Ramble: Imperfection, Values, and Perfect Imperfection
They feel the thunderous footsteps ahead of them, they can see the metallic glint on the horizon. There is something there, and the essays and thoughts they have is the shadow of the colossus. Is religious thought the forecast of the technological eschaton? In a time before the information age, religious thought reflected the ancient human yearning for transcendence. The conception of the “other” who changes us is familiar in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The idea of changing ourselves is of a different vintage – is one coming true and the other being falsified? Or is it a false dichotomy, a meaningless distinction?
“There are two types of of existential threat: that which threatens our existence, and that which makes us existentialists” – Suspended Reason
Imperfection (rule flexibility) as human value
“Some people practice the move until it is perfect. Perfect and perfectly lifeless” - Mestre Poncianinho
Gymnastics is not dance. A gymnast may be stronger, faster, and more coordinated, but there is less there. We crave that which reminds us of our imperfection – I would much rather watch a talented and skilled dancer than a perfect gymnast on a pommel horse. In gymnastics, there is a platonic ideal of the perfect form of a movement and all gymnasts try to hit this mark.
An oscilloscope might produce a perfect musical note, but without the timbre that produces the micro-harmonies, the oscilloscope, although perfect, sounds cold and inhuman. Likewise, a gymnast performs inhuman feats of strength and coordination – this is amazing. And yet, just like an oscilloscope there is something missing.
Strict adherence to the rules leads to a rigid and dogmatic performance (even if the performance requires flexibility like gymnastics), while a complete dismissal of the rules is sloppy, messy, and appears untalented. In history, dogmatic approaches to art (such as religious art) eventually led to a complete dismissal of rules (post-modernism). These are extremes – with the ideal being a constant calibration, a flexible dialogue, with the rules. A dancer that combines technical expertise with a flexible appreciation of the rules – this relationship with the rules is what imbues a performance with passion and meaning.
Capoeira is called the “the dance of the disorderly” and it’s a constant conversation with convention. Even its historical development is rooted in enslavement and imprisonment – its way of bending the rules is physically embodied in the “drunk”, seemingly uncoordinated movements of capoeiristas. And yet these disordered movements became systematized into a rigid set of movements, which became the Regionale form of Capoeira. The Regionale form places emphasis on Capoeira’s martial aspect, while the loose, “drunk” form of Capoeira Angola places more emphasis on the game-like aspects. It is incredible to meet someone with great technical ability, who doesn’t lose sight of the game-like aspects and the ability to “bend the rules” (Mestre Poncianinho is perhaps one of these practitioners).
The various sports that involve acrobatic or gymnastic elements aren’t merely attempts to copy gymnastics – they contain so much more. Capoeira without storytelling, capoeira without the music, capoeira without the community – is not capoeira - it’s just bad gymnastics.We want to be doing other things besides the [perfect, ideal, platonic] movement, we want our movements to be more than gymnastics, we want to be perfectly imperfect.
[I know there is a fantastic community around gymnastics as well, with lots of creative people doing interesting work. I’m just pointing out the ways in which people seek more than just the “perfect form”]
All human values have some form of utility (no matter the contortions necessary)
A value that is anti-utility, still has a utility value (since it is a value). The cliché debate: Altruism does nothing for oneself, yet people still perform altruistic actions – why? Because it has a utility value, it DOES do something for oneself. Perhaps it makes you feel a certain way, emotionally or intellectually. It is simplistic that “people act altruistically because it makes them feel good”, This might be true, but someone might be altruistic for purely intellectual reasons. If you become emotionally crippled after taking a rock-to-the-head, you might still value altruism because you consider it “the right thing to do”. EVEN if an altruistic act caused you to feel emotionally ill, you might still pursue it if your intellectual convictions are strong enough.
Even though altruism is supposed to be of “no benefit to oneself” it must serve you in some way – people don’t have specific values for no reason. So for any individual, there is a positive utility value for all their values, even if a particular value seems to have negative utility (donating all of one’s money to charity). What is fascinating is the contortions that people go through to derive utility from innocuous or even negative values – the utility value that people get from self-sabotage (victim identification), over-eating (pleasure seeking), self-hate (self-enforced penance) etc.
AI is capable of maximizing any given value
There is an idea that we will still be making art in the future. Artists claim that “even if there is a superintelligent AI that is capable for optimizing any desired value, we will always treasure that which is imperfect and human”. But, imperfection itself is something that can be optimized for (dance vs gymnastics). A flexible relationship to the rules rather than maximizing a particular goal state, leads to a “Goldilocks level” of imperfection (neither too much or too little imperfection). There may be other ways of creating imperfection such as creating a plurality of goal states rather than just a single one.
Many Christians are comfortable with the idea that a perfect being created an imperfect world. Omnipotence can produce imperfection (but imperfection can never be omnipotent). We are special BECAUSE god optimized us for imperfection – neither too evil or too good. We are capable of becoming good despite “original sin”. We wish to be perfect, we wish to optimize, and if we can’t be perfect, than at least we can make something that’s perfect (or at least much closer to converging upon it). However, the final state of perfection is to once again create imperfection. Perfection is boring. Perhaps the final state of humanity is perfect imperfection.