Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review The Science of Evil: on Empathy and the Origins of Cruelity

    This book, by an author famous for his autism research, is an attempt to bring evil into the realm of the scientifically understandable by equating it with a type of deficiency in empathy.(pg. xii) I think, in the end, he fails. But I think the way he fails casts interesting light on the way we think about evil and the way we think about science.
He starts off describing instances of evil relating to the failure to take into account the human feelings of other treating them as objects to be used and disposed of. Then he goes on to tell a story of a Nazi guard forcing a man to help hang a friend. The guard is angry when the condemned man relives his friend's feeling and puts the noose on his own neck. Baron-Cohen attributes this to a lack of empathy. Now clearly in this case the evil guard is not unaware that the two men are thinking, feeling beings, he is not confused as to what their feelings in reaction to this situation are, he is not even ignoring their feelings. If he had been indifferent to their feelings there would be no reason for the guard to be angry. After all, the physical result, the noose around the condemned man’s neck, that he wanted had been accomplished. His anger only makes sense if his main goal was to inflict emotional distress, because that goal is what has been frustrated. This goal not only allows for but requires an awareness of the emotional capacity of the victims.
Baron-Cohen often focus on lack of awareness of or allowance for other people’s emotions as if this is the key indicator of a lack of empathy. In fact the first definition offered is “Empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attention and instead adopt a double minded focus of attention.”(pg 15-16) But in some of his most striking examples of evil, such victims of third world civil wars being forces to assault or kill family members, considerable extra effort is being taken just so that deep emotional scars can be inflicted on these victims, in it obvious that a violent awareness of the other person's feelings is the prime target of these perpetrators. And Baron-Cohen’s second definition included a nod to an ‘appropriate’ response: “Empathy is our ability to identify what some else is thinking or feeling and to respond to their thoughts and feeling with an appropriate emotion.” (pg16) This sounds like the person’s interior emotional reaction is the standard by which empathy or lack thereof should be judged, but throughout the book it is outward actions by which appropriate empathy is actually judged. As Baron-Cohen is nearing the end of the book he states: “According to the theory I have been developing in this book, it is only individuals with low empathy... who could attach or kill another person.”(pg. 169) So complete empathy is not only understanding others emotions but acting appropriately in response to them.
But this leads to the question of how we define the “appropriate” inappropriate reaction to others emotions. It can’t be simply to always avoid causing negative reactions in others, even if a child has a negative emotional reaction to getting shots there are times it is appropriate to give the child a shot anyway. It can’t even be to avoid negative emotional reactions when it is consistent with the person’s physical well being. Consider the case where one child has physically hit another child and hurt him or her. You don’t just want the hitter to say apologetic words by rote, you want that apology to be sincere, to have real remorse behind it. You will use your words and attitude to try to make the hitter feel sadness at the other child’s pain. You always have to balance negative emotional reactions of one person with their own emotions later, with the emotions of others, with the rights to others too distant in place or time for their emotions to be felt, even with your own emotional reactions. Thought there are incidences throughout the book of inappropriate reactions mentioned in passing they are not addressed directly nor are parameters for appropriate defined. So this “appropriate” reaction seems to stay in the realm of philosophy and ethics, An important part, in fact the pivotal part, to this new definition that is supposed to replace evil still slips beyond the measurable and the scientific.
    So why is Baron-Cohen so interested in trying to cram evil into the purview of science? On page 109 he gives this definition: “Truth is (pure and simply) repeatable, verifiable patterns.” This is a very good definition of what can be known scientifically. But look what this definition leaves out. anything that is truly unique is denied existence. Anything that can’t or won’t submit to a verification process not only can’t be known but can’t be True. In fact I’m not sure that part of emotion we actually experience is allowed to exist under this definition. After all, it is the physiological reactions and observable behaviors that can form verifiable patterns, the interior experience of having a feeling is reserved to the individual. There are many metaphysical categories that science has trouble finding traction in. And perhaps that is why Baron-Cohen call evil a non-explanation. (pg. 6) In the end Baron-Cohen is not able to take the uncertainties that come with our emotional judgment out of our inquiry into evil. But it is a noble attempt and provides much food for thought, about both empathy and evil.

