Law of Attraction Arguments, Part 13: “Placebo Effect”

Titlepic: Law of Attraction Arguments, Part 13: 'Placebo Effect'

How is Farber’s ‘Placebo Effect’ argument against the Law of Attraction constructed? Can it prove that the Law of Attraction is not really true?

KEYWORDS: arguments, belief, law of attraction, philosophy, placebo effect, placebos, positive effect, psychology, thinking, thought.

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Note: This article is part of a series on arguments against the Law of Attraction. All articles in this series are available from the overview page called “Law of Attraction: Is It Real?

This is my thirteenth article on Neil Farber’s arguments against the Law of Attraction (see “The Truth About the Law of Attraction“). This time it is about the “Placebo Effect” argument.

So what I am going to do today is to try to understand the workings of his “Placebo Effect” argument. And in my usual manner, I am proceeding in two distinct steps.

My first step is to understand the logic of his argument, in terms of how each proposition is related to the other propositions. And then I am going to reformulate what he is saying (and is not saying) so that we will get a reconstruction of the whole argument. This then may or may not include some things that he has not explicitly mentioned, but for some reason have omitted (whether deliberately or not).

And once that reconstruction is done, I will then look at each of the propositions to see if they are true, as well as relevant to the whole argument. So the big question is: Does Farber have a good argument as a whole here? Is it valid? Is it sound? Let’s find out!

PART 1: THE ARGUMENT

Here is the “essence” of Farber’s “Placebo Effect” argument:

“If you are only going to be satisfied with perfect results — perfect health, perfect body, perfect family, perfect marriage, perfect friendships, perfect kids, perfect house, perfect job, perfect life; you are in for a perfect disappointment. Research studies support this.”

So Farber’s idea main here is that those persons who want a “perfect” life will be disappointed. According to Farber, there is no such thing.

And to show that some authors of the Law of Attraction is promoting a “perfect” life, he is referring to a quote from Rhonda Byrne who says in The Secret (2006, p. 131):

“You can think your way to the perfect state of health, the perfect body, the perfect weight, and eternal youth. You can bring it into being, through you consistent thinking of perfection.”

And then Farber goes on to talk a little bit about research and why this thinking may result in disappointment.

So I will now reconstruct the argument, to see how good (or bad) it is.

Argument 13: “Placebo Effect”

Here is how I have reconstructed Farber’s “Placebo Effect” argument (Argument 13):

P1.Placebos are inactive, ineffective substances, usually in the form of a pill.

P2.But when people use placebos in experiments, studies have found that they install a faith in the person who takes them. In fact, the greater expectations the person has who is taking such a placebo, the greater the chance of a positive outcome.

P3.So the positive effect is not created by any biochemical reactions of the placebo pill interacting with the body, but by the person’s own strong belief.

P4.This effect is found also in some practitioners who believe in the Law of Attraction teachings. And it is also found in other circumstances, for example when rubbing a rabbit’s foot, or tossing a coin in the fountain, etc.

P5.So a belief in the Law of Attraction is no better than a placebo pill or the rubbing a rabbit’s foot.

P6.Therefore, the Law of Attraction is false.

PART 2: MY RESPONSE

Here in Part 2 the plan is as follows. For each of the five propositions I will check whether they are true or not. And then, I will evaluate the argument as a whole, to see if it is valid and sound. Let’s go!

Proposition P1: Placebos Are Inactive

So let’s first start with proposition P1. It goes like this:

P1.Placebos are inactive, ineffective substances, usually in the form of a pill.

This is more or less the standard definition of a placebo pill or substance. There is nothing in particular to comment on here. Therefore, we may consider proposition P1 to be true.

Proposition P2: Greater Expectations

This is proposition P2:

P2.But when people use placebos in experiments, studies have found that they install a faith in the person who takes them. In fact, the greater expectations the person has who is taking such a placebo, the greater the chance of a positive outcome.

All right. So while proposition P1 above was about the placebo pill itself, proposition P2 here is about the placebo effect.

And the placebo effect is the idea that, even though the placebo pill is inactive, there is still some kind of positive result from it. And this result comes from the patient’s expectation that the pill is having a positive effect on their health. This is why Warren Tryon says (1994, p. 313): [notes 1 and 2]

“Placebo effects, by definition, are mediated by expectation. Inert substances by definition, placebos can reduce pain (produce analgesia) or function as tranquilizers or stimulants (alter mood) if one strongly expects such effects.”

