Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Placebos Becoming More Effective?

Since Imagining the Tenth Dimension began, I've talked a lot about the idea that there are patterns and shapes, fractal structures and waveforms, outside of our spacetime that contribute to the reality we are currently observing. Here's how I described it in Logic vs. Intuition:

"...our world is now starting to move away from scientific materialism (the idea that what we observe around us is all there is to reality, and that everything about our reality is logical and predictable if only we collect enough data). Instead, we're starting to move towards a more holistic paradigm. That's true as we see the growing acceptance that our universe is only one of many, that roughly 96% of our own universe is completely invisible and undetectable, that the way our genes are expressed and even which genes are passed on to our offspring is strongly connected to our attitude and lifestyle, and that our holographic universe comes from the fifth dimension, connected together outside of fourth-dimensional space-time in ways that boggle the mind".
I've also been marveling in the almost four years since this project started at the shifting sands of public opinion, as more and more people find ways to connect my way of visualizing reality to their own schools of thought. In recent blogs like You are the Point and An Expanding 4D Sphere, we arrived back at the conclusion that we are each at the center of a universe which is now continually accelerating its expansion, and in entries like Jumping Jesus and The Stream we've talked about how an acceleration is happening in our meme space just as much as it is in our physical space. There was a great editorial about this acceleration in The New York Times a few days ago, which includes this quote from Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project:
“People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology. College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”
When you're within a system where everything is changing and accelerating, it can be hard to tell what's really happening. The child who is immersed in today's rapid-fire world of instant communication and multi-touch screen displays will grow up seeing that as the expected norm. On the other hand, a person who gradually loses their perception of color or some part of their hearing could go for a long time before they realize that their perception has changed, because the slowly modified version of their senses becomes their expected norm. Here's the tricky part: if the way we are perceiving the world is changing, and the world is changing in the same way, would there be any way for us to tell? We might each go for a long time believing that nothing has changed at all! What we need, then, is some way to gain an objective viewpoint that is outside of our own perception.

My old friend John recently sent me a link to the following article from a few months back in Wired Magazine (thank John, I can't believe I missed this!). The name of the article is "Placebos and Getting More Effective. Drugmakers are Desperate to Know Why". This article, written by Steve Silberman, really is worth reading in its entirety, and I invite you to do so. It begins with a story about pharmaceutical giant Merck, which in 2002 was falling behind its rivals in sales, and planned to regain their status with a new antidepressant codenamed MK-869:

The drug tested brilliantly early on, with minimal side effects, and Merck touted its game-changing potential at a meeting of 300 securities analysts.

Behind the scenes, however, MK-869 was starting to unravel. True, many test subjects treated with the medication felt their hopelessness and anxiety lift. But so did nearly the same number who took a placebo, a look-alike pill made of milk sugar or another inert substance given to groups of volunteers in clinical trials to gauge how much more effective the real drug is by comparison. The fact that taking a faux drug can powerfully improve some people's health—the so-called placebo effect—has long been considered an embarrassment to the serious practice of pharmacology.

MK-869 wasn't the only highly anticipated medical breakthrough to be undone in recent years by the placebo effect. From 2001 to 2006, the percentage of new products cut from development after Phase II clinical trials, when drugs are first tested against placebo, rose by 20 percent. The failure rate in more extensive Phase III trials increased by 11 percent, mainly due to surprisingly poor showings against placebo. Despite historic levels of industry investment in R&D, the US Food and Drug Administration approved only 19 first-of-their-kind remedies in 2007—the fewest since 1983—and just 24 in 2008. Half of all drugs that fail in late-stage trials drop out of the pipeline due to their inability to beat sugar pills.

Okay, you might be thinking, maybe the reason these new drugs aren't working so well in tests is because we've hit some kind of limit in what can be done with pharmaceuticals? Here's where things get really interesting: some older drugs that were previously proven effective and used for successful treatment are also now faring less well when compared to placebos! The article continues:
Some products that have been on the market for decades, like Prozac, are faltering in more recent follow-up tests. In many cases, these are the compounds that, in the late '90s, made Big Pharma more profitable than Big Oil. But if these same drugs were vetted now, the FDA might not approve some of them. Two comprehensive analyses of antidepressant trials have uncovered a dramatic increase in placebo response since the 1980s. One estimated that the so-called effect size (a measure of statistical significance) in placebo groups had nearly doubled over that time.

It's not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.