This review is based on the hardcover edition.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

mini-Review Augustine: Philosopher and Saint

Augustine: Philosopher and Saint by Phillip Cary is an overview of Augustine of Hippo’s work is a fun easy listen designed specifically for its audio format.
I like reading Augustine but I also like listening to summaries such as this. It gives me a feel for how an author very distant in time fits into intellectual current both today and through history. It also helps me see some big picture things that I might not see when I’m looking closely at texts to understand an author in a very different cultural setting.
    A couple of things struck me in listening to this. Augustine is inventing the concept of love; the thing the will does is always love; love is always a seeking to be united with the beloved. So the will is free, because it can not be compelled by circumstances, it is like falling love, not one can force it on you from the outside. You can compel someone, through force, or payment, or social pressure, to decide to walk down a road or smile and shake hands, or work at solving a math problem, but the actual desire to be united with something else is always internal. The other thing is the idea that maybe a biblical interpretation doesn’t have to be strictly “correct” in order to be good, it just has to point towards truly loving God. This makes me feel better my view of Job.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Measuring success

I’ve read a couple of blogs lately that are commenting on various outcome indicators for various large groups of people. I think a lot of things are actually getting conflated in these blogs. Because of the time necessary to to a properly through look at something like this I want to focus in on one tiny part of what is being addressed here. I want to look at male female wage gap and the implicit assumptions behind how that is being used as a proxy for success.
by Images_of_Money
When someone makes a choose with negative economic implications it can be both natural and correct for that choose to have negative economic impacts and for the choose to still be a good and right choice. If someone has left the workforce for several years it is natural that they do not get the promotions, raises, and enriching job experience they would have if they had been working, so there is nothing wrong with them having lower earning power then those who didn’t take a break. But if that break was to take care of a child or family member then that choice is morally admirable in part because it entails a real lose. It’s OK for business to offer better salaries to motivate people to move to take a job, or work long hours, or to be constantly on call. But it is also OK for some people to choose not to take those higher salaried, more demanding jobs. And that choice can be beneficial in building communities as people stay close to family, reserve time for their home life, and stay available for commitments to friends. It’s fine for job markets to reward more highly jobs that are less intrinsically desirable. And it is fine for some people to, instead of going for jobs with high pay, go for jobs that give them a sense of helping people or doing something valuable for their community, or are simply less physically demanding or emotionally stressful.
    And that is where the problem comes in. If you present the difference between the wages of women as a group and men as a group as evidence that women are not as successful as men then you you have denied the validity of any individual woman’s choice to value something other than money. If studies show, as I think they would, that women are disproportionately more likely to make choices that trade monetary advantages for some other type of good, then the logic of a drive to close the wage gap would say that we either need to force women to make different choices or we need distort monetary rewards so they don’t reflect good business decisions. The first of these options is morally repugnant and the second destroys motivation for economic activity.

*Note, I’m not skipping the other types discrimination mentioned in the referenced posts because I think they are analogous but because I think them totally different. They would need their own detailed analysis.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Will education be next?

So Houghton Mifflin Harcourt filed for bankruptcy today. For a while now I’ve watched the sea change in the publishing industry with great delight. To summarize, the entrance of e-books and better print-on-demand technology has made the cost of entry into the publishing business much lower and the internet has made it much more likely that readers will discover and buy niche books. Big publisher are loosing their ability to command market share by simply investing in getting a lot of shelf space at the major book stores. The market has fragmented and people are buying a greater variety of books that they have heard about in a greater variety of ways. This has been bad of most of the publishing houses and for bestselling authors. This has been liberating for mid-list and beginning writers, giving them more freedom to write what they want and more control over whether or not they make money. As a reader it exciting to get the chance to read books I enjoy that might not otherwise have been published. It’s also exciting to see the cost of many books coming down and thus the getting to read more books for the same amount of money.
I’m now seeing speculation that education may be next. I’ve been thinking for awhile that this out to be possible and fantasizing about how I would set-up this up. I do think the information giving part of education can be mass produced to be very low cost. It is individualized supervision and feed-back that will be more expert intensive but even in that there are areas where automation will actually make the product better. I foresee a future where schools offer the lectures free as a loss leader for their testing and certification, offered at a fraction of what college costs today, with tutoring an optional service that can obtained on an as needed basis from whatever vendor you choose. I see it starting already. I can’t wait to watch the revolution happen.

