abNormal: A Short Documentary on the Science of Being Different

What do a dancer, a chess play­er, a visu­al artist, a trum­peter, an archi­tect, and a cab dri­ver have in com­mon? In the case of the dancer, the chess play­er, the visu­al artist, the trum­peter, the archi­tect, and the cab dri­ver pro­filed in trained mol­e­c­u­lar biol­o­gist and neu­ro­sci­en­tist and The Rough Guide to the Brain author Bar­ry J. Gibb’s abNor­mal above, they share… well, abnor­mal­i­ty, in some sense or anoth­er. This half-hour doc­u­men­tary, which Gibb made in con­sul­ta­tion with psy­chol­o­gist and neu­roimag­ing researcher Chris Frith, “points a micro­scope at human behav­iour, ask­ing view­ers to ques­tion their per­cep­tions of oth­ers and even of them­selves.” An ambi­tious man­date, espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er its cen­tral ques­tion: we know what we mean when we think of some­one else as abnor­mal, but what do all these oth­er peo­ple — peo­ple whom we might indeed find abnor­mal, for good, ill, or both — con­sid­er abnor­mal? Do they con­sid­er them­selves abnor­mal? And how do we define nor­mal­i­ty, let alone abnor­mal­i­ty, in the first place?

A tan­gled ques­tion, bor­der­ing on non­sense, but sci­ence can, as usu­al, clar­i­fy a few things. abNor­mal finds answers, or at least the appro­pri­ate ques­tions, in the work­ings of the human brain. It comes as an ear­ly offer­ing from Mosa­ic, a new site from the Well­come Trust “ded­i­cat­ed to explor­ing the sci­ence of life” by telling “sto­ries with real depth about the ideas, trends and peo­ple that dri­ve con­tem­po­rary life sci­ences,” all pub­lished as Cre­ative Com­mons-licensed con­tent. In this case, a set of human sto­ries — the frus­trat­ed IT work­er who ditched the office job to become a Lon­don cab­bie, the Thai painter who makes large-form works with three-dimen­sion­al nip­ples, the break­dancer bent on recre­at­ing and improv­ing on 1982 with his body alone — con­verge to elu­ci­date a deep­er sci­en­tif­ic nar­ra­tive about our brains, our envi­ron­ments, and the forms our lives take today.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

This is Your Brain on Sex and Reli­gion: Exper­i­ments in Neu­ro­science

Steven Pinker Explains the Neu­ro­science of Swear­ing (NSFW)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.