On overlapping bell curves and the irony of being an outsider

Suppose you have a population–we’ll call it PopA. PopA can be just about any group of people–farmers, classical music lovers, Ukrainians, women, etc. In any population, you’re going to get a range of traits (unless you’ve selected your population in some exact way). Farmers, for example, vary in the sizes and productivity of their farms; women vary in height and weight. Variation in many (though not all) traits can be modeled with a bell curve:

2014-10-03-blogbellcurve

Take height: some people are very short, and some are very tall, but most cluster near their group’s average.

Where we have two (or more) groups, they must vary on the distribution of some trait/s. (Otherwise they would not be separate groups.) For example, the group of classical music lovers tends to listen to more classical music than the group of rap music lovers (who, in turn, tend to listen to more rap music.) Women, on average, are shorter than men. But few groups are absolutely distinct–there are some classical music lovers who also listen to some rap music, and rap fans who listen to a few classical compositions, just as there are men and women who are the same height.

We can figure ut something else from thi graph: men lie about their heights
Men and women arranged by height

Picture 9

A graph of male and female heights

In America, the biggest groups people tend to be aware of (or act like they are aware of) are gender and race:

Picture 10

Asians, whites, Hispanics, and blacks.

You can pick just about any trait to label this graph. We’ll use introversion/extraversion. Introverts are on the left; extroverts are on the right.

“Normal” people–that is average ones–tend to have, by definition, a lot of traits in common with the other people in their group. These folks fit in comfortably. For our example, a normal member of Group A, while more introverted than the national average, is perfectly at home among most other members of Group A. A normal member of Group C, while more extroverted than the national average, is perfectly happy among other members of Group C.

Picture 6

To be explicit: normies have it pretty good. They are constantly surrounded by people who are just like themselves. Outliers, by contrast, tend to be alone (and are often ostracized, bullied, or otherwise attacked by more normal people.)

The thing about traits is that they tend to cluster. People from Pakistan, for example, tend to be Muslim, speak Urdu + a second language, and have brown skin. People with a specific mutation of the EDAR gene–found primarily in east Asians–have thicker hair, more sweat glands, smaller breasts, and differently shaped teeth than people without it. People who like country music are more likely to be pro-life than people who like techno. Women tend to like handbags, diets, and babies, while men tend to like sports and cars.

If traits didn’t cluster, we wouldn’t have groups.

One of the results of this is that normal people on one bell curve probably won’t get along all that well with normal people on another bell curve. To use a somewhat simpler graph:

Picture 5 copy

Normies A, B, and C get along well with normal people from their own groups, but tend not to get along all that well with normal people from other groups. Normie A, for example, is a perfectly normal introvert from group A, and finds most people from groups B and C way too extraverted and regards interacting with them as quite unpleasant. Normie C is a perfectly normal extravert from Group C, and finds most people from groups A and B way too introverted. Normie B thinks there are some perfectly reasonable members of Groups A and C, but that most As and Cs are extremists, and that both sides need to be more like B.

But this is not generally a problem, as normies can just hang out with other people from their own group, who tend to be like themselves.

Let’s talk about outliers:

Picture 5 copy2

Our outliers are, by definition, far from average. Our extremely extraverted member of Group A is simply way too extraverted for other As, and our introverted member of Group C doesn’t get on well with the average C at all. But our extraverted A gets on just fine with normal members of Group C, and our introverted C gets on fine with normal members of Group A.

Obviously my graphs have been rather arbitrarily chosen (actually, chosen for their ability to show up well on the screen rather than their accurate portrayal of the ethnic breakdown of introversion/extraversion.) It is easy to imagine traits that vary in all sorts of interesting ways between groups, depending on the shapes of their relative bell curves. Despite the limitations of my visuals, I hope the overall idea, however, is clear.

Anyway, this was all inspired by conversations/observations I was reading the other day on the kinds of people who enter into interracial marriages. No, I wasn’t reading Stormfront; these were perfectly mainstream-to-leftist people who probably approve of interracial marriage. For example, I have read several complaints from Asian women who say that they get a lot of attention from really creepy guys who have some kind of weird Asian fetish. (And here I just assumed that guys like Asian women because Asian women are less obese.) Another post, written by the (grown) child of an interracial couple, asserted that his dad had married interracially because he was too socially incompetent to attract a woman of his own race.

Harsh, but from the normie perspective, people who get along well with members of other races may in fact be outliers from their own, and are thus considered “socially incompetent.”

