The human brain is a prediction machine. It takes what it already knows and applies it to new information to make sense of it. Expectation is both the brain’s job description and its currency – to the point where, if the brain experiences “A” and expects “B,” and “B” doesn’t happen, the brain will create “B” on its own.
Thus, the bane of Big Pharma’s existence: the placebo effect. (In 1963, the FDA instituted a new mandatory third phase to drug trials, in which a new drug had to outperform a placebo. When they went back and tested older drugs that had previously been approved, more than 1000 had to be taken off the market. Big Pharma now spends billions of dollars a year trying – and frequently failing – to get new drugs to beat a placebo.)
The placebo effect does not imply that most people are suckers. It points to the fact that the brain has its own powerful pharmacy, and that, very often, what the brain expects, it gets.
That the implications of this extend far beyond the pharmaceutical industry should go without saying. An expectation is a story. (“When I take this pill, I feel better.”) The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world create expectations. Once the expectation is set, our brain will do everything it can to make sure it will be fulfilled.
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