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Everything posted by PhDwannabe

  1. Yeah, ammonia would be nice, but I know of no way to produce it in any way besides cracking fossil fuels. The Hive Mind says something about dry distillation of animal dung. Although you wouldn't necessarily need it for fertilizer--if you manage compost piles well and keep crops and garden beds rotated, you can keep that nitrogen conveyer moving nicely without needing your chemistry set. It'd still be nice to have it, as you say, for chemical feedstock to make other things (though I'm not sure quite yet what other things...)
  2. This is a philosophical question that gets pretty far afield of psychology and psychiatry. The typical distinction in philosophy classes is that "morals" refer to some particular society or group's views of right and wrong--the reflect the judgement of upstanding character within that social realm. "Ethics" are ideas of right and wrong which are (well, this is the idea, at least) reasoned out more systematically. Some people who answer here are taking the question in another direction than I initially thought of--one which does get a little closer to social and behavioral science: the question of, "are morals arbitrary and made-up, or is there something built-in about them?" There's been a flurry of interest in this recently from scholars as diverse as psychologists, philosophers, neuroscientists, anthropologists, and primatologists. The very brief version: yeah, there's definitely some built-in stuff. Primates seem to be interested in enforcing codes of fairness and punishing cheating among their peers. Human infants recognize cheating behavior fairly quickly as well. The almost universal incest taboo has been pretty solidly demonstrated to have some biological underpinnings (c.f. the Westermarck Effect). All pretty cool stuff. The Wikipedia entry on Neuroethics may give you some idea of what neuroscientists are up to with this. Also, check out the Trolley Problem for a common paradigm used to investigate neurological correlates of ethical decisionmaking/moral reasoning. That one's gotten a lot of attention in the popular media the last few years. Thanks, DJ
  3. Hi; thought I'd add a couple of things about the etiology of schizophrenia. There are probably few areas of psychology and psychiatry that have seen longer, hotter debate than this one. The shortest good answer I could possibly give is that any answer I give is likely to be wrong in a decade. Except, uhh, the one I just gave. Early psychoanalysts had ideas about "schizophrenogenic mothers" that would impart psychosis on their children through a variety of defective nurturing practices. Most of us (I'm a clinical psychology PhD student) don't take this too seriously anymore. Clinicians realized very early on that there was probably a spectrum of psychosis, and that some of it was probably heritable. This was speculated about even pre-Watson & Crick, before any of us knew what the units of heritability even were. Most of us are reconciled to the relatively boring "diathesis-stress" idea that it is some combination of genetic or biological predisposition and environmental factor. Notice I said biological predisposition--prenatal factors are not genetic, but can still strongly affect an individual. Exposure to certain viral illnesses during pregnancy--influenza, for instance--seems to increase an the fetus' later chances of developing schizophrenia. Nonetheless, diathesis and stress interact nonadditively. While this is sort of another discussion, suffice it to say that this: is not true. Although it seems to be a common misconception (even within my own field!) that it is. However, we're fairly married to the diathesis-stress model anyway. One of the early ideas that is still around is that of schizotypy: what is inherited is a sort of personality weirdness which is not quite psychotic. (There's a decent Wikipedia article on it if you want to read more about it.) Environmental variables can push people who've inherited schizotypy over the edge into schizophrenia. It's often claimed that the inner workings of this process have a great deal to do with the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine hypothesis is a big one--somehow, too much dopamine or dopamine oversensitivity creates schizophrenia. There are a lot of problems with this hypothesis, and a lot of the early findings have not been shown consistently. We won't get into this, partially because it takes too long, and partially because neurobiology is not my area. Many of us think, however, that dopamine may be a mediator of the illness--it's the way that the illness works, not the illness itself. (If you're not familiar with the statistical term, in short: when you play baseball, the bat mediates the hitting of the ball.) To get to the original question however, I can pretty conclusively say that there is not really much of a relationship to PTSD (this is my area, and I can speak with at least a little bit of confidence here.) Traumatic reactions can include psychotic symptoms. Briefly losing touch with reality and thinking that you're "re-experiencing" a traumatic event is one of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD. However, any similarity between this and schizophrenia is sort of cosmetic. Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that is really best described as a brain disorder. Think cancer, think neuroendocrine problem. It is probably quite biological in origin, probably involves neurotransmitter malfunctions of all sorts that we haven't identified yet. (Many are starting to think of it as a neurodegenerative disorder, almost like alzheimer's, with the goal of delaying the onset of psychotic symptoms for as long as possible.) PTSD, on the other hand, is a dehabilitating anxiety disorder which can often be treated successfully with several forms of behavior or cognitive-behavioral therapy, among others. Psychotherapy is not typically thought of as real effective for schizophrenia (though it can be supportive in many ways.) The idea that some vulnerability + trauma = schizophrenia, while trauma alone = PTSD is certainly alluring in its parsimony, but I'm not aware of any body of scientific literature which has actually verified anything like that. It'd be a lot simpler for all of us if it did.
