e the internal environment of our living parts It acts thus in strenuous

E the internal environment of our living parts it

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acts thus in strenuous muscular effort; for example, liberating sugar from the liver, accelerating the heart, contracting certain blood vessels, discharging adrenaline and dilating the bronchioles. All these changes render the animal more efficient in physical struggle, for they supply essential conditions for continuous action of labouring muscles (1942: 176). Cannon, working with the physiological concept of homeostasis, tracks the corporeal effort exerted to reattain the equilibrium of body with environment via an escape to calmer territory or a struggle for survival. But it is his focus on tendencies towards disequilibrium in affective mobilization which interests us here. Cannon points to the conditions which lead to spiraling physiological dysfunction: Since they [these physiological changes] occur in association with the strong emotions, rage and fear, they can reasonably be interpreted as preparatory for the intense struggle which the instincts to attack or to escape may involve. If these powerful emotions prevail, and the bodily forces are fully mobilized for action,and if this state of extreme perturbation continues in uncontrolled possession of the organism for a considerable period, without the occurrence of action, dire results may ensue. (1942: 176)Because of the fear or 'malignant anxiety' the spell triggered, Cannon proposed that the victim’s body went through a number of physiological reactions (rise of heart rate, increase in muscle tension, rise of blood sugar levels, the release of adrenaline and other hormones) that prepared it to confront an emergency. When there actually was no emergency to confront, either through the removal of the threat or its prolongation, a state of shock could result, reducing the blood pressure, and potentially damaging the heart. Cannon’s analysis of ‘Voodoo Death’ allows us to think the affect of bioterrorism in terms of what we could call ‘nocebos’, the dark twin of a ‘placebo’ – a speech act, a positive statement or sugar pill whichinduces a positive response in a patient. With a ‘nocebo’, on the other hand, from the Latin nocere (to harm), the fear which issues from the negative statement, or hex, attains a reality more powerful than the actual threat. In contemporary medicine, there is much made of the increased likelihood of succumbing to illness if verbal suggestions of susceptibility are emphasized, underlining the artificiality of the separation of physiology from psychology. In fact
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‘Voodoo Death’ is commonly taken to be the prototypical nocebo study (Benson: 1997, 612-15). For ‘Voodoo Death’ to occur it has to be embedded within a collective virtual architecture in which everything guides the victim towards his death; the family and friends of the victim must treat the hex as genuine, all previously known victims must have died of the hex (unless it was removed), and the tribe must isolate the victim leaving him to his fate. If a
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