Neurotransmission: Chemonoia

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    Neurotransmission: Chemonoia

    I’ve been lurking on TA for a while now (reading Sunday School mostly – and enjoying Unseens posts). Now that the migration to atheistzone is complete with redirecting here I may as well begin posting now and populate the new forums a little bit.

    To start with, I’d like to disclose that I am Neurotransmission (rather, that is a pseudonym I use). The reason I attach the posting is for convenience, so I don’t have to start from scratch. I won’t be referencing it much, but it’s there and it summarizes a lot of my thoughts on the topic.

    Alright, let’s begin.

    Chemonoia is the irrational fear of chemicals, either their presence or handling them. Most psychologists don’t recognize it as a phobia, but nonetheless it is a word that describes two types of persons.

    The first type, the irrational type, are those who have either been defrauded of their reason by way of sensationalized headings or misinformed by online bloggers with mantras such as,

    “If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Also, buy this baking soda toothpaste instead of Colgate™!”

    That’s quite the mantra to espouse, don’t you think? I doubt I’m pronouncing Bok Choy properly, or the various types of cuisine you’ll find at intl. markets or in food-chains on campus, at the mall, the airport, etc. So obviously pronunciation is not actually a good measure of what is healthy, or harmful to eat. Moreover, systematically naming and pronouncing things must be an even better measure for describing what we’re dealing with – whether it be foodstuffs, articles of clothing, or chemicals.

    Now, I’d like to mention that there are chemicals that are clearly dangerous (based upon their structure and interaction with organisms, human or otherwise – all of this studied by toxicology), such as phosgene gas or hydrofluoric acid. It’s important to also note that even with phosgene gas, there is a permissible dosage and a safe way to handle the chemical – either in transport, storage, or otherwise – just as there is a safe way to handle hydrofluoric acid (as for dosage and route of exposure I’m not sure about what levels are permissible). You can even process hydrofluoric acid after experimenting with it into sodium fluoride (the stuff you hopefully brush into your teeth every morning and night) for a safe and easy cleanup.

    I don’t want to imply this first type of person is irrational, stupid (unless they won’t listen to reason), or paranoid. Sometimes, as was also the case with myself five or six years ago before my conversion to Christianity (and a couple years before my deconversion) a person is simply misinformed and they draw conclusions. They aren’t drawing these conclusions from data, or reasoning clearly to deduce them, either. These are conclusions made by anyone due to common aspects of psychology. The first impression of a topic, an idea that you are exposed to is often the one your psyche will remember and defer to. In this article by Human and Experimental Toxicology, you can read all about some of these effects and their impact on chemonoia.

    Now onto the second type of person. This person actually experiences emotional turmoil, anxiety, and all of the psychosomatic effects that can accompany illness anxiety, or recognized phobias such as claustrophobia.

    Ironically, I am one of these people. I’m not misinformed, but sometimes a little bit of knowledge is a bad thing, and unabated by the cool hard steel of logic, reason, and more knowledge this little bit can become “dangerous” in the sense that anxiety, ignorance, and self-doubt can play into the psychology of how someone behaves in the presence of chemical reagents or in the handling of them. During the last chemistry course I undertook (and was very enthusiastic about, and successful in) I would frequently experience panic attacks either before, during, or after my chemistry labs. I feared handling my lab notes. I washed my hands excessively and ritualistically.

    It’s been a few months longer than a year since that course. I’ve had good moments and bad hours battling with the anxiety and apprehension that can accompany an irrational fear. I’ve studied the issue in my spare time, admittedly not to own satisfaction. I still desire to learn more, and thankfully the more I learn the less I fear or panic.

    What’s the point of this post? Well, just remember that even the most entrenched ideas, whether it be a deity hounding your conscience and threatening the gnashing teeth of Cerberus or the things Spooky Mulder would accuse the Cigarette Smoking Man of hiding from the public, the best thing you can do for someone regardless of their beliefs is be benevolent. Be the benevolent, supportive, and learned mentor to someone. Even if you’ve been estranged by your family, excommunicated, or lost all of your conspiracy believing friends at the diner on fifth street you can manage to improve someones life by the use of a little reason, rhetoric, and some epistemology. Even if you don’t see the outcome, it can make a difference.

    I can’t relate the story, but my deconversion was a long, drawn-out process that was helped along by the likes of atheists of Facebook employing a kind, pointed finger of epistemology. Others here may relate. Pride be damned, but from my lurking on TA I wish I found this forum sooner because the sort of diatribe and memetic debating you see on Facebook is often so unhelpful. Keep up the good discussion everybody.

    • This topic was modified 3 years, 10 months ago by  Bryce.


    Is there even one chemical that can’t kill a person, in one of its forms (gas, liquid, solid) either through its normal use or misuse, its concentration, or even its mere presence in the environment?



    As far as I’m aware, no. Given the principles of ADME (administration, dosage, metabolism, and excretion) in pharmacology, which applies to toxicology as well we can easily understand that given then right ADME, any substance would be lethal.

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