  4. Hi; this seems to be a fairly old post, but I just registered here, and I thought I'd weigh in. I'm a PhD student in clinical psychology, and have done some amount of testing. I'll see if I can make some illustrative comments on the matter. First and foremost, the biggest confusion I tend to see in discussions like this--present one not excepted--is the matter of what "intelligence" really is. We often hear people saying "he does well on IQ tests, but he isn't that intelligent," or even further removed, "isn't that smart." Sometimes, comparisons between intelligence and common sense, or "book smarts and street smarts" are made. Very often, critique of intelligence testing tends to come from a distrust of egghead scientists and their goofy games. (If you think that public perception of psychologists is anywhere but in the toilet, ask yourself how many psychologist movie or TV characters ever 1) are good guys or 2) get anything right.) The biggest thing I can say is that most of us are not so proud of our instruments as to regard them as the final say on a person or their functioning. In short, I and most of my colleagues believe that a score on an IQ test can be a really important part of the picture--deliberate emphasis on part. So, what is it, exactly? Well, depends on who you ask. My answer is a fairly middle-of-the-road one. Many people even outside of my field know that the first widely-adopted measurement of cognitive ability was one developed by the French psychologist Binet, on a commission from his government to improve services for schoolchildren we would today call developmentally disabled. Lewis Terman of Stanford eventually did some work on it, thus creating the Stanford-Binet, which some older forum members here may even remember taking in school. (Though it's still around in some form, the most commonly used tests are now the Wechslers: the WAIS-IV for adults and the WISC-IV for children.) In these early days, Charles Spearman, one of psychology's granddads, noted that when we give separate kinds of tests for intelligence--like, for instance, quickly putting complicated block designs together, or solving logic problems--the scores, though different for these different skills, all seemed to be related to one another pretty strongly. His idea was that there was some big factor underlying all of these tests, with smaller factors on top of it adjusting the scores a bit up and down for different skills--the big, underlying factor he called g, for "general intelligence." Though we've moved on quite a bit from Spearman's ideas, we still use the idea of g in a somewhat similar way. IQ is the number our tests give us; g is the hidden construct that we can't really stick a ruler next to and directly measure. Our aim is to approximate measurement of g as closely as possible. Most of us are perfectly happy to admit this. So, what's g, then? What is this thing we call intelligence? Again, depends on who you ask. We can't see it or touch it or taste it, so we define it somewhat arbitrarily. (One is reminded of Justice Potter Stewart's famous observation about pornography--that he couldn't define it, but he knew it when he saw it.) David Wechsler's oft-quoted phrase is: "The aggregate or global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with his environment." It's the ability of your reasoning tools to direct adaptation to an environment, or to the general sort of environment some creature like you might expect. (When you look at it this way, you see why species-to-species IQ comparisons are so stupid. A raccoon is a hell of a lot smarter than us for the purposes of raccoon life and livelihood.) This construct isn't real in the usual sense of the word (I often tell my students: "A little more real than a unicorn, a little less real than the chalkboard.") It derives most of its meaning from its relationship to other things which seem to exist more solidly in the real world: academic achievement and occupational attainment are sort of the big two. A supposedly strong measure of g is worthless if it doesn't predict well the sorts of things we expect intelligence to be related to, like doing well in school and performing well in a job. Well, with only a century of work behind us, I can tell you that our measures actually do do that, and fairly well. Beyond this, they're also good for identifying specific deficits, like impairments in reading ability, spatial reasoning, etc. (Tommy's mere poor performance on his homework doesn't really tell you what's driving the problem.) An IQ test is often a good first step to seeing some of these deficits in a child who is struggling, and point the way to more specific cognitive testing or other services. I could go on with other useful functions of the tests, but I think you get the idea. So, what is intelligence not? The brain-as-computer analogy has a million problems with it, but we'll use it here for a moment anyway. A high IQ might be thought of as a really fast processor and a great deal of RAM. A nice machine, sure, but nothing about its niceness prevents you from installing terrible software on it. A high IQ is not particularly protective against mental illness or unhappiness, nor does it prevent a person from becoming (to steal a phrase from this thread!) a "maladjusted loser." I swear, most of us aren't as obsessed with the results of our shiny tests as we are often perceived to be--if you sat down and talked to a psychologist, many would happily tell you that an IQ test only tells you about a small piece of a person. It's moderately correlated with what might be outwardly observable as "smarts," because accumulated experience and knowledge (we sometimes call this "crystallized intelligence") matter so much more than anything else in so many situations. If I were crash-landed in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, I'd want the 90 IQ experienced bush pilot over the 140 IQ accountant to survive with me! Of course, if I got to pick between the 90 bush pilot and the 140 bush pilot, well, that's an easy one too. All that said, it really is good for something and means