The three evolutionary layers of the triune brain are the very ancient brain (reptilian), the later mammal brain (limbic system), and, the more recent human brain (neocortex).

(The ‘triune model’ is not literal but is metaphorically useful)

Reptile Brain

Your inner-most, smallest and most ancient reptilian brain may well be your most treasured possession. It controls everything you value most, your life systems. It runs your heart rate and blood pressure, your respiration, it regulates deep evolutionary maintenance and self-healing. It’s hard-earned digital wisdom has been curated over the course of a million successful generations. It’s IP value in dollarized terms is simply priceless.

Mammal Brain

Your life systems reptilian brain is in constant conversation 24/7/365 with your emotional mammalian brain. Your wide repertoire of emotions ranging from fear, anger, longing, surprise, joy, sadness, trust and disgust are all triggered and/or switched in the mammalian brain. These mood changes and emotional switches are in sync with high speed parallel processing in the reptilian brain. The reptilian brain can stimulate the mammalian brain … and, of course, vice versa.

Human Brain

Enter your BIG human brain! This new brain, the neo-cortex, is also in conversation 24/7/365 with both the older brains. As you would expect, their conversations can stimulate responses in the human cortical brain … and, again, vice versa. All three evolutionary brains are in constant digital engagement up and down the neuronal layers of the triune brain (reminder that this is not literally accurate but is so, metaphorically).

So what does this mean?

It means that both real stories and fake stories work the same way in stimulating responses in the triune brain.

When you are walking alone through Hyde Park at night and you suddenly hear a sinister sound behind you, your heart will pump faster and your skin will crawl whether Jack the serial killer is actually there, or not.

Without evidence the triune brain cannot tell the difference between a real story and a fake story.

It is the balance of evidence that can shift the brain from fiction to reality … and, of course, vice versa.

For example, at the sight of Santa, a young triune brain might go full placebo. It believes! Joy (or fear). Anticipation. Heart rates change. Adrenalin surges. The triune brain is going bananas.

The parent’s brain does not respond to Santa that way, but when it sees the child’s brain react it goes full placebo, too!

Because I played Santa at Armadale Pre-School for eleven years I witnessed this placebo phenomenon every year.

One year, as an experiment, I said to the kids (ex cathedra),

Children, I now have something very interesting to tell you. Did you know that the weather at the North Pole has been so unusually cold that poor Rudolph’s nose turned from red to blue! So, let’s all now sing ‘Rudolph The Blue-Nosed Reindeer’.

The children had no problem at all and burst immediately and loudly into song. Many of the parents went from full placebo into cognitive dissonance.

Subsequently, each year I was able to predict the placebo algorithm and its effect. It was an interesting experiment and also fun to do!


Activate your human cortical thinking (cvs)

Think of a much better story (x10)

Switch your mammalian limbic emotion (bvs)

Re-activate your reptilian brain (cvs2bvs)

I sometimes think of the ways we respond emotionally to situations and how we can use our cvs2bvs thinking to manipulate or change our emotional responses in our mammal brain. I call these ways to change, The Limbic Games.

For example, the 4 following limbic games can involve switching:

Ten Basic Emotions

NOTE: This SOT list of Ten Basic Emotions is curated from the works of Darwin, Plutchik and Sapolsky:

**Darwin Charles, Ekman Paul, Prodger Phillip (1998) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, 3rd edn, London: Oxford University Press.

**Plutchik, R., & Kellerman, H. (1980). Emotion: Theory, research and experience. Vol. 1, Theories of emotion. New York: Academic Press

**Sapolsky, Robert (2017) Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (Penguin Press)




8 thoughts on “The Placebo Effect: how placebos can work in the triune human brain

  1. I spent the last two weeks working on myself and applying the placebo algorithm – putting it into action. I was trying to shut out my reptilian brain, that was to avoid responding to primitive stimuli, and then I could try to create a different situation.
    Nothing could trigger my instincts to force me, and I could feel that i was safe and would not loose something important to me. I was trying to avoid anything that could create aggressive actions which could render my thoughts negative.
    I started to think about a project which i had previously left off because of cultural and social constraints. That project aimed at developing some social programs for women … I left off that project because I was afraid that the project would be refused or my NGO would lose its connection with the public.I expected that i would have big difficulties in putting the project forward.

    Placebo algorithm in action:
    • I started asking myself about the worst thing which could happen and what its consequences are and how they could be avoided.

    • I created some scenarios; real and virtual.
    (What was immposible some day is a reality we live today, many unreal things could be direct means of coming into contact with the reality).

    • I started to transform negatives into positives and bad drivers into good drivers.
    (Thoughts of fear and sadness can have negative actions on my thinking).

    • I fullfilled my desire to take my decision.

    Now, i belive that doing my project will remove my fears and help me survive.


    * I found that the algorithm is a clever trick to deal positively with primitive triggers and to re_organize thinking .

    • I have learned that postive emotions create patterns faster than repetition , and drive positive behaviour.

    • I have to learn how to harmonically manage both sides of existence ; real and unreal, and rise above this duality. That is a particular level of use of the thought, I think. (senses and mind)

  2. Many people have something firmly embedded in their triune brain. It is a perpetual placebo. It gives them comfort. Religion can serve this role. They might they try to use their human brain. If their thinking is based on an assumption which is wrong it doesn’t matter how rational their thinking is they will still be wrong. If their starting point is wrong their conclusion will also be wrong.

  3. I have a tendency to over-analyse (procrastinate) new opportunities – the mammalian brain working its protection through fear of failure. Since taking on MLatTh(SOT) through one of the teachings of SDNT (start do notice think) I have been more aware of this tendency and actively engaging in the bvs of action over inertia. Recently I had a business decision to make which I traditionally would have agonized over for at least a week – I made my decision in 5 minutes, spent an hour working on it and can now move forward implementing and refining as I progress.

  4. Cogito, ergo sum – I think therefore I am – with additional brackets (what I think I am)

  5. While the reptilian affects the mammal brain which in turns affect the human brain, I always wondered if it could work the other way. Over the years, through training and experiences, I found out that you could reduce the reptilian’s fear response and influence its healing capabilities. It’s experimental but not very scientific and today I believe that my belief, whether true or false, impact all three brains.

  6. When I’m attending a sales meeting, I sometimes find myself mimicking the way a typical sales person might deal with the situation. In a way I believe that is the way I should act, given my previous experience. My brain has to stop myself and say, no, ask questions, find their problem, don’t push. Even having done no sales before, my brain is conditioned by others in a sense. So I use cvs2bvs to break myself out of the pattern.

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