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Friday, 14 April 2017

Normal

Many years ago, I noticed this 1974 poster on a bathroom door. Its Dutch slogan translates like: "Did you ever meet a normal person? And, did you like it?"

The slogan is based on one of the many short stories by Dutch writer Simon Carmiggelt. He called these stories "Kronkels", which probably relates to "gedachtenkronkel" (eg, idea, mind twist).

The slogan invites you to assess yourself: am I a normal person? I'm not sure if I could say an unequivocal "yes". However, if I can not confirm then who is a normal person??

The root cause for my doubt is that normal is a statistical term. Normal means the average, mean or median in a population. In human terms such a person may not even exist. Probably that is also the conclusion which the slogan is hoping for.

I do not consider myself an average person but I'm reluctant to say that I'm not a normal person. How do we define normal and abnormal? I was triggered by a Dutch newspaper article and its heading: "Who is still normal?". It claims that many people seem to suffer from autism, ADHD, or narcissism.

The interest in this topic was also boosted by a campaign slogan of the Dutch PM: act normal please. Its implicit message was, again, that people who don't like being in The Netherlands should leave. If I'm cynical then removing Dutch critics would probably leave this country empty. Nearly everyone in this country has something to complain about. Considering my blogs on organ donation, I'm one of them.

From a statistical point of view, I might be an outlier as I may well be far away from the average. Does that make me statistically "abnormal"? If so then I wouldn't even mind. The longer we monitor a person, the more "normal" his/her behaviour becomes (e.g., Trump). Even a string of terrorist incidents becomes the "new normal". Our capability for behavioural adjustment is probably a survival mechanism. We just learn to live with Change.

Probably any "normal" is important to humans as we prefer seeing a static view (e.g., picture) as normal and dislike seeing dynamic Change as normal (e.g., video). The equilibrium is however the exception unless you view History as an eternal string of individual equilibriums.

Hence, a normal is only found in statistical theories. The mere fact that these theories work with confidence intervals and probabilities should already be cause for concern. Humans are unique rather than normal or abnormal. Some behavioural aspects are more common than others but even that is usually not a guarantee for normal behaviour.

New Normal (2015) by Louisa Wendorff - artist, lyrics, video, Wiki