something--just not everything. If you know your own IQ, don't expect it to be amazingly predictive of your life trajectory. These things are predictive of important variables we see in populations. That doesn't necessarily translate to every individual, since we are creatures of such substantial variability. That doesn't mean the variables or the constructs don't have a great deal of meaning (Not everyone who drinks and is suicidal kills themselves, but I'm a hell of a lot more worried about a suicidal patient who drinks, because the rates are so much higher there than among those who don't drink.) Oh, and finally, the writing, development, and validation of tests like these is like building a damned moon rocket. An unbelievable amount of extremely complicated work. One should not expect any half-assed internet version to say anything reasonable. And to those of you who have taken an internet version and found the score very close to that from a real, validated instrument? Well, buddy, every blind squirrel finds a couple of nuts. Thanks, DJ
  5. Of course, the easiest way to get a lot of things would be scavenging--at least in the early years after my hypothetical crash, the good scavengers are probably the winners. (I do very much like the idea of the drywall gypsum harvest in particular.) For whatever reason, though, my fantasy seems to be of a sort of stationary stronghold out in the relative wilderness, where contact with others could not always be counted on as reliable. Scavenging would be limited to the immediate environs, and might be exhausted fairly quickly. I like the idea of planning for the absolute indefinite. Also, of course, many things can be harvested and used without much processing. You don't need to synthesize pyrethrins for pest repellent, because you can just grow chrysanthemums and crush them. So, smart harvesting and use of natural substances for all kinds of purposes is one thing--you'd be surprised, by the way, how difficult it is to get decent information on this. (The moonbats who post on survivalist websites do not tend to be, uhhh... real sold on the scientific method.) Beyond all this, though, I do wonder what else one could do and make with their end-of-civilization chemistry set. Any ideas?
  6. So, this may take a bit to explain: Since I was a kid, I have always loved survivalism, and have been fascinated with how I'd manage to live after some large-scale, more or less civilization-ending event. (You can imagine my teenage disappointment when Y2K passed without incident.) I am committed to reason, science, and progress, and I certainly don't honestly long for the end of civilization--it's less likely I'll live to 500 years and see the mountains of Mars that way. Nonetheless, I have always found planning for "The Crash" to be a great intellectual exercise and pleasantly all-consuming fantasy. My question here is this: suppose civil society was gone (pick your nuclear war/pandemic/zombie scenario). You're living off the land in your little survivalist encampment of a dozen people or so. Suppose you've got some durable but relatively simple lab equipment you got to bank ahead of time, and only the renewable resources that could either be stored in large quantity indefinitely, or an essentially Iron Age society could produce. Some sustainably generated electricity is available (for a few decades, at least, until all of our solar cells and wind turbines break) but things like stored gases wouldn't last long. Temperatures above that which can be produced with charcoal and below that of salty ice aren't possible either, and keeping them stable for certain reactions could be crude. Managing pressures other than atmospheric would also be difficult. Given all these limitations, what sort of useful substances could you make? Of course, the priorities are to create things that would be somehow useful--say, for cleaning, or for medicine. Industrial quantities of reagent grade chemicals would not be possible to produce, but thankfully, they probably wouldn't be necessary either. Many methods would be technically inefficient, at least compared to the cracking of fossil fuels which has produced just about every useful household chemical I can think of for the last half a century at least. Based on my basic knowledge of chemistry, here's the list I've got: Ozone (for water purification if needed): run a corona discharge through oxygen, produced from electrolysis of water. Charcoal (a thousand purposes): pyrolysis of wood or other vegetable matter. Potassium nitrate/saltpeter (for combination with charcoal and stored sulfur to make gunpowder): souring and filtration of collected urine. Potassium hydroxide/potash lye: collected from wood ashes. Soap, glycerin (hygiene): saponification of animal fats with potassium hydroxide. Sodium hypochlorite/bleach (sterilization): cooled electrolysis of brine; although I think a Nafion membrane is really needed here--certainly a nonrenewable resource. Quicklime (nixtamalization of corn, mortuary use, water flocculant): pyrolysis of calcium carbonate, easily obtained from eggshells. Slaked lime (mortar, hide tanning, food preservation uses): just add water to quicklime. Ethanol (sterilization, recreation if you're into it): fermentation of about any carbohydrate source, and distillation into a desired strength. Acetic acid/vinegar (cleaning): acetobacter fermentation of ethanol. You could get by for a while with a kit like that. Some holes in it though--would be nice to be able to make something like hydrogen peroxide, even something like ether for primitive anesthesia. I had a pathway for sulfuric acid, but it involved a vanadium oxide catalyst to get oxygen married up with sulfur dioxide. Something like that is less simple and elegant than we'd prefer, though perhaps necessary sometimes for really useful stuff. And probably a million other things I can't think of. So, I turn it over to the forum: what could you make? Alternately, are any of the above listed wrong, simplistic, or misinformed? Have fun joining me in my odd fantasy!
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