Wednesday, May 06, 2009
[Stuart Blackman's] article, "Why health warnings can be bad," began by describing the nocebo effect. That's the powerful phenomenon of developing the most extraordinary physical symptoms when we believe or fear that something is bad for us. It's the negative stepsister of the placebo effect and the full significance of both isn't understood by many people. The nocebo effect is behind the confirmation for most food fears, for example. People who've been taught to believe certain foods are bad for them actually feel sick, experiencing such things as headaches, chest pain, nausea and indigestion, rashes, cough, congestion, weakness and fatigue, and even paralysis when they believe they've eaten them. It's the stepsister of the placebo effect, at work when we feel healthier after eating foods or taking dietary supplements we believe are healthy.I would not be surprised to find that some statists grasp this, if not explicitly, then on the level of low cunning or at least or opportunism. The Financial Times article notes:
"It's quite remarkable how the illnesses that are increasing at the moment are not the big, killer diseases, grounded in real, physical pathology," says David Wainwright. "It's the subjective problems of everyday life that are becoming medicalised, where there's no actual evidence of any physical illness. "Even hassles at work are interpreted through the medicalised category of work stress rather than political or industrial relations issues" – a practice that Wainwright says is promoted by government agencies. "Health policy is promoting this belief that we're all at risk from absolutely everything we come into contact with, and that just encourages us to feel more vulnerable and to interpret our normal experiences as health problems. It's all just amplifying this epidemic of non-specific illness, which has incredibly disabling effects on people." [bold added]Perhaps as the Obama Administration attempts to speed us down the primrose path to socialized medicine and nanny-state paternalistic hell, it should consider revising its de facto motto of, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," by adding, "or pass up the opportunity to cultivate a fake one."
Top Ten (Paper) Notebooks
Both my new Levinger's Pocket Briefcase and the Pulse Livescribe "smart pen" Martin Lindeskog favors made this list of "10 Great Notebooks Productive People Love over at Lifehack. There are some other interesting options there I'd never heard of before, too.
So far, I like my Pocket Briefcase, but as with my All-Ett, I'm taking my time getting used to it. In this case, it isn't that I'm ambivalent about it. I definitely like it, but I am trying to figure out how best to use its limited space and how to integrate it into the rest of my personal productivity system. It's like I'm trying to decide whether I have a low-tech PDA, an "outboard brain", or an auxiliary wallet, if that makes any sense.
Dismuke has brought three interesting items about Texas to my attention recently:
- Some policemen operating out of Teneha, Texas may be using drug law as a pretext to commit highway robbery. I seem to remember stories like this popping up about a decade ago from East Texas and southern Louisiana.
- The original recipe of Dr. Pepper, which was invented in Texas, surfaced recently and is being put up for auction. As it turns out, an antiques buff bought the recipe -- and discovered he had it -- quite by accident.
- Dismuke, on hearing that our Secretary of State seems to recognize Texan independence, jokes that, "Perhaps this means we don't have to pay Federal income taxes anymore!"
The "Uncanny Valley"
Some time ago, I read a piece concerning the question of whether cloned Neanderthals would have rights. The piece framed the question badly, but it did at one point introduce me to an interesting idea from the field of robotics, the "uncanny valley hypothesis:
"[Masahiro] Mori's hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion. However, as the appearance and motion continue to become less distinguishable from a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once more and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.From my own experience, I remember always being puzzled by the popularity of that creepy -- to me, anyway -- "dancing baby" that seemed to be all over the Internet a decade or so ago. (Yes, some people are still making animations of it.) I think my reaction to the baby would qualify as an "uncanny valley" type of experience.
The ensuing discussion at Wikipedia is littered with modernist misconceptions like "instinct", but I think that Mori on to something interesting: If an emotion is an automated response to one's value judgments, then how does one respond to something one apparently can't successfully categorize automatically?