Jan 18 2013

Of Placebo and Near Death – Anne Jones

Someone sent me the post and I realised it was actually from the Thunderdome on Pharyngula. I was already halfway through writing a response

Hello, I’m a Christian ID and Creationism advocate, and I’d like to take issue with the scientific method and the derision of Christian beliefs and creationism/ID as established fact. *

Christian belief is no more a fact than Hindu belief. The fact remains that Christian belief is considered fact because It is a triplet of religions 2 of which are extremely aggressive in destroying any other religions. Therefore you don’t see “Other Beliefs” because the guy with the sword made sure there were no other beliefs. And I cannot believe I have to use this quote…

If you tell a lie big enough and you tell it often enough people will eventually believe that it is the truth. Others have fielded the basics so I am going to go into detail into my forte.

Most day early scientists were Christian, and many of them still do believe in God/the soul/the metaphysical/basic creationist theories. In fact, many are brought to this belief by the things they find in science. Why do you think this is, everyone?

No. There were scientists from many other non-christian cultures.

Want to know something cool? I speak (in some cases better than others) 4 out of the 5 languages here. Vanakkam, Namasthe, Marhabba and Hello

Math is one of the most fundamental of all sciences.

Let’s even compare the numbers as a spoken word and you see a lot of similar words for these.

But here is the thing, science isn’t just one person. To demonstrate how much “Christianity” and indeed western civilisation has progressed due to cultural cooperation just look at those numbers. Aren’t they remarkable? It’s one of the greatest inventions in the world. It’s the decimalised mathematics system. Without which you can kiss modern mathematics goodbye, prior to the influx of these numbers western mathematics was clunky, hard to understand and slow.

And these weren’t even created by an Abrahamic faith, it was created by Hindus. The Arabic Numbers we know are actually borrowed from India. where just 9 or 10 symbols (Tamil just leaves the slot blank to represent a zero… a very metaphysical zeroth since it used a more abacus system of numberals – you wrote in grids so blank in grids, later represented by a dot)

It’s clear how related the numbers are with Hindi simplifying the Tamil.

You are of the notion that no other culture on the planet did science which is a terrifyingly “old” notion of western superiority. To point out how terrifying it is you have to remember that people didn’t treat non-western scientists all that well. Satyendra Nath Bose for example had to deal with racists who didn’t think his work was all that hot in his lifetime. The Higgs Boson and indeed the very concept of Bose Einstein Condensates are named after him because he postulated them through his calculations. The only reason he is known about was because Einstein was a nice person.

Bose died without a Nobel Prize. The entire Large Hadron Collider was constructed to find somethings he predicted and if it weren’t for Einstein the world wouldn’t have listened to him. That is the world of science outside of the western hemisphere in the early part of the century. Many people honestly believed a “single western book was more valuable than the entire knowledge of the savage” and so never really listened to our methodologies. The reason you in particular don’t consider any science to have been done outside the west is because you don’t know of any of you are unaware of the cultural appropriation of non western science. Because in many cases when appropriated the people who did the science were never rewarded. They died nameless, mainly because people didn’t think their names were all that important.

Further, the mere existence of the Placebo Effect is evidence that naturalism (which you seem to profess) is wrong. The Placebo Effect could not exist in a purely naturalistic universe where all operates on cause/effect. Given that that placebo has no causative powers, there is no effect possible. And yet the one taking it believes there that powerful medicine is at work, so there is a change (and this has been seen in profound areas like Parkinsons Disease symptoms being reduced by simply believing in the sugar pill). This points to an unembodied consciousness with the ability to impact the physical body.

The Placebo effect is evidence of the fallibility of senses. That they aren’t perfect and that you can be tricked into getting better. The entire point of the placebo effect is that you get better no matter WHAT you do as long as the treatment doesn’t cause active harm.

It’s confirmation bias of the patient towards treatment due to the patient’s faith in the doctor and medicine. It’s the expectations of cure that cause changes to the person’s attitude allowing them to take a more positive outlook towards their condition resulting in better outcomes because a lot of disease is about actually feeling better about yourself.

There are some diseases with NO placebo effect. You can take all the coffee enemas and water dilutions you like but you aren’t going to fix your cataract without surgery. Sham surgery won’t fix it either. It’s all or nothing because the placebo effect cannot possibly work here because sight is an empirical and categorised thing while something like “pain” is subjective. You can claim to have 6/6 vision but I know for a fact that I can test you out and prove comprehensively you are not. But I cannot test pain and the like.

A lot of the placebo effect is basically ATTENTION. I can actually increase the placebo effect by methods. The most effective placebo is sham surgery. Capsules do more than pills. Injections do more than capsules. Paying for the placebo makes it more effect. An odd priced pill is more effective than an even priced pill. The colour matters (yes, many pills are actually more effective if they are red or blue) as does the taste. Bitter medicines do better than sweet.

The placebo effect is based on the expectations of the patient to the doctor. It’s entirely natural. And no Parkinson’s isn’t affected as much as people think, the perception of Parkinson’s is. The patient still has shaking hands and a gait but the patient’s mind thinks he doesn’t.

Add to this things like the peer-reviewed studies by Pim van Lommel (published in the medical journal Lancet) confirming the existence of Near Death Experiences (and by this, I mean extra-body experiences where people have verifiable experiences of people and places and conversations at geographic distance from where their body lies on an operating table…in some cases, these are people born blind who have never seen anything their whole life, but are able to accurately describe what they see while “dead”)…bottom line, atheists, science is on OUR side here!

For this we shall have to go into the physiology of death, in particular an ECG and Cardiac Arrests.

