Predictably enough, huge numbers of people are apparently placating their feelings of panic at the prospect of falling prey to the coronaviral pandemic by putting their faith in some sort of placebo.
In other words, they’re putting their faith in the belief that some pharmacologically-inert alleged nostrum or else some nonsensically superstitious notion will somehow keep them safe. And, albeit in only a small minority of cases, this apparently works.
Plus, however,implausible this so-called ‘placebo effect’ may be to us sceptics and cynics, medical science so completely accepts its reality that the effectiveness or otherwise of every new drug is determined by administering it to one group of patients and comparing the results obtained in a ‘control’ group of others who unknowingly receive similar doses of an apparently similar but actually inactive or, if you like, harmlessly fake medication.
So it’s an accepted fact that some or all of the seemingly inane if not outright insane varieties of placebo that many people are employing to protect themselves from viral infection, everything from gargling warm water through drinking bear bile or participating in faith-healing sessions to praying for divine assistance, will truly save at least some of them.
But only those few capable of believing so sincerely or obsessively as to achieve sufficient mastery of mind over matter, wishful thinking over sweet reason, or, if you prefer, of fantasy over reality, to activate the placebo effect for themselves.
Many of those who fail in this, however, but nonetheless remain infection-free through sheer good fortune, or else catch the infection but feel few or virtually no symptoms, will falsely attribute their safety or survival to one or more of their favourite fetishes.
And jolly good luck to them, I say, as long as they also join the rest of us in all the medically-recommended or officially compulsory community-protective measures.
But I have no sympathy at all with, indeed feel a great deal of antipathy toward, those hardest of hard-core adherents of various religions who congregate in great numbers to engage in the mind-over-matter placebo of prayer, then don’t mind infectively mingling with the rest of us as if we don’t matter.
The people I do feel sympathy and sorrow for, however, are those who experience not the self-protective or what I suppose you could call the positive-placebo effect, but its opposite.
In other words, people who, far from being capable of achieving a real or even illusory sense of safety by putting mind over matter, suffer the agonies of matter’s asserting itself over their minds.
A situation that has been so widely observed in student doctors, so many of whom at least temporarily experience the symptoms of diseases about which they are being taught that they are said to be afflicted with so-called ‘medical-student syndrome’.
I have to admit here to having often been subject to bouts of this self-inflicted negative-placebo effect myself, but even more embarrassingly so than for student doctors, as I was studying to be a vet at the time, and so the symptoms I found myself feeling through auto-suggestion were not those of human diseases, but of ills exclusive to various animal species.
But what the heck, I suppose we’re all more or less inclined towards medical/veterinary-student syndrome or some other psychosomatic manifestation of what’s commonly called hypochondria, and so I have real fellow feelings for those of us who fancy they feel alarming flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath every time the subject of the dreaded coronavirus/COVID-19 comes up.
Especially in the tiny minority of instances in which tests reveal these symptoms as not just signs of the negative-placebo effect or cases of matter-over-mind, but of the fact that it’s a matter of life and death.
Not, I grant you, that the ‘di’ in ‘diagnosis’ necessarily spells certain death. And in any case, as long as you’re in an age group much, much younger than my maximum-risk one, which to judge by your Facebook selfies pretty-well all of you are, a brief stay in quarantine or hospital should pull you through, even if, for some mysterious reason, your personal favourite placebo somehow fails to.