At the opposite end of the spectrum, anecdotal observation of white women who marry black men suggests that they, too, are not “average,” but instead have a lot in common, personality-wise, with black men. They tend also to have more limited social opportunities due to poverty. (This should be a caution, by the way, for people trying to model the effects of racial admixture: admixture is unlikely to come from a random sample of the population, but to have been selected in some way.)

I feel like repeating here that even though normal people are harsh on outliers, does not automatically mean that being an outlier is morally reprehensible. Highly intelligent people and criminals are both outliers; very short and very tall people are outliers. Blind people and homosexuals are outliers. Outliers can be good, bad, or totally neutral. They’re just not normal, and normal people think that being normal is morally good, because they’re normal, and people default to thinking that they and people like them are good.

As I noted back in the post about adoption, 61% of whites say they’re okay with intermarriage, but only about 2% of them have mixed or other-race children, including step and adopted kids. Given the number of minorities in the country + random chance, about half of the whites who say they’re okay with intermarriage ought to have a mixed-race family–30% of whites, not 2%. Breaking it down by liberal vs. conservative doesn’t help–2% of conservative whites live in mixed-race families, vs. 2.4% of liberal whites, which is really not much of a difference to crow about.

Being okay with intermarriage is a normative value among whites (and probably other racial groups, too,) but differences in the distribution of personality traits may prevent most normal people from forming a lot of friendships (or romantic relationships) with people from different races. By contrast, outliers may get along better with people of other races. Ironically, this means that people whom normals might characterize as “racist” are likely to actually get along pretty well with people of other (or certain) races.

Hence why Derbyshire, a “white advocate,” is married to an Asian woman.

Creativity and Psychoticism

I was discussing the research for the AIDS and California post with a friend the other day, and they reacted with what I recall as shock and horror, protesting that San Francisco was home to Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs (formerly,) and all kinds of fabulous innovations. I thought about this for a moment, and replied something to the effect of, “Creatives are Psychotic.”

Now, I do not mean that creative people are stark raving bonkers and lost connection with reality, nor that they are violent, dangerous, malicious, or anything like that. I do mean that their minds do not function the same as everyone else’s.

Normal people, as I’ve mentioned before, (seem to have) neurological feedback loops that make them imitate other people. This is deep in the wiring of the brain; it’s crucial for things like learning to talk. People who imitate other people are normal, functional humans; people who fail to imitate others generally have severe life impairments. Understanding how these feedback loops work and influence our decision-making processes is crucial, IMO, to understanding the vast majority of humans.

But creative people, by definition, are not imitating others.

There are two obvious ways to be creative:

  1. Not know what other people know/think about something. Therefore, you are completely unable to have any conformist thoughts about it.
  2. Not care what other people know/think about something.

Most people who don’t know what other people know/think are small children, and small children are wonderfully creative. To get the same effect in an adult, in any useful sort of way, your best bet is to look for outsiders. Outsiders aren’t deeply tied into and invested in your way of thinking and doing things, and so can easily see things you’ve overlooked. I tend to think of Jayman’s creativity, for example, as springing at least partially from his semi-outsideriness, giving him a perspective other people lack. (Jay, if I’m wrong, forgive me.)

Creatives who don’t care what other people know see past what everyone else sees. They see new ways to combine things, new ideas, new stuff other people haven’t tried yet.

Normal people either cannot see this stuff, or when they do see it, their neuro feedback loops punish them for having deviant wrongthought.

The normal person experiences reality like a fish experiences water. A creative person is a fish with wings.

A normal person cannot escape from reality. They struggle to produce novelty because their brains only like doing things that are already being done. Normal is their programming.

Creatives lack some aspect of this programming. The normal feedback loops aren’t there. They are disconnected from reality. Not totally, of course–if they were totally disconnected, they’d probably just walk in front of a car and then we’d never hear from them again. They are usually connected enough to function, to eat and sleep and not get run over, but to be frank, all of that normal stuff is often a struggle for them.

Paul Erdős comes immediately to mind. Yes, mathematicians are creatives. This is obvious.

