Livin' on the MDedge

It’s all about the brains: Guilt placebos, transplants, and negative feelings


Guilt reduction, now in deceptive and open-secret forms

Guilt plagues a lot of us, sometimes regularly. Maybe you felt bad about eating the leftovers that your partner was looking forward to eating at the end of the day. Or for not saving a seat for your friend who was running late to the movies. Maybe even hiding a secret that you know would hurt a person’s feelings. We’ve all felt it, and it doesn’t feel good.

Annie Spratt/Unsplash

But what if there was a pill that would make those feelings seem to hurt less? There’s already a pill for almost everything, right?

Well, researchers from the University of Basel are on the case and have conducted a study suggesting that a placebo might work. They asked participants to write down a time they felt super guilty about something, just to stir up those feelings again, then they were divided into three groups. One group was told they would receive real medication that was actually a placebo, one was told they would get a placebo, and one got nothing. The subjects’ guilty feelings were reduced in both the medication-that-was-really-a-placebo group and placebo-that-was-a-placebo group.

“Our study therefore supports the intriguing finding that placebos work even when they are administered openly, and that explanation of the treatment is key to its effectiveness,” lead author Dilan Sezer said in a written statement.

More research is needed, but the human mind is a very interesting place. It seems like we can convince ourselves of just about anything. Especially to feel less guilty.

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad scientist’s world

Mad scientists. Life’s just more interesting with a few of them running around, but they’re mostly relegated to works of fiction. Real life is boring; we don’t actually have neurosurgeons going around claiming human brain transplant is technically feasible.

Oh, wait a minute.

Best of all, this isn’t even Dr. Sergio Canavero’s first rodeo with mad science: In 2015 he claimed human head transplants were technically feasible, and in the past few years has claimed to have rehearsed head transplants on cadavers and successfully repaired spinal cord injuries in animals. Lots of claims in there, but precious little evidence. And contrary to what everyone at the head enhancement clinic says, people will notice if you start going around with a new head.

But let’s get back to brains. Ignoring the fact that brain transplant sounds like a zombie with a PhD nibbling on your skull, the article does appear in a peer-reviewed journal. So surely there’s some level of legitimacy. After all, it’s not like Dr. Canavero is an editor for this journal. [Editor’s note: By that we mean he is an editor for the journal.]

Man, he’s taking all the fun out of this.

Anyway, now that we’ve prefaced this with the mother of all caveats, what exactly is Dr. Canavero proposing with his brain transplant? It’s pretty simple: Just have a robot scoop out the first brain and place it into a fresh body, either a donated but moribund younger body or a cloned body. Reconnect all the nerves and vasculature and you’re good to go. Enjoy your wine and laugh in the face of death.

Naturally, such a … bold proposal is lacking in the details, but who cares about details, anyway? This is mad science, not respectable science. Professionals have standards. And if we hear that a human brain transplant was successfully completed on a non–dark and stormy night and the doctor didn’t cackle madly “It’s alive! It’s alive!” then honestly, what even was the point?


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