My coffee experiment

I often wonder how much effect things really have on us, and how much is determined by our brain. The placebo effect is a very well known phenomenon: it is clear that taking sugar pills (even if the person knows they are just sugar pills) does help alleviating pain, or even curing certain conditions.

That in mind I would like to share a little amusing story from my Florida days, when I was working in the hell that was called the Chemistry Department of that tiny little university north of Miami.

I was responsible for the running of the coffee club in our little lab of horrors, and that meant I took the money from the collection box, and transmuted it into coffee in the supermarket, to make sure the laboratory kept running smoothly.

If you ever have been around academics, you know that we are practically coffee-based life forms. If you listened to the postdocs and fellow PhD students in the lab you had an impression that nobody was able to function without a good dose of daily caffeine, moreover even the slightest decrease in the daily dose would cause immediate withdrawal symptoms, the inability to function as a human being, migraines, shakes, and in general, transform a relatively functional adult into something that resembles a zombie more than anything.

Well, I got to test this hypothesis over two weeks.

Now, I know, ethics committees are pretty strict on human experiments, but please keep in mind that it was not premeditated, and the people in questions were horrible human beings, anyhow. (Seriously. The place was the definition of how not to run a lab.)

Anyhow, one day the money stopped coming into the box. And despite my repeated warnings, nobody felt it was important to replenish it. Since I bought the last batch of coffee on my own money, I thought I’d just substitute the next batch to the decaf that was on sale -hence cheaper than the regular coffee, since it was I who paid for it anyhow.

 

For two weeks everyone had coffee with absolutely no caffeine in it.

 

Nobody noticed.

 

And this is why I am happy to have decaf at any time; it makes absolutely no difference. You get the same hit out of it, even if you know it’s decaf – and this is the miracle of placebo.

 

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