From the Wikipedia:

“Possessions meant little to Erdős; most of his belongings would fit in a suitcase, as dictated by his itinerant lifestyle. Awards and other earnings were generally donated to people in need and various worthy causes. He spent most of his life as a vagabond, traveling between scientific conferences, universities and the homes of colleagues all over the world. He earned enough in stipends from universities as a guest lecturer, and from various mathematical awards to fund his travels and basic needs; money left over he used to fund cash prizes for proofs of “Erdős problems” (see below). He would typically show up at a colleague’s doorstep and announce “my brain is open”, staying long enough to collaborate on a few papers before moving on a few days later. In many cases, he would ask the current collaborator about whom to visit next.”

Just one case; you may provide many others. Artists who cut off their ears or seem obsessed with vaginas; rock stars with their fiery careers and often spectacular ends; scientists or engineers obsessed with tiny, obscure bits of the world that no one else pays attention to, like eels or gyroscopes.

For San Francisco to be both the source of great technological breakthroughs and improvements, and a place where a good percentage of the population decides to just throw social norms out the window, heh, norms, who needs the damn things? seems entirely sensible. Sometimes not caring what other people think leads to good ideas, sometimes to bad ideas, sometimes to really strange but ultimately neutral ideas.

Therefore:

  1. If you want creativity and innovation in your society, you have to tolerate some crazy, socially-deviant behavior from your creatives.
  2. A certain percentage of “outsiders” will probably help maximize society’s creative output.
  3. Creatives are not always very good at taking care of themselves. If a peripatetic mathematician arrives suddenly on your doorstep, it’s probably best for humanity if you let him sleep on your couch and do math on your table. Society at large may want to keep this in mind, as well.
  4. Don’t believe *everything* creatives say. Sometimes they have great breakthroughs; sometimes they just don’t see the underlying logic for doing things the normal way.

 

This was not originally my idea–I think it was Bruce Charlton‘s. If not, I apologize.

Little White Lies and What They Mean

Back on my post about society lying, I mentioned a category of untruth that we might generally consider “little white lies”.

In our society, these lies are generally feel-good statements, like, “everyone is beautiful,” or “don’t care what others think–be yourself!” If you believe these things too literally, you’ll get in a lot of trouble, because reality doesn’t work that way. But if you try to point out that these are lies, you’ll meet a lot of resistance–people are very committed to their lies. Sometimes large chunks of their identities or interaction with the world rest on these sorts of lies.

So what’s up with that?

I mentioned in the previous post that I was over-simplifying, and I am. You see, I have only explored the situation so far from the POV of someone like me–someone who takes things literally and prefers factual analyses over emotional ones.

Most people aren’t like me.

Most people, (as far as I can tell,) do most of their functional thinking via their emotions, and use words not in precise ways to convey actual facts about the world, but wield them like the blobs of paint in an impressionist painting to convey the emotions they feel on a subject.

Confusing one approach for the other leads to great miscommunication. The facts-and-numbers person misunderstands the feelings-person, and starts rambling off about a bunch of irrelevant fact-things that the feelings-person either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about. The only thing that is clear to the feelings-person is that the facts-person is a humorless jerk who keeps saying their feelings are wrong. The only thing clear to the facts-person is that the feelings-person makes no damn sense because they keep saying stuff that is wrong.

Let’s use the Trolley Problem as an example. Suppose a trolley is about to kill a bunch of children who have accidentally wandered onto a railroad track, but you could save them by pushing another person in front of the trolley. You know the problem.

Present this problem to a feelings-person, and imagining trolleys killing children will make them unhappy and sad and the alternative of murdering someone will also make them unhappy and sad. The feelings-person concludes that you must be a terrible person because you asked them this question that made them feel so terrible. What kind of monstrous person goes around thinking about trolleys murdering children?

The facts-person, meanwhile, has gotten totally annoyed at the feelings-person for not answering the hypothetical and turning this nice, reasonable discussion of utilitarian calculi into a flame war about their totally irrelevant feelings.

So when dealing with feeling-people, the important thing to remember is to try to understand what they mean, rather than what they say. When a feelings-person says, “Be yourself!” what they actually mean is, “I think society should be generally more accepting of certain forms of quirky and essentially harmless variation, and people should be generally less concerned with what others think. I pledge not to be too judgmental of people who are a little different in ways that aren’t too weird or disruptive, and may myself be a little quirky.” This is a fine message; you just have to understand that this is what “be yourself!” actually means, and not mistake it for actually encouraging you to go to work naked (or whatever you would do if there were nothing stopping you.)

(Likewise, feeling-people, when dealing with facts-people, they aren’t trying to be kill-joys. They just require a lot of tolerance and clarity.)