Friday, May 18, 2012

No Going Back
My favorite publisher, Baen, is running a contest this month to promote the Jon and Lobo series by Mark Van Name. Jon is a freelance courier/fixer/mercenary. He has teamed up with Lobo who is an artificially intelligent spaceship and combat assault vehicle who has a dry sense of humor and cynical view of mankind.

The contest is for the best essay on the subject:  What would you do if you could have Lobo for a day?

Here is my entry

Most of us don’t know very much about the workings of the technology that make our lives possible. So if a human, even a extraordinary human like Jon, from a technologically advanced civilization visited earth for a day there would be a limited amount of useful science and engineering he could convey. But Lobo is a different matter. He probably has all sorts of memory capacity given the other abilities he has displayed. Maybe he has some school text books stored in memory. (After all I have have some on my Kindle, just ‘cause, well,... I could.) At very least his own tech manuals and the algorithms he uses to predict his own and others known combat capacity could be analysed to figure out all sorts of fascinating principles. He’s smart and intuitive enough to know what might be useful to me and with his hacking ability he should have no problem figuring out a way to download it to my computers.
Overthrowing Heaven
So the first thing I would do would be to ask Lobo to perform such a download of all the delicious data. (“You’ll be preforming the good deed of spreading knowledge and creating interesting chaos at the same time! What’s not to love, Lobo?”) Of course the information wouldn’t do me that much good without the ability to digest and develop it, and I couldn’t do a good job of that by myself. So the next thing I would do would be to call a bunch of friends who know something about technology or related fields and beg them to drop everything and come meet Lobo for themselves. I’ll want them to interact with him so they don’t think I’m crazy to believe in this data but are instead willing to invest their own time and effort in making a tangible difference with this information.
Jump Gate Twist
I’d be in a hurry to get this done, because if possible, I’d want them to have time to reach out to their own network of friends and have them come over (or be picked up, a spaceship buzzing around silicon valley, picking up employees on their lunch break? “Oh, that must be just Google’s latest extravagance.”) for their own experience of Lobo. I wouldn’t be able to keep control of most of the information. It’s unlikely the I would be the main, much less the sole, center of attention in the resulting fervor. But by being willing to share and displaying openness some of the people I’m friends with would be willing to share back and take me along for the ride. And the discoveries we would make in that data would be an adventure, not just for a day, but just possibly, for a lifetime.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whom are we Arguing with?

The one response I got to last week’s post included regretful note that these basics are seldom followed in our public discourse. So this week I want to look at some things that might push us away from good enthymemes and picking the correct stasis

So why do we so often use bad enthymeme? I think in our heart of hearts we are not really focused on the audience we claim to be addressing.
image by Adrian Jack Busby via Flicker
I first thought about this in the context of presidential debates. There it is very clear that it is not the point to try to change the minds of your opponents in the debate. (In fact it might be counter productive as one of the things you want is to show the difference between you and other candidates to the audience.) So while you may be responding to another candidate you are are obviously trying to persuade, not them, but the audience.
Even in this context, where I can see intellectually that it makes sense, the pseudo direction of the comments makes me cringe. And the same thing happens in any context where a discussion is taking place in public. The greater numbers entice you to move your persuasive skills away from the nominal interlocutor and onto the general audience that may be overhearing this.
Now the general audience actually contains many different kinds of people. Of course it contains people who have considered the issue and disagree with you. You might think these would be the people you would automatically focus on. But converting these people will be long, hard work.

Monday, May 14, 2012

mini-REVIEW Guardian of the Night

Guardian of the Night by Tony Daniels, 5 out of 5 stars. 

   This book is a Science Fiction Space Opera about some key players on both sides of a human alien war. The action is thrilling, the science is fascinating and the characters make you want to spend more time with them.
    One of the things that caught my attention was the internal debate the aliens were having about how to organize their society. These aliens were much more communal than we are today because of several basic facts of their biology as well as their history. Given that deemphasis on individualism, it was interesting to see how the different philosophies concerning distribution of power and control were phrased. One character saw the basic issue as whether or not the total amount of wealth available was fixed or not. That got me thinking: How do you answer that question without pre-determining your answer in the definition of wealth you choose?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

How to make a museum cube

Happy Mother’s day! I’m blessed with both a great mother and a great mother-in-law. For my mother this year I made what we call a museum cube from postcards we got when she took me on a trip to Italy. 
Since there has been some interest, here is how you make a museum cube:

finished museum cube
(Note: because of the time waiting for glue to set, I do this project over four or five days.)

