Degrees of Normality

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Mr. Beck
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Degrees of Normality

Postby Mr. Beck » Sun Mar 02, 2008 8:51 pm UTC

This idea has been knocking about in my head for a few weeks, and I have finally decided to hear what some other people think.
We talk about how "normal" people are on a weekly basis. We may say "Man Sue is strange. She plays games on the N64, changes her hair color weekly, and studies Russian poetry during lunch beak- talk about weird." Or, perhaps, "Joe is just an average guy. Works hard, plans to go into law school. Can't really think of anything he does out of the ordinary."
But the truth is that "Normal" is just the sum of all our societal expectancies, and everyone does something that is at east a little off-center form this norm. Perhaps Joe collects WWII radios. You would still call him far more "normal" than Sue, but still that degree of idiosyncrasy persists.
What I'm trying to get at is the no one person is truly "normal" (as it certainly should be), but people vary greatly in their degree of non-normality. However, I think everyone would agree that Sue is far less normal than Joe.
What I'm envisioning here is some sort of Total Normality Index. You would take this thing, which would asses everything about you personality, behavior, and attitudes. (This is a thought experiment. I know this would be incredibly difficult to implement.) The result is something like "You are 3.2 statistical deviations away from Normal" for Sue or "0.23 away from Normal" for Joe.
Does anything I'm saying make sense? Any opinions about "Normality" in general?

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby My Uncivilized God » Sun Mar 02, 2008 9:26 pm UTC

You sound like me. I was talking to a guy at work, and suddenly, a rogue thought jumps out of my mind and into my mouth.

"God, I'd love to give you a psych test."

After a series of moments pass in silence, he asks why. I reply that he is, as far as I can see, an anomaly among everyone I know. And then I batter him for thirty minutes with questions about his life, parents and sexual orientation.

Some questions just beg and scream to be asked, and they would have badgered me to my grave otherwise.
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I'll ask if I can take my guns,
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby cypherspace » Sun Mar 02, 2008 9:36 pm UTC

What I'm envisioning here is some sort of Total Normality Index. You would take this thing, which would asses everything about you personality, behavior, and attitudes. (This is a thought experiment. I know this would be incredibly difficult to implement.)
Not just difficult to implement, but entirely and utterly subjective. Normal in which society? In which part of the world? In which social circle? What's normal here in Britain is different to what's normal in the US. What's normal here in Cardiff is different to what's normal in London. What's normal for students is different to what's normal for full-time inhabitants.

I do understand what you mean, but I think the only conclusion that you can come to is that there's no such thing as "normal".
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby socynicalsohip » Sun Mar 02, 2008 9:43 pm UTC

This kind of classification only leads to despotism [so this piece of 1940's documentury video taught me anyhow http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=102585813125825400].

Is it really necessary to classify people in such a manner? Surely all you are hoping to acheive is to prove you're own conformity in society or prove that you are "different" to the masses.

Seems a fruitless thought experiment to me.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby 4=5 » Sun Mar 02, 2008 11:13 pm UTC

nice vidio, I agree with what it says

and it would be very interesting to look at all these different traits and plot people in multidimensional space to see correlations between traits

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby tiny » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:14 am UTC

cypherspace wrote:Not just difficult to implement, but entirely and utterly subjective. Normal in which society? In which part of the world? In which social circle? (...)
Then let's construct items that take this into consideration.
Like, instead of having item #20 "Do you know <insert name of highly popular female singer>?" we have item #20 "Do you know the names of at least 5 female singers who are considered to be highly popular in the main stream culture of your country?".
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Andrew » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:24 am UTC

I'm not sure I agree that Sue is strange. She has hobbies, big whoop.

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Robin S » Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:11 am UTC

cypherspace wrote:Not just difficult to implement, but entirely and utterly subjective. Normal in which society? In which part of the world? In which social circle?
The subjectivity's easy to take into consideration. Say you want to measure the normality of a particular person relative to a particular group of people. Then you just run this magic "normality algorithm" over (that group of people + that person), which gives everyone you've measured a normality distribution, and then find out where the person lies on the distribution. If you wanted, you could measure a person relative to the entire world population (or a sample thereof).

