Sunday Best – June 9, 2019

On placebos and care.


I attended a wonderfully creative gathering of scientists thanks to the Santa Fe Institute recently, where we briefly discussed the placebo effect. The shorthand definition for placebo is that it’s a substance that has no therapeutic effect, but really it is a substance that is not designed to have a therapeutic effect.

The effects, in fact, are undeniably real.

Placebos don’t directly create physical changes, but they do lessen pain. They do focus attention and intention. They do become part of a ritual of care.

This dynamic is true in other settings, too. Recently I was restless in my apartment, convinced I had to move. But once I had nourishing food in the refrigerator and the laundry was put away, my home was suddenly more homelike. Similarly, I spend a lot of time thinking about the structural flaws of our current form of capitalism, but some of these flaws are not structural at all – they are a simple lack of care.

Sometimes what needs to be changed is a cholesterol level or a leaky roof or a voting rights structure. And sometimes – always – what is also needed is care. Care is not free; it takes time and attention and sometimes it hurts. But all the clever invention in the world cannot replace it.

Dear friends, as we work to transform treatments and structures and systems,

let’s also take care.



* You can learn more about the Santa Fe Institute and the amazing Interplanetary Festival here.  And this week’s photo is from the beautiful Garrison Institute, with thanks to dear friends at New Summit Investments.

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