Science can explain many things – but it can’t explain these.
Science is a wonderful thing, and without study, questioning, and the scientific method we might well still be a civilization of hunter-gatherers (of course, judging by Civilization, we could potentially still have M1 Abrams tanks somehow). Science has explained things from the creation of life to the formation of the heavens – but as Lauren Admire writes in issue 242 of The Escapist, somethings are still just inexplicable.
The Latin translation of the word placebo, “I shall please,” seems more like a command than a translation. Placebos are sham medicines, but miraculously the sham has been proven to work. In a 2005 study, Dr. Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin in Italy administered morphine to subjects in massive amounts of pain. On the final day of the experiment, he replaced the morphine with a saline solution. The subjects didn’t notice a thing, even though the lack of morphine should have caused the subjects’ pain to return. Here’s the kicker: When Benedetti added naloxone, a drug that blocks the soothing effects of morphine, to the saline solution, the pain relieving effects of the placebo disappeared.
What does this mean? Well, no one really knows. It could mean that the mind can affect the body’s biochemistry, producing hormones which can mimic the effects of whatever medication it’s “emulating.” In the case of the morphine placebo, it seems that the brain was “tricked” into producing its own analgesic compounds called opioids. Naloxone blocks the effects of these natural painkillers as effectively as it blocks the effects of morphine.
To read more about how bizarre the placebo effect truly is as well as three other unexplained mysteries of the universe, check out “Unknown Quantities” in Issue 242 of The Escapist.