Spectrums

Psychology and neuroscience are interesting topics for me. I’m by no means enmeshed in these fields, but I’ve always been fascinated by the complexity and capability of the human mind. We are Paleolithic hunter-gatherer primates that managed to create a global civilization far beyond our simple beginnings. All because of the capacity and flexibility of our minds. Of course, it’s not all white magic and high art that we play with. Each of us has our own share of darkness that we have to face. In that eternal balancing act, I can’t help but wonder if everything about us isn’t a sort of possibility spectrum rather than naturally fixed points.

Take racism, for example. We’ve all seen racist people. We’ve heard the hate speech or seen it online and we know some people believe deeply that some races are inferior to others. We also know the opposite - the open-minded, accepting saints that manage to ignore the genetic background of all peoples. But it isn’t a matter of being a complete racist or a color-blind non-racist. There’s a large swath of potential that people occupy. That’s a spectrum.

Same for other biases, like misogyny. There are a number of women-hating individuals. There are those that love and support women. There is a similar trait for bias against men. But it isn’t just a binary choice, you can find people that baseline on all points in between. Another spectrum.

Let’s see if this goes further, not just for biases but for other facets of the mind. It can be a controversial topic, but let’s touch on gender. Most of us are born with a definitive biological sex. Gender is a bit more flexible. There are very masculine men and there are effeminate men, there are very feminine women and there are very masculine women. Extending that out, it’s no surprise that there are men that identify as women and vice-versa. It’s less common, but it’s still part of the spectrum. Because gender is a multi-variant trait with a range of possibilities.

Baseline sexuality is perhaps more complicated but similar. Map out a potentiality line with one extreme of complete attraction to women (zero attraction to men) and the other being one-hundred percent attracted to men (no attraction to women). Most people will stack up at one end of the line (or claim that they do and ignore any thoughts or desires to the contrary). But others don’t, so there is a lot of range. This is only a simplification for the purposes of illustration. It’s much more complex, especially when we take certain preferences into account - blonds vs brunettes, varieties of kink, etc. Also, it’s possible that the spectrums shift on the basis of context (e.g., prison).

For both gender and sexuality, there are points in the spectrum that have only recently been considered acceptable within some communities. Societal systems simplify ranges for the sake of cohesion and utility. Ancient Sparta didn’t need effeminate men. America during westward expansion didn’t need super feminine women. Modern, industrialized nations aren’t reliant on uber-masculine men (and even goes so far as to invent ’toxic masculinity’). Culture and institutions don’t take all potentialities into account. That is not their function. It might be the opposite of their function which is to organize, and to some sense homogenize, large groups of people. This can be a feature and not a defect when you consider the more problematic spectrums.

Tendency to violence is also a spectrum. At one end is the pacifist that would never harm another living thing. At the other the most brutal of psychopaths that will harm anyone they can get away with harming. We all have a natural inclination that lies somewhere along this axis and it is our cultural conditioning that determines our expression of it. Narcissism is another tendency that society can dampen. We’re all self-interested to a degree. Our natural set point along with environmental conditioning determines where we are in the range between quiet humility and vain egoism. Mental illnesses can also be viewed as spectrums. Depression has the polar opposites of elation and despair. Sanity is a matter of degree rather than a matter of not being insane. We all hear voices in our heads after all. We all have imaginations that allow us to visualize what isn’t there.

There is no ‘normal’. There are only words that we use to simplify spectrums. Norms and morality are acceptable ranges that change over time. Put all these set points together and you’ll get complex, multi-dimensional spectrums. These are world-views. These are personalities. These are individuals. To be clear, this is a thought experiment. A way of considering the world. To the extent that it matches with established science, I can’t say. As with everything you find here, and on most websites, the usual warning applies. I’m just some guy on the internet. Caveat lector.