Imperfections

When I was a kid I always wanted my little possessions to be perfect. The tiniest imperfection bothered me and I was unable to see that the rest of whatever treasure was “perfect”. One day, it occurred to me that it was precisely that little imperfection that made that particular object unique, different from the toys or notebooks or pencil boxes that everybody else had. My imperfect one was unique.

An imperfection is not an imperfection in itself. It becomes so because it deviates from the average. If I had a sixth finger, that would be an imperfection on planet Earth, but if I lived in a planet where everybody had six fingers, it could no longer be considered an imperfection. Imperfections depend on the context. Different is imperfect, in the sense that it is not the average (or it wouldn’t be different, by definition).

As humans, our imperfections make as unique. In reality, no human being represents the absolute average human being. Each of us is a collection of little imperfections, differences, deviations from the average. But we all have in mind what an average human being would look like.

Average is our god. We want to be as close as possible to the average. Imperfections take us away from the average, move us to the outer part of the Gauss curve. And it’s cold out there. By moving away from the average human being we feel as if we are moving away from the group. The more different we are, the less we belong. And no one enjoys being an outcast, not even introverts. It’s interesting, because it is often the individuals in the outer 5% of the curve who make civilisations advance. It may seem as if societies reluctantly tolerate these outliers, but the reality is that they are the ones who push society forward. They might be frowned upon by the perfect citizen, but they are needed. They are the energy, the reason and the heart behind big changes.

…And yet the bourgeoisie survives, is strong, thrives. – Why? The answer is because of the lone wolves. The fact is that the vital strength of the bourgeoisie is by no means based on the characteristics of its normal members, but rather on those of the extraordinarily numerous ‘outsiders’, as the English call them, that it manages to bring within its embrace because its ideals are so vague and elastic.

Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

From an evolutionary point of view, what we call imperfections are intrinsic to evolution itself. In the early years of the century, we completed the sequence of the human genome. However, not one individual has that precise sequence in their genome. Not a single one. We all carry thousands, millions of mutations in our genome. Deviations from the average. Each of us bear our bunch of personal mutations, our genomic badge of honour, like it or not. Most of these mutations have no functional consequences (that we know of). A very small percentage are incompatible with life and those individuals die, most of the time before they have the chance to transmit those variants to their offspring.

Besides those deadly mutations, which are a minority, the rest are an attempt of life itself to diversify the species, to change it so that at least some individuals will be able to adapt if the environment is transformed. Imperfections are deviations from the average, but they are not imperfect. On the contrary, they are perfect in their aim. They ensure the survival not only of the human species, but of life itself. By making all individuals slightly different, by diversifying, life ensures the perpetuation of the species or, if it came to the worst, of at least some species. The perpetuation of some form of life.

Imperfections are the substrate of evolution and growth. In the future, some of the traits we now consider an imperfection will become part of the “perfect” (as in average) evolved human being. Unaware, any individual might bear within him or her the germ of a superior human being. I don’t dare to imagine what “superior” may mean, but let’s be optimistic. It will be fitter, better adapted to the surrounding reality. That reality will determine which of our imperfections become “perfect”, which are tolerated and which are eliminated. Imperfections are the essence of change and of life itself.