Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Paranormal is Common Today (updated)

We all know that the phrase the new normal is common today.  Much of its use is due to misconceptions about what normal is or should be.  Even though we often assume that things will conform to expectations, more often than not they do not.

Normal, normality, and other variants such as abnormal, anti-normal, and paranormal are Modernist ideas.  While many of these words, or their roots, are much older, they all get a big increase in usage during the widest breadth of Modernism, ca. 1890-1990.  The Latin root norma refers to a carpenter's square, rule, or pattern.  What could be more left hemisphere Apollonian than this?

Thus, in Dionysian eras like today, normal is less interesting and its use is diminished.

Normal is defined as (from

1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.
2. serving to establish a standard.
3. Psychology . (a). approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment. (b). free from any mental disorder; sane.
4. Biology, Medicine/Medical . (a). free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation. (b). of natural occurrence.
5. Mathematics . (a). being at right angles, as a line; perpendicular. (b). of the nature of or pertaining to a mathematical normal. (c). (of an orthogonal system of real functions) defined so that the integral of the square of the absolute value of any function is 1. (d). (of a topological space) having the property that corresponding to every pair of disjoint closed sets are two disjoint open sets, each containing one of the closed sets. (e). (of a subgroup) having the property that the same set of elements results when all the elements of the subgroup are operated on consistently on the left and consistently on the right by any element of the group; invariant.
6. Chemistry . (a). (of a solution) containing one equivalent weight of the constituent in question in one liter of solution. (b). pertaining to an aliphatic hydrocarbon having a straight unbranched carbon chain, each carbon atom of which is joined to no more than two other carbon atoms. c. of or pertaining to a neutral salt in which any replaceable hydroxyl groups or hydrogen atoms have been replaced by other groups or atoms, as sodium sulfate, Na 2 SO 4 .
7. the average or mean: Production may fall below normal.
8. the standard or type.
9. Mathematics . (a). a perpendicular line or plane, especially one perpendicular to a tangent line of a curve, or a tangent plane of a surface, at the point of contact. (b). the portion of this perpendicular line included between its point of contact with the curve and the x- axis.

Given its clear scientific connection, one might think that normal has a long history of usage.  In reality, it does not.  Other words such as regular, average, usual and common were used previously.

(click on chart for bigger view)

From the above chart we can see that normal and average where used mostly in the 20th century.  In the 18th century common and regular were more common.  In the 19th century common declines but is still most popular, and, usual became another widely used term.  Common, regular and usual decline as normal and average increase.  I suspect that common ceases to have much scientific use in the 20th century.

So, when we say something like the new normal is we are generally acknowledging that Modernist ideas about assumed patterns or norms have changed or are not working as expected.  In a deeper metaphorical sense, the real important change is that people are not interested in old-fashioned normal behavior or concepts.  While they heed those ideas, they also want and look for deviation and diversity.

This is one reason why the interest in the paranormal has become so common.  Again from

of or pertaining to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation, as psychokinesis, extrasensory perception, or other purportedly supernatural phenomena.

The phrase without scientific explanation is likely key here as I suspect it is falling apart; it is becoming more acceptable to use science to explain these issues than it was previously, and, in some cases, the paranormal is being viewed as normal.

Post Modernism has blurred the difference between normal and other forms of it.  Television shows such as Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State provide credibility to the normal investigation of such phenomena.  A show called Sanctuary even places humans and abnormals into various factions as allies and antagonists.  We all know that ghosts, werewolves and vampires rule popular entertainment.

In Western Civilization:
(a) when Apollonian metaphors dominate, humans are not animals as man and nature are viewed as being in conflict, and, life and death are separate categories that should not blur.
(b) when Dionysian metaphors dominate, man and nature are one, there is no distinction between humans and animals as we all have our human and animal traits, and, life and death are a continuum of spirituality.

So don’t forget to watch the new season of Being Human, which is about vampires, werewolves, and ghosts—you know, people just being normal.

Update 4 Jan, 2012:
Seems this one may have influenced another

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