Placebo. Consciousness. Sam Harris. Intellectualism.


The concept itself, of course, is rooted in a Western medical paradigm that emphasizes mind/body dualism and pharmacology. Many people think of “placebo” as “not real.” This is inaccurate. “Placebo” means that the effect was not caused by the drug. It does not mean that there was no real effect. It is, in fact, the opposite. The presence of placebo effect, and the fact that we use the term dismissively, is the strongest indication we have that we are very far from understanding the potential of our own minds.

“It’s a placebo effect” means “the effect was measurable, but it was created by the subject’s cognitive processes, rather than the drug.”

There we go.

Of course, if you’re in the business of researching, selling, or funding substances, that’s not helpful information. If, however, you’re in the business of healing, researching or understanding actual human beings, that’s amazing.

Engineer Paramahamsa Tewari points out that:

“The hypothesis of modern science starts from matter as the basic reality, considering space to be an extension of the void. The phenomenon of creation of stable cosmic matter, therefore, goes beyond the scope of present science. The theory also neither pinpoints the source of cosmic energy that resides in the structure of matter, nor can it explain the cause of material properties that are experienced with the behavior of matter.  These are, in brief, the limitations of modern scientific theories at the most basic level of the physical phenomena of nature. When a scientific theory cannot cope with the question of the very origin of the universal matter and energy, how could it ever grasp and explain the phenomenon of consciousness which is evident in living beings?”

Science has always chased down mysteries. Skeptics (of a particular ilk) have always discouraged it, preferring the currently-reigning understanding or paradigm. The workings of human reproduction, the shape of the earth, the fact that the moon is not magic – these things are no longer mysteries.  Neuroscientist Sam Harris defines consciousness as “an experiential internal qualitative dimension to any physical system.”  This dimension remains a mystery, but one that is increasingly gaining status in the scientific community.

Harris is the author of the powerful (and potentially life-changing; I cannot recommend strongly enough!) The End of Faith and the founder of Project Reason, dedicated to “to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.” Long-labeled an atheist for his critiques of religion, Harris views the realm of consciousness experiences as within the domain of scientific inquiry, for, as he points out in his recent book Waking Up:

“it just so happens that this experience of self-transcendence does link up with what we know about the mind through neuroscience to form a plausible connection between science and classic mysticism, classic spirituality. Because if you lose your sense of a unitary self – if you lose your sense that there’s a permanent unchanging center to consciousness, your experience of the world actually becomes more faithful to the facts.”

What we can do with our minds – what we can impact, how we can do it, what it can feel like – are a part and product of consciousness.  Understanding Reiki, or seeking to understand it, does not require a narrative of Divine Light, angels, gods and goddesses or fairies and sprites. We don’t need these stories in order to experience or explain what we do not yet understand of the world, just like we don’t need them to be compassionate, empathic and kind to one another.  Because Reiki emerged from a Buddhist tradition, most Reiki practitioners retain the metaphysical, religious perspective of Buddhist teachings.  Again and as usual, I am with Sam Harris:

“One problem is that most people who teach mindfulness are still in the religion business […] If you are declaring yourself a Buddhist, you are part of the problem of religious sectarianism that has needlessly shattered our world and I think we have to get out of the religion business. […] Despite all the spooky metaphysics and unjustified claims within Buddhism, you can get to the core of it without any faith claim, without being intellectually dishonest.”

Reiki – what it is and what it can do for people – can be experienced without any faith claim.  It should be, because it brings us one step closer to understanding human consciousness, capabilities and experiences.

Thus to dismiss the effects of energy work as “placebo” is to miss the point, for if we can think ourselves to measurable, observable changes in the body, then we do not quite understand how our bodies work. And if we do not understand the process by which placebo works, then we do not understand consciousness.  In that case, we certainly do not understand how we can impact one another through our consciousness and energy.

Placebo is really nothing to take lightly.  It is a window into the potential of consciousness.  One last bit on all this…