Placebos and objective reality

A placebo is a human intervention that changes the story we tell ourselves. And those stories are powerful. They can alleviate pain, make wine taste better, improve our golf swing and even grow hair.

Because the placebo is so powerful, we spend a lot of time and money on it. Entire industries (like fashion) are built on bringing people something that changes the way they interact with themselves and the world. If you think that copper bracelet is going to relieve your arthritis, it might.

But in the last few generations, we’ve built more and more of our world on a foundation of measured, consistent engineering. There’s nothing you can add to your gas tank that will make your car mileage go up. It doesn’t matter whether you believe the car is running more efficiently–it either is or it isn’t, and it isn’t.

If you’re a maker of placebos, then, it helps to recognize that what you do is change the story. The more a market is based on mutually agreed upon measurements, the less appealing it is to the maker of a placebo.