Her first chapter, “A Brief History of the Normal”, makes her central point succinctly by examining the term’s shifts in meaning. Before the 19th century, normal meant “regular”, “governed by a rule”: a right angle was “normal”, while the French Ecoles Normales trained model teachers for a new rational era. It came to its modern sense via astronomy, in what would come to be known as “normal distribution”. The characteristic symmetrical bell curve emerged from Carl Friedrich Gauss’s plotting of errors in astronomical measurements in 1801: large errors occurred infrequently, generating the low, long tails; smaller errors occurred very frequently, generating the rounded peak around the most likely actual value of the phenomenon itself.
Largely a restatement of statistical variation. And given the number of different ways that we can measure a human we’re all at the extremes for one thing or another and therefore abnormal. So, normal doesn’t exist.
In one of the Tom Clancey’s, the one where the Iranians weaponise Ebola, one of the subjects they test (ie, infect and thereby try to kill) upon seems likely to survive the experience until they actively kill him. Some muttering about the depth of the human gene pool – meaning variance is so high that some would indeed survive even Ebola.
And let’s be honest about this, if something is an aside in a Tom Clancy novel it’s not exactly an unknown now, is it?