* 8 cubes. They must be exactly square and exactly the same size. (I use 1 inch wooden cubes I get from Michael's. ) I’ll call these base cubes
* pictures to display on the sides of your museum cube, that will also hold your cube together. 6 squares pictures with sides that are a little more than twice the side of your base cubes, (For me a little more than 2 inch by 2 inch.) and 3 rectangular pictures that are the size of two the the square pictures next to each other. (for me, a little bigger than 2 inch by 4 inch)
* enough clear contact paper to cover your pictures, (If you are using pictures already on heavy paper, like postcards, this is optional and just adds to the durability of the cube, but if your pictures are on normal typing weight paper the contact paper is necessary to hold the museum cube together.
* glue suitable for gluing your pictures to your base cubes. (Since I’m using wood cubes Elmer’s glue works fine for me.)
* Scissors
* Exacto knife or similar tool
* A flat working surface and a heavy book or similar to weight your project down while it dries.
* optional, I used index cards and tape to make make little frame to help me select and trace the outline of the pictures I was going to use.

cutting out a picture
1) Select and cut out your pictures, I leave a little extra around all the edges to give myself room for mistakes later.
# While I didn’t do it this way, when I made my museum cube, I now think this would be the best time to apply the clear contact paper to the pictures.
not too much glue
2) Take four of the base cubes and glue them to one of the square pictures. The base cubes need to be lined up to each other in a square but not quite touching. There needs to be enough room for a double thickness of picture and contact paper to be slipped into the gaps between them. I use scraps of paper of the same thickness as pacers while doing the glueing. It is important the the glue not ooze out and get into the gap between base cubes, or worse, glue adjacent base cubes together. I put the glue towards the center of the faces of the base cubes and am careful not to use too much. With Elmers and wood I need to hold the blocks into formation on the picture for several minutes, and can then leave a heavy book to weight them into place while the glue dries overnight.
3) Do the same thing with the other four base cubes and one of the other square pictures.

+You can glue and cut the various side in a number of different and equally good orders. For the sake of simplicity I’m just going to describe the order I used when I did it last. I’ve made diagram to show where you need to cut in the scheme and so I can give the sides numbers to refer to. In this scheme the pictures you have just glued are 3 and 5.
4) Place the two pieces you have glued so far together so that the the form a cube with the already glued pictures facing out on opposite sides. Use a spacer to leave room between them for a double thickness of picture between them. Glue another square picture on one of the other sides of your cube. (if the picture from sides 3 and 5 are in the way because they are hanging over the base cubes around the outside, trim this part off. This will be side 1.
#If you have not started applying contact paper, and are planning on using it. Then you should start doing it now and to apply it as you go.
5) After picture 1 has finished drying, fold it in half so as to bring side 3 and five next to each other. The fold line will be in the opposite direction from the cut line shown on the diagram. Now on the opposite side from pictures 3 and 5 glue one of the rectangular pictures. This will be side 7. Allow to dry.
blocks cut apart
6) Trim the pictures that are hanging over the edge of the block of base cubes you have. Use an exacto knife to cut the pictures you have glued so far along the cut lines shown on the diagram. Doing the long way cut on side 7 first will help start the cut one side 1.
+ Note the from this point some the the picture that might overhang base cube are interior to the pictures that have been cut apart. DO NOT trim these edges. If they get in the way just alow them and the new picture you are gluing to push on each other.
held together firmly, getting ready for nest picture
7) The block of base cubes will have come apart but get them back in the configuration they were in at the beginning of step 6. Now, folding it on the long axis, rotate it apart so the sides 3 and 5 are on the interior of the block with their fold side up. Glue another rectangular picture on the top of the block. This will be side 9. After the glue is dry trim side 9 and cut it apart. You might want to fold it to side 7 to get the middle cut started from its back side.
8) Fold it back into a cube with side 1, 3, and 5 facing out. glue two more square pictures on the sides adjacent to side 1 that do not have pictures yet. (Remember to leave spacers between base cubes that do not yet have paper between them.) These are sides 2 and 4. Allow to dry, trim and cut along the cut lines on the diagram.
all done!
9) With side 1 up, pull side 1 apart on its cut line, rotating the base cubes down so that side 2 and 4 are now on the interior of the block with their fold sides up. Glue the last rectangular picture on the top of the block. This will be side 8. Allow to dry, trim and cut on cut lines.
10) Fold back into a cube. There should be one face left without a picture, on the opposite side of the cube from side 1. Glue the final picture here. This is side 6. Allow to dry, trim, and cut on the cut lines.

