Of Placebos and minds

Arnold Kling, an economist by training and many things in practice, has this story of how Swiss mountaineers, having lost their way, high up in Swiss alps, navigated their way back to safer terrain using a map which, on inspection, turned out to be the wrong map. This story is attributed to Professor Daniel Kahneman who wrote the famous, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’.

This story reminds me of the strong effect of Placebo. The wrong map played the role that placebos play in curing illnesses. The map was practically useless but it tricked the minds of the mountaineers into believing that it was the real thing. Dr. Vidyasagar, at the University of Texas at Dallas wrote to me that the effect of placebos in cancer  cure is real. He highly recommended the reading of ‘Emperor of all maladies’.

The power of placebos to cure by tricking the mind leads me to wonder whether the mind is a powerful thing or a vulnerable thing to trickery. OF course, it is both. The answer will be that ‘it is up to us’ to make it powerful than it really is, etc., etc.

If it is so ‘gullible’, we are missing a big opportunity here to tame it by letting ourselves be willing victims of many of its tricks. Underscores the importance, in a way, of non-cognitive skills. That is what Aparajitha Foundation’s ‘Life Skills Programme‘ aims to address in its own way (Disclosure: I am one of the Trustees of the Foundation).

One thought on “Of Placebos and minds

  1. Pingback: Of economics, zoos and foxes | The Gold Standard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s