PHYSIOLOGY AND SYMBOLS: THE ANTHROPOLOGICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE PLACEBO EFFECT
DANIEL E. MOERMAN
How can we account for the effectiveness of non-Western medical treatment? What can we learn about the effectiveness of Western healing through comparative study? One of the foremost dilemmas in ethnomedicine is understanding how it is that the manipulations of the shaman or healer actually influence the physiological state of the patient. Many studies, including several of my own, have devoted much energy to the study of the effectiveness of native pharmacology. The standard exercise is to show that pharmaceuticals in use have "appropriate" physiological impact. And many tribal peoples cooperate with this exercise by having enormous pharmacopoeias at their disposal. Wyman and Harris ( 1941) reported 515 species of medicinal plants for the Navaho alone. My compilation of native American medicinal plants includes 2,865 different plant species from 941 genera used by 219 different cultures in 25,025 different ways (Moerman in press). In a lessstandard exercise, comparing those medicinally used plants with available plants, I have been able to demonstrate substantial selectivity among families by Native Americans. The three most heavily utilized families ( Asteraceae, Rosaceae, Lamiaceae) account for 26 percent of medicinal items in my compilation, but only 18 percent of the 21,641 species of plants in North America ( Kartesz 1994). The three least heavily used families, in terms of their availability ( Poaceae, Cyperaceae and Fabaceae) account for 4 percent of items in my list, but 18 percent of the species in FNA (for details of this argument, see Chapter 4 of this volume, "Poisoned Apples and Honeysuckle"). But we can also be certain that neither native therapists nor their patients saw pharmaceuticals as any more important in therapy than the song, dance, and din that accompanied treatment. While several investigators (most notably Victor Turner) have provided brilliant symbolic analyses of
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Publication information: Book title: The Anthropology of Medicine:From Culture to Method. Edition: 3rd. Contributors: Lola Romanucci-Ross - Editor, Daniel E. Moerman - Editor, Laurence R. Tancredi - Editor. Publisher: Bergin & Garvey. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1997. Page number: 240.
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