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Bell Curve in the Dark
Dreamed 1982/8/17 by Chris Wayan

Cops break up our writing class. You can't escape the Normal Police! But many of us students flee out the back, hopeless though it is. For a second I can't find the escape hole, but a black classmate hisses "here!" We crawl through the hole, one by one, and drop into darkness.

Blindly, by feel and sound, we bounce down like pachinko balls through a weird space full of round hollow beams in a pyramidal lattice. The beams ring like bells as you hit, each in a different tone. You can steer by the tones toward the Safety Caves. Just bang out the right tune ("Michelle, My Belle", of course) and you'll land in the mouth of Safety.

If we fell randomly, like the cops will if they find the secret door, we'd fall into a pile the shape of a bell. The Bell Curve! Like the more-or-less Gaussian distribution of IQs. But by choosing our path, we rebels can arrive instead together at a safe place on the fringe of the curve, beyond the curve. Awareness violates the odds, reverses entropy. We're little Maxwell's Demons!

And proud of it.

Group of people falling through a maze shaped like Pascal's Triangle, sorting into a Gaussian bell-curve.
YEARS LATER

I'm certain the dream's about giftedness--it puns on the title of the controversial book The Bell Curve, about IQ tests sorting people into new social classes, and the bias toward good test-takers. But the dream proposes an alternate reason the gifted drift together: they're fleeing hostility from average people, from those in the heart of the bell curve. Except...

I dreamed this years before I read The Bell Curve--before it was published, in fact. Not that this makes my dream a predictive parody--in studies of genius and the gifted, the bell curve is constantly mentioned. It's a simple graph: put high IQs to the right, low ones to the left. The height of the curve shows how many people score in each range. Since most people score near 100, the hump of the bell centers there and drops off fast away from it.

In my dream, the people-heap thinned out to nothing four or five posts out from the center. That's true on the real bell curve too: you only find the rare idiot or genius, out where the bell meets the ground, four or five "standard deviations" away from normal IQ. "Standard deviation" is a statistical milepost; for the IQ bell curve, one SD is about 16 points. (So the gap between black and white IQ scores that racists fussed about for decades would barely be visible on this chart!)

It's not surprising I'd dream I landed outside the people-heap, beyond the bell-curve of normality. I did. I was a child prodigy outside the bell curve; my teachers (and parents) didn't quite know what to do with me. Not that I know, either. Other than build websites about dreams of human pachinkos.

No, wait. The dream says one thing more. We landed way off the IQ curve by our own efforts! The dream hints that odd rebellious souls can either get fussy who they'll be born to, or maybe prenatally tweak their genes or biochemistry, to guarantee they'll be geniuses--or idiots. Despite the astral Gene Police wanting us to be normal.

Or do they? Could it be those cops broke up our fun on the astral plane, hoping we'd dive down to earth, to incarnation, and scuttle off beyond the normal curve? Maybe souls who feel like refugees here on Earth really are. Maybe some bodhisattvas didn't come back to this dump out of compassion--what if at least some earthly misfits had to be harassed out of heaven, so they'd raise hell on earth? Tilt the pinball, kick the pachinko, refuse the pledge, tip over cop cars, stand in front of tanks?

Does the world really need, not more love, but more skeptical, irritable, brilliant kooks? Kids who grow up inexplicably unable to tolerate the intolerable?

And one last question: am I being obvious enough for y'all, here?



LISTS AND LINKS: dream puns - symbols - bell curves, Gaussian distributions, and other math/logic dreams - musical dreams - instruments - Beatles - geniuses, prodigies, and IQ issues - Herrnstein and Murray's "The Bell Curve" - non-dreamish essays and rants

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