Placebo? Mesmerism? Witchcraft?




By Atom Bergstrom

Atom’s Blog

Is a sugar pill the best medicine of all?

Both the cure and the side effects are Placebo.

Or maybe Mesmerism? Witchcraft? Positive Mental Attitude?


Daniel J. DeNoon (“50% of Doctors Prescribe Placebos,” WebMD, Oct. 23, 2008) wrote …

“More than half of doctors offer fake prescriptions to make patients feel better — and that’s OK, most doctors say.”

According to the same source …

“Is it appropriate to fool patients this way? Yes, 62% of the doctors say.”


Spencer Timothy Hall (Mesmeric Experiences, 1845) wrote …

“This case has some very curious and important features; and although at present the name of the patient is withheld. I do not think he would have the slightest objection to private reference being made to him regarding it. He is a young gentleman, the son of a highly respectable civil engineer, in one of the midland counties, and is both well educated and deeply read. During my sojourn at Edinburgh last autumn, he wrote me, describing his case, saying that for some years he had been covered from head to foot with the most virulent sores, originating in some mismanagement whilst under the influence of mercury which had never been eradicated from his system, although no means that human knowledge could suggest had been left untried, except mesmerism, to which he was now desirous of resorting as a forlorn hope. The reader will better understand the condition to which he must have been reduced, when told that he was so painfully sore as to be unable to wear his braces or cravat, or to walk from home. Under the circumstances it was impossible he could travel to Edinburgh; and as it was unlikely that I should return to England for some months, it was resolved that he should be influenced, if possible, at that distance — three hundred miles — on the principle that it was as likely for health to travel in a letter as disease.

“I expect my statement of this case to meet with much scepticism and some derision: so be it. It is perfectly true, notwithstanding; and its facts are indicative of some benign influence in nature which is as potent as it is subtle, and will survive when the sceptic’s laugh shall find no echo.

“The object was to use some portable medium that would easily dissolve in water; therefore I took a pill, made up of materials as simple as well as soluble that the chemist smiled whilst he was preparing it for me.* This I held for some time between the palms of my hands, concentrating my mind — my hope — my faith upon the purpose. Then enclosing it in a letter, I gave the patient instructions to dissolve it in a jar of clean spring-water, of which he was to drink a portion every day, and to let me know the result about the time it became expended. He did so, and then wrote me, to my inexpressible delight, that most of his sores had disappeared! On my arrival in London, at the commencement of spring, the patient paid me a visit, and showed me numberless scars of the wounds that had been healed by this simple method, only two now remaining open; and his father, being in town on some parliamentary business, he (patient) made it convenient also to stay about a fortnight, during which time I mesmerised him daily, giving him the most refreshing though not unconscious sleep. During his visit he frequently walked several miles a-day, observing the various sights of the city and suburbs, and at parting with me expressed himself in the most delighted and grateful terms; but I begged of him very earnestly to regard me only as a mere agent in the case, since the influence was from the Source whence flow all our other blessings, and that any better, healthier, and more earnest man might have used it with still more ease and benefit than I had done.”


A footnote (*) is indicated above …

“*There is nothing more convenient for this purpose than a pill of common gum, dipped in flour and enclosed in a small flat box.”

'Placebo? Mesmerism? Witchcraft?' have 5 comments

  1. August 15, 2018 @ 11:39 am Atom

    According to Matthew Luckiesh & August John Pacini …

    “From the study of the chameleon, the power to change the color of skin apparently resides in the sympathetic nervous control which presides over the color-changing cells. When the skin of the chameleon is cocainized (in this fashion its superficial nerve-fibres are temporarily paralyzed) no color changes take place. The frog shows the same reaction, for it cannot produce pigment unless the surface nerve-endings are free to act. Therefore, whether special pigment cells are present or not the production of pigmentation seems at least to be presided over by nerve-influence. We applied these tests to our skin and found that a nerve-action plays an important role in the appearance of pigment. Cocainized and uncocainized skin, exposed to ultraviolet radiation, respectively did and did not pigment. Cocaine also deadens tactile sensation and until the tactile sensation returns from the disappearance of the anesthesia, exposure to ultraviolet radiation apparently is not accompanied by pigmentation.”–e-books.php


  2. August 15, 2018 @ 12:00 pm Atom

    According to Kurt Vonnegut …

    “And we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody else tell you any different.”


  3. August 15, 2018 @ 12:02 pm Atom

    Dennis McNally (Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead, 2002) wrote …

    “When asked how he was reacting to success, [Bob] Weir replied, ‘You know those occasional pistachio nuts that are really tough to open? Now I just throw them out.”


  4. August 15, 2018 @ 12:03 pm Atom

    According to Groucho Marx …

    “I find television very educating. Every time someone turns on the set I go into the other room and read a book.”


  5. August 15, 2018 @ 12:05 pm Atom

    What do you say to a man with two black eyes?

    Nothing, he’s been told twice.


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