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Stupid Rules Normal People Follow – Part 4 of 5

rules [Note: I’m using the word “normal” in this post. Those who are not normal—myself included—should not take offense; I am using this term in the mathematical sense of “near the mean of a normal distribution,” as in within one standard deviation of the mean; in the context of cognition another word is “neurotypical,” but this is less common and less general, and many people are unfamiliar with its meaning. In the vast majority of possible systems, most will be normal and some will not. It’s nearly inevitable. See also Stupid Rule 4, for our fear of being “abnormal” is very much a Stupid Rule.]



A major part of what makes life difficult for those who are rational, especially those on the autism spectrum, (in the interests of full disclosure: I’m on the near end, just shy of Asperger’s Syndrome) is the fact that normal people follow certain rules on most occasions, rules that don’t really make sense—but that we all are expected to follow, because otherwise it forces us to confront issues that we feel more comfortable avoiding. They are all stupid rules, rules that are rationally difficult or impossible to justify; but they are universally present and strongly enforced, and we ignore them only at our own peril. Perhaps we ought to challenge them, find the places to attack them that will most weaken their grip upon humanity—but we cannot be sure to win such a fight, and we certainly cannot simply pretend it is already won.

Stupid Rule 4: It is bad to be far from average, especially below average.  

A statistician will agree that in all but the most trivial systems, a portion will be far from average, usually but not always a minority. Since most systems in nature fit into a normal distribution, this is all the more true; most people are within one standard deviation of the mean (i.e. normal), and we can predict quite accurately what portion of people will be two standard deviations above and below, what portion three, and what portion four. (We’ll need a population of roughly 1.3 trillion before anyone is five.) In the usual 100sd16 system, 2.2% of children should have an IQ less than 68; 2.2% should have an IQ above 132. Each of these groups represents 7.5 million children in the United States; if yours is one of them, you really shouldn’t be too upset. Similarly, 1 in 46,000 children should have an IQ below 42, and the same number should have an IQ above 148. Each of these groups represents 3,300 children in the US, so most major cities will have a few such children.

But of course this isn’t how normal people think; they think that someone with an IQ of 68 is “really dumb” and therefore deserving of reprobation, and that someone with an IQ of 132 is “really smart” and therefore deserving of praise. In some sense I suppose it is in fact true that 68 is “really dumb” (and 132 is “really smart”), but the reprobation and praise parts really make no sense whatsoever, yet this how people usually behave.

Moreover, even people who know that they are far from average tend not to like being reminded, especially when they are below average. A similar phenomenon occurs when you draw attention to the fact that you are far from average, especially when you are above average. This makes a little more sense—Why keep reminding me of what I already know, as if it makes you better than I am?—but the level of offense taken is usually far disproportionate to the sense that it makes. This is the reason why it is considered rude to point out that someone is fat, or that someone is ignorant; it is also the reason why it is considered rude to point out that you are beautiful or that you are erudite. This is why, when someone with an IQ of 132 mocks people with an IQ of 100, this is widely considered “arrogant,” even though it’s hardly more arrogant than a 100 making fun of a 68, which happens all the time. In fact, it’s often considered arrogant for someone highly intelligent (e.g. Richard Dawkins/Al Gore) to point out that they are, in fact, very intelligent, and should probably be trusted on matters in their field of study (evolutionary biology/anthropogenic climatology); this is, in truth, a travesty.

People on the autism spectrum frequently fall into this same habit (interesting, given that they rarely pick up other Stupid Rules, often at their own peril); as such, talking about autistic people as “not normal” is considered insulting, when in fact it is really just a statement of fact. Autism is a state of abnormally low social perception, often coupled with a state of abnormally high cognitive capacity; it is not normal in the statistical sense. There’s nothing wrong with that; indeed, it is inevitable. Only very trivial distributions (the unitary distribution P(0) = 1 and the binary distribution P(-1) = P(1) = 0.5) have all values within one standard deviation of the mean. These distributions are all but impossible in real life. (Actually, it is interesting however that the common conception of gender is a binary distribution, with male and female equiprobable and equidistant from the mean, with no other possibilities. In reality gender is bimodal, but definitely not binary and probably not even symmetric.)


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0 thoughts on “Stupid Rules Normal People Follow – Part 4 of 5

  • WOW!,  I will admit I had to enlist my 15 year old to help me with some of the math concepts in this post.  We discussed it a bit and came to the conslusion that your observations are brilliant!  Your series of posts are well thought out.  Great Job!! 

  • hello,

    veRRy good going.

    thumbs up from my side.



    (tito dutta)


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