Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Placebo Effect Envy

With the news in the New Scientist that the Placebo Effect is real, (placebos delivers an opioid hit to the brain), it is not a great leap to conclude that Marx's dictum "Religion is the opium of the people" is even more apposite and literal than he intended. It seems quite likely that the sense of a Godlike presence delivers an opioid hit, creating a sense of meaning, comfort and purpose. The problem for atheists is that this opiate rush seems to be predicated upon believing that the source of strength is external to the self.

Marx thought the opioid hit a problem, but it seems quite likely that if someone is comfortable with effort, they are more likely to face it. They are more likely to set about looking after their families, working hard and enjoying their time.

So, given its possibly desirable effects, and given that the placebo effect seems to require a belief in an exterior force, how can atheists, agnotics, humanists and such-like, access it's power? Recent conversations with two atheists have offered some insights. To one, it was simply not a problem. The question surprised him entirely. He sets about his life with the required energy, confidence, excitement and peace. To the other, it is a matter of recognising the good.

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