COLUMN: Perfect, except for humans

Farm Forum

In some of my music composition/performance computer applications, there is a feature called “quantizing.” This feature allows me to correct the timing of misplayed notes to mathematical precision. In other words, I can create a composition which is right on the beat, note for note.

The results of using this feature ,however, are not always perfect. While all of the notes may be audibly and visibly perfectly in time, the composition can sound stiff and “robotic” when played. It is too “perfect.”

To compensate for this well known, problematic effect, the application has another feature called “humanizing.” This feature introduces small random mistakes into the playback of the piece so it sounds more like a human played it.

The interplay between these two features raises a number of interesting issues, among them, the concept of perfection.

We get a lot of pressure to be “perfect.” But what exactly do we mean by perfection? Is it possible to be perfect? Is it even human to be perfect?

It seems that most of the time perfection is abstract, subjective or conditional. It seems too much of a bother for many people to assign precise criteria for perfection. When it is defined, the definition often changes. The more detailed the definition, the more difficult perfection is for humans to attain, so humans have a certain aversion to strict definitions of perfection.

What one person or culture sees as perfection, others see as flawed. What is seen at one point in history as perfect, is seen as flawed at another time. A person, idea or even a tool that is “perfect” for one situation, is often inappropriate for another. So who gets to say who or what is perfect?

What a human hears as a perfect performance, the computer sees as flawed and corrects it. It will, however, condescend to “humanizing” it for us.

All of this makes me question the validity and meaning of perfection. I have found I can drive myself mad trying to be perfect. This is especially true if I try to be perfect for other people, people who most often lack clear, consistent and attainable definitions of perfection.

I have found perfect can become the enemy of good. Sometimes, when working on a composition, ceramic piece or poem, I will keep improving it until it is ruined. Often, the “humanized” version of the project was much better than the “quantized” version.

In some cultures, people purposely include flaws in their work as a statement that only God is perfect. In other cultures, people will not carve a human figure to realistic proportions so as not to appear to be competing with the gods.

I have learned from life and mentors that it is more important to be a good man than a great man. I have turned my back on the pursuit of perfection and accept my “humanized” state of frailty. I’m sure I will get the rhythm wrong and miss beats often. That’s what humans do.

Lawrence Diggs, Roslyn, is an author and professional public speaker. Write him at