In other words, difficulty of implementation appears still to be the main obstacle.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby lorenith » Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:39 am UTC

It's impossible to define Normal universally no matter what you look for do. I recall my sociology teacher visiting some area in central/south Asia where basically everyone there had no concept of ownership.

When I say no concept of ownership I mean they will walk into your house/yard and take something of interest to them (and likely someone else will do the same to them). By the time she and her sisters family left that place most of their belongings (clothes, children's toys, dishes, anything not nailed down really) had circulated throughout the whole community, gotten lost, broken, and so on. I'm not sure how much they returned home with, but it wasn't everything they arrived with.

It's just a part of their society, it's normal to them, and very likely incredibly alien to most everyone that may be reading this at the moment.

I'm sure this is a bit of an extreme example, but when you start just comparing different countries, even ones that may speak the same language it's going to be really hard to find a relatively "normal" optimum to be applied to any group of people.

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby tiny » Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:55 am UTC

Majority is normal. So if you show a behaviour/interest/ability/whatever that you share with only a small fraction of your civilization, it's defined as 'not normal'.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Robin S » Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:58 am UTC

On the other hand, if you also don't have other uncommon behaviours/interests/abilities/whatever, that will make you more "normal". After all, as the OP pointed out, everyone is likely to have some eccentricities. It's how many you have - and also how eccentric they are - which determines how much you stand out, or how "unusual" you are.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Mr. Beck » Mon Mar 03, 2008 2:41 am UTC

Suppose that the Normality Algorithm was applied to one culture (or even subculture), and that no "correct" answer was present.
Robin S wrote:The subjectivity's easy to take into consideration. Say you want to measure the normality of a particular person relative to a particular group of people. Then you just run this magic "normality algorithm" over (that group of people + that person), which gives everyone you've measured a normality distribution, and then find out where the person lies on the distribution. If you wanted, you could measure a person relative to the entire world population (or a sample thereof).
Exactly.
socynicalsohip wrote:This kind of classification only leads to despotism [so this piece of 1940's documentury video taught me anyhow http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid ... 3125825400].

The idea is not to classify people. We all do that on some level already.* Rather, it is a way to objectively measure the degree to which a person conforms to societal norms out of purly sociological interest. And yes, multidimensional plots would be very interesting. In fact, which facts about a person's life would skew the index farther one way ore the other? That might be one problem if using a unidimensional scale.

*Cue discussion about the "science" of classifying race under Apartheid.

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Teshi » Mon Mar 03, 2008 3:52 am UTC

What's normal here in Cardiff is different to what's normal in London.


I'll say.

(Probably old to you, apologies. Had to be done.)

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Chevon » Mon Mar 03, 2008 4:47 am UTC

Mr. Beck wrote:In fact, which facts about a person's life would skew the index farther one way ore the other? That might be one problem if using a unidimensional scale.


Another problem is that, to a certain extent, everyone is "normal" in their own subculture. For example, a high school student who plays world of warcraft 10 hours a day may not be normal compared to their peers, but fit in their online society. So what would the standardized index be? We would need to make a judgement call on what mainstream culture is, which is far from static.

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby lorenith » Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:01 am UTC

Mr. Beck wrote:Rather, it is a way to objectively measure the degree to which a person conforms to societal norms out of purly sociological interest.


And you can't do that, because not all societies conform to the same "norm".

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Robin S » Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:10 am UTC

The last two posts appear to be missing the point that has been made, which is that while an objective standard of normality is a meaningless concept, it is still possible to measure normality relative to any given group of people - and that is in fact what the OP appears to be asking about.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Chevon » Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:31 am UTC

Robin S wrote:The last two posts appear to be missing the point that has been made, which is that while an objective standard of normality is a meaningless concept, it is still possible to measure normality relative to any given group of people - and that is in fact what the OP appears to be asking about.


