Thursday 25 March 2010

[not] placebo

[Post published by Liviu, on Liviu's [Personal] Blog]

Take something that's fake, but tell people it's real and they will act like it's real. That's placebo.

Take something that's real, but tell people it's fake and they will act like it's fake. Keep telling them it's fake and they will expect you to show them how you did it. But what if it all ends there?
Well, in that case we have a very good (in my opinion) TED MED Talk - Eric Mead: The magic of the placebo.

Let me detail my assumptions of the needle trick:
  1. It's irrelevant whether we see a trick there or not.
  2. Piercing oneself with a long (it doesn't even matter the length) needle is not that hard if one has studied extensively where major blood vessels are in a specific part of the body (e.g. in one's own left arm, at half the distance between elbow and wrist, in this case), therefore one has learned pretty well to avoid those blood vessels.
  3. Piercing becomes safe (it sounds weird, but I bet it's true) if the needle is extremely thin in order not to damage blood vessels in case one has pierced any - the thinner the hole in the blood vessel, the less damage - that's why there was no blood leaking at first.
  4. Now that we know the trick is safe for the magician, we need to have the drama of showing blood - the magician actually had to make the holes in the arm larger by aggressively moving the needle, didn't he, in order to get some blood out? - yes, blood scares people, therefore we have the drama...

Let me go further with my philosophy - Conclusions:

  1. People believe what you tell them to believe.
  2. People hate to change their opinions because they would have to admit they were wrong.
Talking about placebo (i.e. the fake that is delivered as true) at first makes people assume everything will be fake.

Yet, when they are shown the real thing (indeed, the real thing was perfectly safe for the magician but that's not the point here), they shall assume they are still watching something fake - moreover they will anxiously wait to have that expectation confirmed...

Was the talk about placebo?
Only the first part to get you think everything will be about fake things.
What was it about?
Be ready to change the very basic opinions/assumptions you had when you started anything. Yes, you had to see a few drops of blood to reach that conclusion...

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Andrei Olaru for pointing me to this video.

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