Your museum cube is now done!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Confirmation Bias and Enthymeme Mistakes

Confirmation bias is the human tendency to notice evidence that confirms what we already believe and to not pay attention to data that doesn’t fit into our preconceived notions. I’ve seen mention of this and accounts of research showing it often. But I haven’t noticed any research that address distinguishing between distaste for a contrary view per se, and distaste for arguments that had a bad enthymeme or a bad stasis.  
Image by Derrick Tyson
The assumption seems to be that any tuning out of contrary arguments is purely the result of natural resistance to the idea that you are wrong, ignoring the fact that some contrary arguments might be might be dismissed as irrelevant not because of their content but because of their framing. But it is important to consider there are two types of framing problems that could contribute to argument being tuned out: arguing about the wrong thing,wrong stasis, or starting the argument at the wrong entry point, wrong enthymeme.
    First let’s take stasis, which exact facet of the issue in question you address your argument to, usually divided into 4 possibilities. Stasis can be in fact “I didn’t steal your car, I never touched your car”, in definition “I didn’t steal your car, I borrowed it”, in quality, “I had to use your car to take grandma to the emergency room, she might have died.” or in procedure “car theft is a matter for the courts, you shouldn’t be pursuing this argument yourself but should leave it to the proper authorities..” A 5 minute harang focused on the physical evidence of my having taken to car is going to turn me off if my difference of belief is actually a statis in definition or quality, Likewise it would be offensive to hear a well reasoned argument about how what I did was wrong if I know you have the fact of what I did wrong.
Second let’s look at where you start your argument, the enthymeme. Enthymemes are the unstated parts of an argument, in a specific sense they are unstated constituents of syllogisms. In the broadest sense they are propositions commonly agreed on by everyone involved before the argument starts. They seem so obvious that they don’t need to be stated. In fact not stating them produces a sense of community and encourages people to engage in the conversation. But in any case you have to pick some point to start your argument at and whatever logically proceeds that point is your enthymeme.
Here’s a very simplified example of enthymemes and how they can go wrong:
Low interest rates always have a potential to produce high inflation. Therefore, the Federal Reserve must always reserve the option of raising interest rates if high inflation seem imminent.
If you look at this as a syllogism you will see it is missing a premise. What premise is need to make this a valid argument? “High inflation must be avoided.” So that is the enthymeme. If that statement seems obvious and certain to you then the argument will seem cogent to you, even if you disagree with the conclusion. But if the enthymeme seems wrong or even just highly doubtful, the argument will seem to be missing the point, to be at least be not considering the situation fully.
I’m not saying that confirmation bias doesn’t exist or is not a major factor. But if you want to convince people to change deeply held beliefs all you can do about confirmation bias is rail impotently about it. But you can do something about choosing a good enthymeme and the correct stasis. And especially if already facing confirmation bias, neglecting to do so can doom your argument to failure. Blaming polarization and lack of consensus on confirmation bias put all the burden on people who are wrong. Which is a group people seldom identify themselves with. If there is something that people who are right should be doing we need to recognize that too.
So we need to ask ourselves: How much of our tuning out arguments we disagree with is simple confirmation bias and how much is arguments being irrelevant due to a badly chosen enthymeme or the wrong stasis being addressed?

Monday, May 7, 2012

What is this blog about?

Smart bloggers, popular bloggers, have a definite theme to their blogs. This is so that people particularly interested in that theme, say publishing or disability advocacy, or crocheting, will be attracted to follow that blog by a steady stream of posts they are interested in. And if I were a more organized and confident writer this blog would have one theme too. But I felt challenged enough by the commitment to write at least one coherent and interesting post a week, without artificially restricting myself to one subject. So here is a list of the things I anticipate posting about on this blog:

  • Ideas I have about philosophy and metaphysics, since the basics of reality are important to everyone and no one has cornered the market on right answers in this field.
  • Reviews of books I think might be of general interest, because I’m obsessed with reading and want to share the ideas it sparks.
  • Thoughts about my own experience with Asperger's syndrome, because it is an interesting and unusual perspective on life.
  • Meditations about my faith, because it foundational to my life.
  • Occasional posts about things I think are fun or funny because a smile is good thing.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

mini-REVIEW: Reality is Broken

Everyone should read this book! Whether your pessimistic or optimistic, whether you want to change the world or just kick back and have fun, this is the book for you.