What do you think? Does the information that the placebo effect is now twice as strong as it was roughly twenty-five years ago not sound like a strong indication that something fundamental about our world (or our interface with the world!) is changing? I would say that as people have become more connected to each other, we are now seeing a new force come into play: more and more of us are gradually waking up to the possibilities. The hard determinists who say we each have no control over our future are being overtaken, and a child born today will assume that people have always had a substantial amount of control over their health and their future: certainly, much more than people raised in the twentieth century were taught to believe was possible. The Wired article has many more fascinating tangents, then concludes with this powerful paragraph:
Ironically, Big Pharma's attempt to dominate the central nervous system has ended up revealing how powerful the brain really is. The placebo response doesn't care if the catalyst for healing is a triumph of pharmacology, a compassionate therapist, or a syringe of salt water. All it requires is a reasonable expectation of getting better. That's potent medicine.
Indeed! In Do Animals Have Souls, I described the old way of thinking this way: "the only thing that matters is matter, and consciousness has no part in the universe we are observing". Why was that viewpoint promoted so aggressively for so many years?

Do you remember the article I published in the North American version of Urban Garden Magazine last year, called "Why the Fifth Dimension is a Dangerous Idea"?. In it, I suggested that it seemed very strange that scientists like Einstein embraced the idea that our reality is defined at the fifth dimension almost a century ago, and yet most of the general public are not familiar with this concept. Could there have been reasons why certain factions would rather we not know just how much power we all really have, and could this be connected to the knowledge that we are navigating within a fifth-dimensional probability space rather than a linear fourth-dimensional "line of time"?

Coming Soon
I'm pleased to tell you that the next issue of Urban Garden magazine will have another article I've written, this one also connects the fifth dimension to the some of the ideas we're talking about in this entry, and in other past entries such as Placebos and Nocebos and Now vs. the Future. The article will be called "Placebos and Nocebos".

Ever hear of the Global Consciousness Experiment? It was a study run by Princeton University which looked for correlations on people's ability to predict what random number would be generated, and discovered that these abilities rose slightly on days when events captured the attention of larger parts of the world population, such as September 11 2001. It also showed that this ability to predict a random number was slowly rising over the course of the study, from 1998 to 2002. More evidence that our awareness and our interface with reality is changing?

In entries like The Long Undulating Snake, What's Around the Corner and Consciousness in Frames Per Second we've looked at other ways of fitting these ideas into my approach to visualizing the dimensions that our reality springs from. There is a beautiful and complex interaction between the observer and the observed happening here, and we can see evidence of that interplay in many surprising ways. We're going to continue this discussion with an upcoming entry called Monkeys Love Metallica.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

P.S. - I should also mention that New Scientist magazine published an article a few months ago called "Placebo Effect Caught in the Act" in which it described how scientists were actually able to track how the brain responded differently to pain when a patient was told a painkiller had been administered but it was really a placebo: more evidence of the amount of power our minds have over the reality we're observing.

Next: Dark Flow


muzuzuzus said...

This is very good, but really the heart of all this is the war on drugs, which is the war on entheogens. war on spirituality and soul

This is why the greeat 'mystery' why 'placebos' work etc

Anonymous said...

I'll try not to be an enormous buzzkill, because I think these ideas are inherently interesting, but at least consider an alternate, more prosaic (and depressing) possibility for why placebos are gaining in efficacy: people are absolutely brainwashed into believing that their ills can be resolved with a little pill. Rampant advertising certainly suggests so; in fact, it's more than a little ironic that the massive campaign of media 'outreach' funded by Pharma has effectively neutralized (or neutered) the chemical advantage of their drugs. Regardless, the fact that placebos work at all suggest that people are often capable of feeling much better than they typically do. Thanks for the neat site!

muzuzuzus said...

Another really important point to do with the whole business of 'anti-depressants' etc:

[Transcript from John Lash Pt.3 & 4)

[regarding the oppressive actions of the multi-national corporations] Beginning Part 3, 7:47 John Lash: We have to draw the line with foods, and the sacred plants [psychedelic/entheogenic plants], they both go together…The designer drugs now that are used for depression, starting with Prozac [etc]. They have been designed by chemists who have studied the psychopharmacology of the sacred plants, and it’s a little bit of a black magic operating here, I think, because what they’re doing here is, instead of saying: “well listen, all the cures for human ills, for neurosis, for depression, and everything are already out there in nature, why don’t we just teach people to find those plants, and use them correctly?”
No, theyre saying, “No we want to make big business out of it, and so it’s really quite perverse, but you [to interviewer] are absolutely right. They work very closely with these traditional plant medicines, and in fact Monsanto…have agents in the Amazon who collect hundreds of plants each week that have been used for thousands of years by the natives, and send them back to the Montano laboratory, and it’s really really very sick for them to do this for they are not only stealing from the people of that region, but they are taking something that nature already gives us, and not letting us know about it in its original form, and then they’re going to turn around and make it into a pill and sell it to us, you know? It’s very very sick. It’s really a kind of black magic, and it’s largely responsible for how sick and crazy and addictive our society is.”

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