The Impossibility of the Inert: Placebo and the Essence of Healing

The concept of placebo is predicated on the opposition between active and inert, deploying this opposition to assert that an action or substance with no inherent active principle can have a paradoxical effect “as if” it were active.1 My thesis is that there is no such thing as the inert in human affairs, relationships, or experience. Think of the …


Give me the fear!

Narcologist Vyacheslav Davidov (Photo: Gregory Warner)

A couple of months ago I got an email from Gregory Warner, the health reporter for NPR’s Marketplace, who told me that he wanted to discuss my work.  Gregory had just returned from Moscow, where he had visited a clinic which treated alcoholism with what seemed to be some very strange techniques.  …


Psychoanalytic metaphors and mythical medical realities in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s contribution to medical anthropology

There are few subject areas in anthropology untouched by the seminal thought of the late Professor Claude Lévi-Strauss. Though he published only two or three essays concerned expressly with medical subject matter, his theorization in those places of the role of myth and shamanistic authority in symbolic/magical healing opened up questions with lasting significance. I would like to briefly review …