One Sigma Certainty (or Don’t Be That Guy)

If you get it, it’s awesome.

So, you’ve probably heard of the ninety-nine per cent and the one percent, but have you ever heard of the 68.2689492%. I didn’t think so. Now, before you run away screaming, thinking I’m going to be talking about math and stuff, take a deep breath and relax. I’m going to talk about philosophy instead. Well, sort of. Just bear with me.

One sigma (1σ) is what statisticians call a standard deviation. Probably because the that’s where all the deviants are. (No joke.) The exact derivation is only important if you are a serious number nerd, in which case you already know it, so I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say whenever you get a population (e.g. a group of people) together you can divide them into three groups: about seventy percent fall in the middle, fifteen percent are exceptional, and the remaining fifteen percent are deficient. It doesn’t matter what you measure. The distribution remains constant.

It’s that bell curve thing that they would talk about in math class, which I think looks more like a breast than a bell. But you can’t mention breasts in a room full of teenage boys without a lot of snickering, so the other name stuck. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Statistics.

Take height, for example. In a certain area, some people will be tall, some will be short, but most will be stuck in the middle. The interesting thing to me is that it also works with other qualities. Some people are excellent drivers with flawless records who never speed, and others are accidents waiting to happen. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, with a couple of fender benders and parking tickets.

The pattern holds true for our moral choices as well. In studies where wallets are dropped on city streets to see if people will return them, at least fifteen percent, no matter how you break down the categories, will never return the wallet. Likewise about fifteen percent will always return the wallet. The rest of the people may or may not depending on what’s in the wallet, what kind of mood they’re in, or possibly the phases of the moon – who can say.

But the interesting thing is, it doesn’t matter where you draw the line. Since you are grading on a curve, even if you throw out the bottom fifteen percent, another group of malcontents takes their place. Like the second law of thermodynamics, you just can’t win.

From this analysis, we can comfortably come to the conclusion that one in six people are dicks. It doesn’t matter what standard a group or society sets, every sixth person will feel the rules don’t apply to them. So, if you were ever wondering why there are so many Internet trolls, and people who honk their horns at two in the morning in a residential neighbourhood, it is an emergent property of the system. Pity them for they just can’t help it. Numbers don’t lie.

Another consequence of this means that one sixth of the people you meet are just better than everyone else. Nobody likes these people. It’s not that we’re jealous of their success, it’s just that they’re richer and better looking, and my mother keeps saying why can’t you be more like them. I can’t, mom. It’s against the laws of nature.

So I want the celebrate the ones in the middle, who tried and failed, or who are just serious procrastinators. You keep us from living in a world of extremes, which would make for good fiction, but a bad reality. Here’s to sleeping in late, missing deadlines, and doing a half-assed job. Cheers

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Crazed recluse and sociophobe who has taken up writing after failing at everything else. Send pizza.

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Posted in Blog, Just nerding out, Things I know less about than I think
5 comments on “One Sigma Certainty (or Don’t Be That Guy)
  1. workspousestory says:

    My mum was saying the same. Reason for so many sleepless nights!

    Like

  2. pinkagendist says:

    …but the ‘winners’ are more likely to bend the rules to get there: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/02/27/1068884/-The-1-more-likely-to-lie-cheat-and-steal-Science-says-so
    I see it happening all the time. All. The. Time. I’m generalizing, but the people who I know who are the most financially successful also happen to be the ones who seem to care the least about how what they do affects others.

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