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No. 22: Jul-Aug 1982

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Conditioned responses that short-circuit the conscious brain

Don't let the title of this item deter you; this is serious stuff. We all know about the placebo effect. A sick patient improves because he believes he is getting a helpful medicine, even though it is an inert substance. The reverse works, too, at least in experiments with mice. It seems that mice can be conditioned into believing that an ordinarily delectable substance (saccharin and water) gives them stomach pain, by simultaneously injecting them with a pain-producing chemical. Unexpectedly, this chemical also suppressed the immune system of the mice. The mice, of course, knew nothing about the effect on their immune system. Nevertheless, whenever they received saccharin after being conditioned, their immune system was suppressed even though the pain-producing chemical was not administered. While one can imagine the mice consciously associating saccharin and stomach pain, and their brains somehow sending signals that simulated pain, it seems inconceivable that the mice knew anything about their immune system. We have always assumed that the placebo effect (and its reverse) worked because of the subjects' logical association of cause and effect, but evidently there is something else going on here!

(Wingerson, Lois; "Training the Mind To Heal," Discover, 3:80, May 1982.)

Comment. This all opens a rather large Pandora's Box, because it implies that seemingly innocent signals can trigger unrealized reactions. It's something like a post-hypnotic suggestion. Some cause -- not recognized as a cause -- results in an effect -- not consciously related to the real cause. We could all be puppets, not even recognizing the strings that control us!

From Science Frontiers #22, JUL-AUG 1982. 1982-2000 William R. Corliss

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  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

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  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987