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Reflections From The Front Porch

Imperfect People

Written by Darrell Anderson.

For many years I have commented that humans are “imperfect people living in an imperfect world.” I have used those words to describe the fundamental challenge all humans face of simply living amongst one another in a peaceable manner. As I have matured in my own understanding of the universe and accepting the foundational principle that everything I know is subject to interpretation, the more I question how I have used those words. What exactly is the definition of imperfect?

To define the word imperfect I first must define the word perfect, and therein lies a challenge. My Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (Second Edition, 1983) provides many definitions for the word perfect, but the general gist is to convey an idea of completeness, correctness, and flawlessness. Thus, an obvious question becomes, “Complete, correct, or flawless according to whom?” According to what standard?

The reality to me is that perfection is a subjective definition. The Second Law of Thermodynamics describes an inefficient universe. Is that inefficiency also imperfection? Yet, if the Second Law is an immutable natural law, then how can I judge that law to be imperfect? In nature, that which is, is. Thus, from that one perspective, how can I declare that humans live in an imperfect world? Nature knows no such thing as perfection.

Most often when using those words I was referring to the interactions of humans with one another. Indeed, through much of my conversations and writings I discuss the concept of trespass. By trespass I mean the interaction between humans whereby one or more individuals traverse intentionally or unintentionally across known and generally accepted boundaries that are intended to guide and limit human action. Through the concept of trespass many people reject theft, for example.

Yet, I did not use the words “imperfect people living in an imperfect world” to describe intentional violations of known boundaries, but often to describe inadvertent and accidental trespasses. For example, auto accidents rarely are planned or foreseen, and many people would describe such events as imperfect people living in an imperfect world; but again, what is imperfection?

If imperfection is used merely to describe the fact that every human is a creature of limited knowledge and that no human has ever been known to be omniscient, then are such actions describing imperfection or mere ignorance? If by nature humans always have been creatures of limited knowledge and cannot foresee the future, then are such actions describing imperfection or only that which is?

I will stop using those words I have used for so long. Although my intent for using those words was to encourage other people to realize we live in a complex world with an almost infinite number of ideas and beliefs about the world, I instead will declare only that we all are creatures of limited knowledge living in a world that is not totally unknowable and that no human is omniscient.

Of course, regarding certain events some people will respond to such a declaration that an individual “should have known better.” According to whom? If every individual is a creature of limited knowledge, then by definition every human is ignorant to one degree or another. Ignorance is curable by obtaining additional knowledge, but how does the ignorant individual know that something is unknown, or perhaps more important, should be known?

Are humans imperfect people living in an imperfect world? I no longer believe so. Perfection is subjective. However, I do indeed believe all humans are ignorant, all are creatures of limited knowledge, and nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty. To paraphrase that popular bumper sticker, things happen. There is no better explanation. That which is, is.

Finis.

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