I agree that you can measure normality relative to a group of people, but the index that Mr.Beck brought up suggested that we would have to standardize in order to compare different people. I was trying to say that due to the relativity of it all, that would be extremely difficult, if even possible, to choose a base group of people to represent the norm.

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby lorenith » Mon Mar 03, 2008 6:21 am UTC

Chevon wrote:
I agree that you can measure normality relative to a group of people, but the index that Mr.Beck brought up suggested that we would have to standardize in order to compare different people. I was trying to say that due to the relativity of it all, that would be extremely difficult, if even possible, to choose a base group of people to represent the norm.


que ef tee...

Or something.

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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby cypherspace » Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:32 am UTC

Robin S wrote:
cypherspace wrote:Not just difficult to implement, but entirely and utterly subjective. Normal in which society? In which part of the world? In which social circle?
The subjectivity's easy to take into consideration. Say you want to measure the normality of a particular person relative to a particular group of people. Then you just run this magic "normality algorithm" over (that group of people + that person), which gives everyone you've measured a normality distribution, and then find out where the person lies on the distribution. If you wanted, you could measure a person relative to the entire world population (or a sample thereof).

In other words, difficulty of implementation appears still to be the main obstacle.

I understand that, but it's still a subjective measurement. What's the point in that? Wow, you've discovered that a nerd isn't normal when compared to tennis players. Big whoop.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Robin S » Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:36 am UTC

Interest? You might not find it interesting, but other people do.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby tiny » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:18 pm UTC

Chevon wrote:(...)We would need to make a judgement call on what mainstream culture is, which is far from static.
But there are some constants, which are the different aspects of life that mainstream culture impacts. And if you ask 'Do you conform on this aspect?' it's universal.


EDIT: That's what I wanted to imply with my item #20 stuff.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Felstaff » Mon Mar 03, 2008 12:55 pm UTC

All people have aspects of normality, that is to say, they are conformists of social trends within their own peer groups. (i.e. wearing clothes, eating edible materials, listening to popular music, etc.) But aspects that are sub-mainstream are considered not normal. So if I had a hobby that would fall in the <10% outlying curves of a normal distribution graph, subjects within my social circles would consider that not normal. Such as the fact I like to paint still life portraits with my schlong. However, because I also go to the cinema and occasionally eat fried meat patties engorged in ketchup and stale buns, I would fit into the mainstream central chunk of the normal distribution.

It is the public knowledge and exposure which defines how many standard deviations from the central norm I would sit within society. If someone says 'how was your weekend?' and I said 'I went to the cinema and ate a burger' that would set me firmly in the normal camp. However, when Jean from Accounts asked me what I did this weekend, and I replied 'oh, just painted a bowl of fruit with my ding-dong,' it would expose my somewhat atypical hobbies.

In short, your normality is defined by how public your private behaviour is.
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Re: Degrees of Normality

Postby Ari » Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:08 pm UTC

Mr. Beck wrote:This idea has been knocking about in my head for a few weeks, and I have finally decided to hear what some other people think.
<...>
What I'm envisioning here is some sort of Total Normality Index. You would take this thing, which would asses everything about you personality, behavior, and attitudes. (This is a thought experiment. I know this would be incredibly difficult to implement.) The result is something like "You are 3.2 statistical deviations away from Normal" for Sue or "0.23 away from Normal" for Joe.
Does anything I'm saying make sense? Any opinions about "Normality" in general?


Your wording is confusing. I think you're more describing some sort of social compatibility or comparability test, really. Which is fine. But it doesn't really draw any conclusion on "normality" of anyone. It'd be better to just talk about you being similar or dissimilar to someone you knew.

And I'm with you on Normal being a word that doesn't really mean anything, and in reality is just a completely biased value-judgement used to exclude people you don't like for trivial reasons. I try not to even use the word. When there's a good reason to talk about someone being "abnormal", there's usually an even better reason to talk about them being "intimidating" or "violent" or "abusive", all of which are objectively definable traits to some degree. ;)
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