David Abram tells the story of a cancer healing performed by a Tibetan shaman. As a young man, Abram has apprenticed himself to the Shaman, and earned his trust over many months. It happens that Abram is an amateur stage magician, talented at his craft. So, when the Shaman reaches inside the woman's body and pulls out a big, bloody mass--the woman feels intense pain, though her abdomen is left intact and no scar remains--Abrams has known what to watch for, and sees the turkey gizzard that the Shaman has palmed before the sham operation.
Abrams confronts the Shaman about the deception, and the story the Shaman tells is that the turkey gizzard is attractive to the evil spirit that lives inside the woman. But in order to convince the spirit to jump from the woman's body to the gizzard, he must fool the spirit, and, since the spirit sees through the woman's eyes, that means fooling the woman, too.
The woman is cured. The cancer disappears. Her pain disappears. Within a few days, she returns to her work in the field. The story told by us in the West is that she has benefited from the placebo effect. The story told by the Shaman is that the evil spirit was tricked into leaving the woman's body. What the two stories have in common is that she no longer has cancer.
But in the remarkable work of Ted Kaptchuk at Harvard Medical School, the Placebo Effect works even when the patient knows she is receiving a placebo.