This expectation is naturally only possible because the patient has not been informed that it is a placebo pill. So the patient still thinks that it is a “real” pill, with some “real” biochemical action that is relevant to his or her particular condition.

In any case, there is little to complain about here. So we will consider proposition P2 to be true.

Proposition P3: Strong Beliefs

Here is proposition P3 in Argument 13:

P3.So the positive effect is not created by any biochemical reactions of the placebo pill interacting with the body, but by the person’s own strong belief.

So here then we draw the conclusion that expectations is more or less nothing else than beliefs. So it’s the strong belief (i.e. the expectation) that creates the placebo effect, not the placebo pill.

Therefore, P3 is true.

Proposition P4: Rubbing a Rabbit’s Foot

Proposition P4 in Argument 13 goes like this:

P4.This effect is found also in some practitioners who believe in the Law of Attraction teachings. And it is also found in other circumstances, for example when rubbing a rabbit’s foot, or tossing a coin in the fountain, etc.

This is a good point. The placebo effect is not just about placebo pills. It is about everything that creates a belief in a certain outcome. So if you think that the rubbing of a rabbit’s food will have a certain positive effect, then you will see that positive effect.

In other words, whether you believe in the Law of Attraction or believe in the process of rubbing a rabbit’s foot is irrelevant. All that matters is that you have a belief that it will help in giving you a certain positive outcome.

So we will have to say that proposition P4 is true.

Proposition P5: Law of Attraction vs Placebo

Here is proposition P5 in Argument 13:

P5.So a belief in the Law of Attraction is no better than a placebo pill or the rubbing a rabbit’s foot.

Well, this is an interesting proposition. But to understand what it says, we have to make some distinctions.

One important clarification is this. For the purpose of inducing the placebo effect, a belief in the Law of Attraction is no better than a placebo pill or the rubbing of a rabbit’s foot. Sure, so this is basically proposition P4 that I previously discussed.

And why is that? Because the placebo effect has nothing to do with a belief in the Law of Attraction. For it is well demonstrated by people with all kinds of belief systems. So it’s a belief in something that creates this effect. Thus, for the purpose of generating the placebo effect, a belief in the Law of Attraction is not necessary (where did Farber get that idea from?).

But there are many purposes where a belief in the Law of Attraction is a million times better than the rubbing of a rabbit’s foot. Take for instance the whole educational field: how are you going to keep yourself motivated in this world of war, rape, human trafficking, mafia dominance, contagious diseases, etc., if you are not informed about what is actually going on here? How can you establish a joyful and successful life without becoming a cynic or severely depressed?

So we need the knowledge of the Law of Attraction not to manifest some small things (Farber mentions “finding money on the street, getting a check in the mail, hearing from a long-lost friend”), but to be able to take us up from the negative half of the negativity-positivity spectrum (where the overwhelming majority are) to the positive half, where all the fun and joy is.

Therefore, we can evaluate this in two ways. The first possibility is that we simply say that P5 is true, and that we go with Farber’s idea (which he doesn’t explicitly state) that, for the sake of generating the placebo effect, a belief in Law of Attraction is no more effective than (or just as effective as) the belief that the rubbing of a rabbit’s foot is beneficial.

The second possibility is that we say that P5 is false. For a belief in Law of Attraction may help us in other, more profound ways. It may educate us about the purpose of our existence, and about why other people act like they do, and why the world is seemingly so chaotic (according to the news). And this may then motivate us in such a way that we can escape the negative zone that most people are in, and we can transform our lives to become much more happy and successful.

And I will elaborate on these two possibilities in proposition P6 below.

Proposition P6: Law of Attraction Is False

Here is proposition P6 in Argument 13:

P6.Therefore, the Law of Attraction is false.

Whether P5 is true or not, proposition P6 cannot be concluded as true. Why? Because Farber has just proven the exact opposite himself.

As weird as this sounds, let me explain. What Farber apparently does not realize (or realizes, but doesn’t want to mention), is that the “placebo effect” is nothing but the workings of the Law of Attraction. So the existence of the “placebo effect” does not disprove the Law of Attraction; rather, it does the exact opposite: it validates the existence of the Law of Attraction.

And I am not the only one who has observed this. Here’s what Rhonda Byrne says in The Secret (2006, p. 139):

“The placebo effect is an example of the law of attraction in action. When a patient truly believes the tablet is a cure, he receives what he believes and is cured.”

