off rich old hippies” in Sedona.

Even so, this news made me extra angry.

A woman hospitalized after spending time in a sauna-like “sweatbox” has died, bringing the total fatalities to three, authorities said late Saturday.

In addition to the deaths, 18 others were injured at the October 8 event at Angel Valley Retreat Center near Sedona, Arizona.

Sounds like a tragic accident of some sort, doesn’t it? Like their partners dropped them off a mesa during a trust exercise, right? Not quite, but you could totally see this coming, since

There were up to 65 visitors, ages 30 to 60, at the resort attending the “Spiritual Warrior” program by self-help expert James Arthur Ray, according to authorities.

Participants spent up to two hours inside the sweatbox, a dome-like structure covered with tarps and blankets, the sheriff’s office said. Hot rocks and water are used to create steam in the enclosed environment.

Two hours in a homemade sauna? Two hours? Don’t suppose there were any warning labels about not lingering if you were in poor health or started feeling ill, either.

These people trusted an “expert” who said he could make their lives better. And they wound up dead or hurt.

Next time someone tells you that New Age practices can’t do any harm, keep this incident in mind.

Read the article at CNN.

Posted in News | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »