As I was scrounging around the internet for unsolved mysteries the other day (I found my bag, by the way!), I came across one of the most puzzling phenomena in existence. We have all heard of the placebo effect, and we know that it is real, but it makes no sense! Two people can take two different pills, one full of medicine and the other full of sugar and dreams, and if both recipients are told that they got the medicine, they will both get better. What?! Is this like thinking I could fly if only I believed hard enough? How could this possibly be true? And in that case, why have medicine at all? Why not just give everyone sugar pills for everything and be done with it? Ah, but we would figure it out, and then all would be lost.
Or would it? The craziest thing about the placebo effect is that it still works if you figure it out! If you were the one who got the sugar pill, and they tell you you got the sugar pill, your healing does not instantly cease. Your body is already on the track to wellness and no contrary information is going to steer you from it! Our bodies are somehow hardwired to reject facts if they contradict what we already believe. Which brings me to politics.
This election cycle has been heralded as the death of facts. Donald Trump tells the truth (according to Politifact), only 4% of the time. And yet his supporters do not care. In fact I am positive that someone out there is thinking that Politifact must be biased and that even these cited, noted, and provable statistics are themselves lies. Hillary Clinton tells the full truth 24% of the time which, I might add, doesn’t seem that stellar either, but it sure beats 4%. But have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone about one of these lies? Have you ever brought concrete evidence that something is either true or false, and then been told that it will not change someone’s incorrect mind? If you have never had your solid proof refuted for no reason whatsoever, then you are clearly not a parent.
The placebo effect is pretty much the best parenting tool ever. Another word for it is “lying.” Sorry kids, we’re out of cookies. See? They are living full and happy lives with no worry that there is an extra cookie that someone else is getting. Does it matter whether or not there are actually cookies? Of course this can come back to bite you in the parental patootie. Kids! Let’s eat cookies! “But DAD! We’re OUT of cookies!” Oh yeah…I forgot… Ok, no cookies for anyone then.
And of course I can present irrefutable scientific proof that earlier bedtimes will increase productivity, longevity, and happiness in general. And they will refute the heck out of it. They do not care about evidence. They do not care about facts. They care about staying up late and doing whatever they want! And nothing I can ever say or do will convince them otherwise. They are basically stereotypical American votes. And it’s hard to blame them. I never believed it either. Maybe that’s why I’m so tired.
I have no idea why otherwise perfectly reasonable people succumb to the placebo effect and believe lies over truths, but I do know where it happens. It happens in medical studies, on Facebook, and in my living room. On a daily basis. And, heaven help us all, I don’t know how to stop it.
And even if I did, you’d never believe me.