I will not recommend you try ANYTHING I say here. Everything here is super dangerous, this is a medical thought experiment rather than say “ADVICE”. Do not do anything I say. Do not try doing anything unless you are trained, you can straight up kill someone.

When people survive hanging they report flashing lights even if “blind”. When people are choked they notice the same thing too. If you swim and hold your breath for as long as possible you will see the same effect where you suffer vision disturbances if you are stressed for air.

People who have nearly died from oxygen deprivation report the same thing. Vivid vivid hallucinations. Oxygen being the key.

Well to start with let’s get some classifications out of the way. Pim did a study of Cardiac Arrests, there are two kind of cardiac arrests. Shockable and Non-shockable, the issue with the Pims study was he NEVER mentioned the veracity of details in his study nor the type of cardiac arrest.

On TV they show people shocking a non-shockable patient. A Flat Lined Patient has no heart rate, shocking it won’t do anything. The electric shock administered via paddle is designed to STOP a heart. It’s to treat fibrillations.

That’s what a treatable ECG trace looks like. Not the flat line. The flat line means that there is nothing to start, you just intubate the patient and keep pumping oxygen and compressing the chest and HOPE the heart restarts. The race is on to give adrenaline and HOPE that there is sufficient electrical activity in the heart to restart beating.

Otherwise you have to note time of death.

Now what’s going on for the patient? Remember getting choked? Well the patient is getting choked in a different way. The blood isn’t circulating. This means that the patient’s body is being starved of oxygen, every second cells are dying and it’s cells that cannot be replaced. This is stressful and the body releases stress hormones.

When cells in the brain die they release their transmitters or they fail to remove transmitters. This causes altered perception and hallucinations. An Near Death Experience is your brain dying, which is why Muslims seldom see Jehovah during one, because their brains are wired to see Allah. It’s why you see the things you do.

But here is the thing, just because you are unconscious doesn’t mean your body cannot hear things. What? You think your ears stop working when you are asleep? Then how does an alarm clock work? If you are unconscious you still hear things on a subconscious level and in the altered state of anaesthesia and the hormones you can easily hallucinate stuff that you THINK is going on.

Which is why if you asked my patients about a heart attack they would say CPR was done in the hospital not the paddle shock… because they don’t KNOW about the shock because the paddles are a relatively new addition and they aren’t as widespread in usage in the public. Major hospitals have them but not many rural care centres. Which is why people who have survived a non-shockable heart attack have mentione NDE’s involving the paddles (because that is what they see on TV and so they think it’s happened).

But ultimately the NDE is due to the stress of dying and your body plain shutting down. It’s why Hindus don’t see Jesus when they die.

Atheists have to take a few things on faith, one of which being that our senses provide a fairly comprehensive picture of the world around us. We know this to be FALSE. However we know that what we see is a pretty accurate enough representation of the world to survive with and we can INCREASE our perception of the world through technology.

A simple demonstration is this. You trust what you see with your eyes right?

But this is basically the same flower under UV. Humans don’t see in UV but bees do. So they would see the red and white stripes while we mainly see it as yellow. Flowers do not exist to keep humans happy but to spread pollen and in this case by attracting bees.

What we see in comparison to the spectrum of EM emission (Again click to read more from the website)

Our senses ARE limited, we honestly believed in just the small wavelength range of visible light for a long long time. HOWEVER by experimentation we tested this widely known fact of light and found out we were wrong. Really really wrong.

We then invented a way to see how wrong we were, to discover the full range of how narrow our senses really were.

That’s the thing, science keeps testing itself. There is absolutely no evidence of there being any god let alone Jehovah who tells you that you should totally stone the gays…

Because all of that is based on a frighteningly huge pile of unqualified assumptions with absolutely no evidence for. Your literal argument is “there is no conclusive proof that Jehovah doesn’t exist so he exists”. You cannot test for such a being because every time we come up with a blank you just claim he is hiding.

It’s an untestable piece of faith that you are trying to associate with science. Which is just not how science works.

Science works on testable hypothesis not fairies. The same argument you make can be used to explain Brahma and you have absolutely no proof against the existence of the Hindu gods IF we were to take your philosophical argument as true. Which we don’t.

One of the joys of science is that in testing your assumptions about the world you strengthen your faith because you are genuinely explaining how the world works.

It’s why prayer hasn’t cured a single leper while science has nearly eradicated the disease. It’s why science has cured more lepers than Jesus claims to have.


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  1. 1


    Jones is highly unlikely to listen, but there may be many watching who will. Very nicely done.

  2. 2

    I doubt that you could persuade Ms Jones of anything but she and people like her are still valuable. As otrame points out there are others watching.
    When Galileo wrote the dialogue he included a character named Simplicio to present the common but mistaken side of the argument. Anne Jones is our Simplicio.
    The rest of us learn by following the dialogue.

  3. 3
    Fizzing thru da Fizzics

    Thanks for that, wonderfully illuminating as always, as a physics person, the squishy bits are endlessly fascinating

  4. 4

    On another blog some type of Christian was arguing that the placebo effect proves that faith (and possibly prayer) works. I told him a problem with that is that placebos just tend to fix subjective symptoms, like pain, and not the underlying medical condition. The other problem is it works by deception. If I say “Here, take this tic-tac for the pain” instead of saying “take this new pain-killer which has been doing great in studies” it won’t be there.

  5. 5

    I and others have noted that the Christian ID and Creationism advocates never provide science to support their claim. Even the people that claim to do science for ID and Creationism don’t publish supportive science. All one gets from ID and Creationism is how bad they pretend science and evolution theory is. Sad really.

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