The truth and us


There’s no one else just like you.

That’s right – your fingerprints, your DNA, your handwriting, the way you walk, and so on – all this is distinctly original.  Our brains are hardwired to discern the smallest features that distinguish one face from another, so that we never forget a face, even at a distance.

Then again, on another level, there are a lot of people just like you.  Most people, in fact.  Look at the diagram of the bell curve.


In the middle of the curve is the average, also called  the “mean.”  68% of people tend to be clustered closely around the average – within one standard deviation, as it is called.  This is true of anything that is randomly distributed – height, IQ, athletic abilities, some behavioral characteristics, and much more.  Most of what your we think of as unique is, in fact, randomly distributed and subject to a whole set of scientific laws that we’ll never be able to change.  Indeed, the illusory character of uniqueness is captured perfectly by the term standard deviation.

Go out two standard deviations from the mean, and you have accounted for about 96% of all people.  The people who really make things happen lie in the “tails,” two standard deviations or more out from the mean.

The territory of the tails, on both sides, includes the super-geniuses and super-morons, the saints and sociopaths, the superstars and the ne’er-do-well’s.  Each tail has about 2% of the population, which means that about 4% of people are truly unique.  Only one of the tails contains the people that are usefully unique; the other contains the 2% who must be institutionalized or monitored in some important, and usually costly, way.  In a lot of ways, parents playing the odds just might hope their kids are more like everyone else than not.

Think about it this way:  all leopards have spots, and no two leopards have the same spots.  The same goes for zebras and their stripes.  Penguins can distinguish the call of their mate from among thousands of squawking birds in the colony.  But they all look and sound the same to me, and they’re all beautiful, too.

Maybe the same goes for us.  What do the zebras see when they look at a crowd of people?

It’s great to be yourself, an individual, someone with special talents.  But every once in a while, it’s good to celebrate what we are just as much as what I am.


Credits:  Photo of zebras, being all different from each other:

Graphic of normal curve and distribution by


Filed under individuality, life, normal distribution, statistics

6 responses to “The truth and us

  1. My parents wish I was more like everyone else, or more precisely like my cousins, the good ones at least by their standards.

    Nice post, we all have our own individuality, as well as us as a whole 🙂


  2. micehell

    I’ve kinda pondered on this topic, too. My daughter has written, on a social networking site, that she’d love to spend the rest of her life with someone who was just like her… and I thought omg, that sounds like HELL.

    I need a point to my counterpoint – someone opposite yet focusing on the same fulcrum. Perhaps my roots aren’t strong enough to withstand the force of those native to my surroundings & that’s ok, that’s good… but I like being the odd wildflower seed that thrives despite the odds.

    That’s how I’d prefer to get attention. 🙂

    • Hey there … long time since I heard from you. Hope you’re well. Your comment makes me think of doing a post to be called “the truth and outliers.” Though to do so I’d have to red that Malcolm Gladwell book, and I’m not a fan. Then again, it’d be an opportunity to blah-blah-blah on MG. Or maybe “truth and doppelgangers.” Who knows….

  3. Pingback: The truth and set theory: more on Mr. McNamara « truth and rocket science

  4. I love love love this post! Celebrating me and we….

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