So we have to distinguish between two things: “a belief in the Law of Attraction” on the one hand, and “the existence of the Law of Attraction” on the other. Since a belief in the Law of Attraction is not necessary for the creation of the placebo effect (i.e. that the Law of Attraction is existing), a belief in the Law of Attraction is therefore irrelevant in terms of trying to disprove the existence of the Law of Attraction.

Thus, even if we were to choose the first possibility in P5 (i.e., that we considered P5 to be true), it is not relevant to the conclusion made in P6. For whether you believe in the Law of Attraction, or believe in the efficacy of rubbing a rabbit’s foot, the “placebo effect” is still there. In other words, the existence of the Law of Attraction is still there.

All in all, P6 is false.

CONCLUSION

Farber’s “Placebo Effect” argument (Argument 13) is not a sound one. For you don’t have to believe in the Law of Attraction in order to get the placebo effect. And since the placebo effect is nothing but the Law of Attraction in action, proposition P6 is not true.

Therefore, Farber’s argument fails. So the Law of Attraction can still be 100% true. And it is.

To learn more about the Law of Attraction, you are very welcome to my “intro” page called “Master the Law of Attraction”. Perhaps that page might inspire you to a new kind of life?

Chris Bocay

NOTES

  1. It is interesting to see that the unnamed author of the entry “Placebo Effect” in the Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology (second edition), does not want to commit to the idea that it is a person’s expectations (or beliefs) that is the cause of the placebo effect: “For reasons not completely understood, the patients given the placebo have experienced the effects of the drug without actually taking it.” But then, a few lines further down, while describing the long history of the placebo effect, the article says: “It is believed that patients’ expectations that their condition will improve plays a major role in producing the placebo effect” (2001, p. 502b). So the anonymous author seems to be saying something like this: “We are scientists, not believers in folk psychology. So even though some people previously have attributed this effect to expectation or belief, we don’t. It cannot simply be an effect of some expectations or beliefs; it must be something else, something more substantial, such as a chemical or something.” But even if that anonymous author would find an increase in some chemical substance in the body of certain subjects, that would not, of course, invalidate the theory that those chemical substances are created by the person’s expectations or beliefs anyway. In other words, if a researcher is cent percent against the idea that the mind can be a causal factor, then, of course, there will never be any scientific proofs that will suffice for him or her.
  2. Luckily though, many scientists (including Farber, it seems) do realize the power of the mind, and have little difficulty in accepting expectation and belief as true causal factors behind the placebo effect. For example, in the section “Placebo, Hope, and Expectancy”, Hubble and Miller describe the research done by Lambert (1992) in relation to the placebo effect. Their conclusion is this: “The curative effects, therefore, are not thought to derive specifically from a given treatment procedure; they come from the positive and hopeful expectations that accompany the use and implementation of the method” (2004, pp. 341-342). And Hamilton and Timmons (Rutgers University) are also accentuating the causal power of the mind: “In the case of pain relief, for example, it is now clear that placebo effects are the result of the body’s release of endogenous opiates in response to the belief that a drug was given” (1994, p. 138).

REFERENCES

  • Byrne, Rhonda (2006), The Secret. London: Simon & Schuster UK. [Link to book]
  • Hamilton, Leonard W., and C. Robin Timmons (1996), “Psychopharmacology” in Andrew M. Colman, Companion Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2 vols. Volume 1. Reprint. First published in 1994. London and New York: Routledge. [Link to book]
  • Hubble, Mark A., and Scott D. Miller (2004), “The Client: Psychotherapy’s Missing Link for Promoting a Positive Psychology” in P. Alex Linley and Stephen Joseph, eds., Positive Psychology in Practice. Foreword by Martin E. P. Seligman. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. [Link to book]
  • “Placebo Effect” in Bonnie Strickland, ed. (2001), The Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. Detroit, MI: Gale Research. [Link to book]
  • Tryon, Warren W. (1994), “Expectation” in V. S. Ramachandran, ed., Encyclopedia of Human Behavior. 4 vols. Volume 2: Coping – Interpersonal Perception and Communication. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, Inc. [Link to book]

Copyright © 2022 by Chris Bocay. All rights reserved.

First published: Sun 18 Sep 2022
Last revised: Sun 18 Sep 2022

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