Tuesday, April 17, 2012



Easter rushed up and flew past with that huge creamy moon watching it all. I thought there would be time for stillness and thought, and gardening and musing, and reading and listening. There was a little of each but the days got lost somewhere. We did have a big lunch on Easter Sunday. I cooked and I think it went well. The house was dressed and I lit candles. Just had to.

Growing up at this time of year I remember quite fondly, with blind belief in the Christian spin that was put on what is really an ancient reawakening celebration. Our family was serious about the Christ and the resurrection, and the Easter services in the (fabulous now I look back on it) Spanish revival Catholic Church on the hill were exciting. There was the bleak sombre guilt trip of Good Friday, all the statues draped in black, and then the thrill of staying up late on Saturday for the 11pm service, where outside the doors to the church a big 44 gallon drum was filled with burning wood, and we would light candles and walk solemnly into the darkened church, in readiness for midnight when the celebrants would walk in, more candles, lights turned on, flowers revealed, statues uncovered again in all their gaudy plaster glory, incense, bells, and a choir and organ and singing. I didn't think too much to about it all really, except that it was now Sunday, and Lent was over and feasting was on. Mum cooked and Dad hid eggs in the garden.

That was a long time ago. In just about every respect you can possibly think of.

It wasn't till a bitterly ear-achingly cold Easter in New York that I came to appreciate what this time was all about. After all, it was Autumn where I'd grown up. Awakening wasn't on the agenda. The bulbs and the blossons were bursting in Central Park, where we rode with a blanket over our knees, pulled by a fine horse called Speedo. The Dogwoods were blooming down in the village (we stay at Washington Square), and a new beginning was starting to make sense.

All of which leads, if obliquely, to something that has long fascinated me and what this time of year (and the overcoming of the forces of darkness) is all about - the (wait for it) - placebo effect. Bet you didn't expect that!

From an informal interview with psychologist and Emeritus Professor Nicholas Humphrey, with Richard Dawkins asking the questions, here's something to ponder. (I don't necessarily endorse, especially some of the specifics, of this, the first of a series of four)

More reading here.


Scott said...

The Dogwood in our yard where I grew up brings back fond memories. My mother loved it. A great all around native tree. Delicate blossoms, brilliant fruit, stunning fall foliage,great form,sweet texture.
Humphrey's ideas make perfect sense to me. He's not dissing modern medicine, he's praising the power of positive thinking.

Susan Scheid said...

Ah, spring blossoms, the best tonic of all. As for traditional and alternative medicine, it's a complicated equation. It absolutely can't be done in every case, but to the extent it's possible to stay away from pills of whatever sort and do one's best to eat properly and exercise, it's to the good.

wanderer said...

Scott and Susan - I perhaps should have said, and now feel compelled (comfortably, i think we're the only ones here) to disclose that traditional medicine is my day job, forty plus years of scientific and evidenced based practice. However the more I see the effects of positive reinforcement and the opposite with negative contextualising (nothing to do with hiding from the truth) and fear, the more I wonder about the complexities of healing. I was fascinated by Humphey's evolutionary explanation of the placebo effect for which there is increasing neuroendocrine and neuroimmune evidence.

No, not either or, just more. I also liked the slightly awkward informal style of the interview(s).