Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Is Normal?

The title is a subject I want to explore. Ultimately, it looks like I will be concentrating more on the Sociology of Knowledge, and this is a concept that has intrigued me. I doubt I'll be able to have this as my dissertation subject, whole or in part, but I've learned years ago to follow my brain when it comes to projects. If my brain likes it, then I should do it, because brain-likey is a pre-requisite for my completion of a subject.

The research plan is to identifying the normalizing disciplines: (1) law, above all others, regulates the standards of expectations of normal behavior. This is also a way of bringing in a study of or comparison with halakha. E.g. liability, contracts, etc use expectations of normal behavior, normal human body size, etc. (2) Medicine, does this almost as frequently, and in tandem with law.

Related to this system study will be a philosophic analysis of statistics and the "normal curve." This concept/tool is crucial for understanding the term "normal"'s use in many scientific papers - right now I'm doing a JSTOR-crawl through every article with "normal" in the title and most are from hard-science journals who, based on my quick reading, use 'normal' to refer to statistic normality based on the normal curve (e.g. "Relative Blindsight in Normal Observers and the Neural Correlate of Visual Consciousness").

The normal curve, for those who are statistics savvy, has some interesting implications for how the universe works under the seams, especially when you bring in the central limit theorem. This, as usual, gives the hard sciences, with their easy to isolate units, to have a non-political 'normal' while social science, with our gross smelly units, have socially constructed normality. More anon.

Pic from here.

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