QUOTE: I’m now thinking about a larger issue still. If placebo medicine can induce people to release hidden healing resources, are there other ways in which the cultural environment can "give permission" to people to come out of their shells and to do things they wouldn’t have done in the past? Can cultural signals encourage people to reveal sides of their personality or faculties that they wouldn’t have dared to reveal in the past? Or for that matter can culture block them? There’s good reason to think this is in fact our history. Go back 10 or 20,000 years ago. Eccentricity would not have been tolerated. Unusual intelligence would not have been tolerated. Even behaving "out of character" would not have been tolerated. People were expected to conform, and they did conform, because they picked up the cues from their environment about the right and proper—the adaptive—way to behave. In response to cultural signals people were in effect policing their own personality.
Very provocative ideas put together by Prof. Humphrey.
If placebo works, and it does, and even though we are not sure exactly how it works, I think the good Professor is on the right track, the placebo enables people to release hidden healing energies. If that is the case, can we create some other sorts of placebos which would enable people to activate other healthy sides of their personality?
I think it possible and quite likely. It is certainly arguable that our culture is moving in that direction, where there is less tolerance for, and therefore policing of, negative and destructive behaviors (as Pinker has in his latest opus).
As Humphrey reports in his article, "If [placebo] is the way humans and animals manage their physical health, there must surely be a similar story to be told about mental health. And if mental health, then—at least with humans—it should apply to personality and character as well. So I’ve come round to the idea that humans have in fact evolved a full-blown self management system, with the job of managing all their psychological resources put together, so as to optimise the persona they present to the world.
This leads me to ways in which we can and should create positive social environments where we can thrive. There is no part of this environment that cannot be artificial, in my view. you read right, it MUST be artificial. I must carefully select to bring health-enabling people in my life, as well as health-enabling challenges. This is one of the reasons that love of anything apart from God and your neighbor is the root of all evil.
I am not saying that I want yes-men/women around me. I do not think that is health-inducing either. Yes-men are for psychological health, like fast food are for physical health. Having said that, avoid toxic people. You know who they are.
As a final twist on this look for challenges. When someone pushes yoru buttons it is not good to run off saying "toxic! toxic!" Good mental health requires introspection, and a toxic relationship requires two elements – it is a cocktail! How much of the toxicity is cause because you (or I) bring in the dangerous element into the mix? Can I stop doing that?