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meroberts's picture

What is normal?

Emily, I think yours is an interesting point of view to bring to the conversation about everything in the world being a construction of our brain. I personally feel fairly comfortable with this idea but I do have reservations about this topic. I agree that everything we perceive is a construct, but I would say that it is more than just the brain that influences the way in which it is perceived. I believe culture and society and individual/group value systems also determine the construction of the object. For example, the sky in Emily Dickinson's poem is a construct of the mind/brain. But Emily Dickinson might think about the sky differently than another person. One could associate the sky with a religiously and culturally influenced perception of something holy. It could also be viewed as an integral part of our atmosphere, responsible for precipitation, which in turn creates water vapor that absorbs harmful sunlight.

The way people view the world is influenced by their societies and cultural understandings. There is a hotly debated example of this involving terms for snow in the Eskimo Inupiat language: http://ming.tv/flemming2.php/__show_article/_a000010-001436.htm

 Many people debate whether or not these particular Eskimo people actually have more words for snow than an English-speaker, but the idea is still the same. It would make sense for someone who is constantly surrounded by snow to have a diverse repertoire of words conveying different meanings about the snow. Because snow is important to this culture, there are different ways of interpreting what may seem to us to be one thing.

So what is normal does indeed influence the way we construct objects in our minds, but what is assumed to be "normal" can vary across, and even within, cultures and its subgroups. The best brains are the ones that can appreciate other variations of "normal".

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