Reality in Broken:Why games make us better and how they can change the world by Jane McGonigal
 Sure the book starts off with details of ways that our modern world is not perfect, and most people are already intimately familiar with the imperfection in some form. But McGonigal quickly moves on to proposing "fixes" to reality, exciting and playful ways to work on the world's problems. These strategies come with examples that, while they may not turn reality upside down, do show it is possible to have an impact with these strategies. It may be that not all fourteen fixes turn out to be as practical and as revolutionary as McGonigal hopes. But the over all strategy does have important potential and everyone should be ware of the potential for attacking problems this way.

This review based on the audio version performed by Julia Whelan

Thursday, May 3, 2012

mini-REVIEW: Ark of the Liberties

mini-Review: Ark of the Liberties: Why American Freedom Matters to the World By Ted Widmer

     This book covers the history of America as an actor on the world stage, with particular focus on how American actions and rhetoric have influenced both the ideas and the reality of liberty through out the world. There were some things I like about this book, particularly the fact that the book started back before the Revolution showing how the great awakening and other early events influenced America’s relationship with ideas of liberty, and how the book traced the influence of religious ideas on American society through our history.
      Widmer emphasizes through out the book how changing and unclear the definition of “freedom” and “liberty” often are when you look at how people use them. But he does not pause to consider what the words really do mean. He obviously does have a definite of idea what the correct definitions of the words are. But Widmer’s definitions are never stated, they are left unexplored and unexamined, though the assumption can be seen in the way statements are evaluated as correctly refracting, or not reflecting, liberty.
      This was a major problem with the book for me. Because while I agreed with some points he considered part of liberty, I see other points he included, like “the right of everyone to a good job,” to be unconnected or even antithetical to liberty. Without Widmer’s reasoning and assumptions being made explicit it was impossible to know which of his evaluations I could trust.

This review was based on the audio edition, read by William Hughes

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The enemy of human

This line caught my eye in a blog I follow: “the “perfect” is the enemy of the good – it is the ENEMY of HUMAN” The point of the post, which I TOTALLY agree with, is that if you wait to share your writing, or other work, until it is perfect you will never get anywhere, so you have to find a reasonable standard of good enough for the purpose and except that.
    But the phrase quoted above resonated for me in a different way; it resonated with a conversation that has stuck in my mind from a dinner party. One of the guests was expressing his surprise when he had encountered the idea that actually seeing the face of God could be a deadly danger. I was surprised at his surprise. To me the intrinsic danger of the Almighty was a familiar bit of common knowledge as well as being straight forwardly logical.
    God is holy and righteous, the very essence of purity and truth. Humans are soo different from that. They aren’t just like oil to water, they are like metallic sodium to a limitless sea.

I guess some people’s intuition is that, since God is love, then being in contact with him couldn’t be harmful to us. Maybe they are anthropomorphizing God too much, thinking that He is  just like us but with neater toys.God is more like us then like anything else we have an experience of. But that reflects the limits of our experience and does not limit God.
But I also think there is also a misunderstanding of our state as humans at work here. The statements “I’m only human.” everybody makes mistakes.” and “Nobody is perfect.” are all well known and firmly established as truth. But have we really thought about what these really mean? and do we really believe it? Of course no human knows everything or able to do everything. But how much imperfection. I wouldn’t say that a cat’s inability to do long division was any bar to being a perfect example of a cat, nor would the the inability to fly faster than sound be a barrier to a hummingbird being a perfect hummingbird. So can those inabilities which are normal and even universal in our experience of humans prevent us from being perfect examples of what humans are supposed to be?
Maybe not our inability to break the sound barrier by flapping our arms, maybe not even the fact that we occasionally make a mistake when doing long division, those faults might be things that humans don’t need in order to be good humans. But what about being good itself? That seems to me to be a minimum precondition to being a good human. And we seem to have a much more intractable problem with being good then we do with long division.
This intractability is so uncomfortable that we modify our definition of good to get away from it. And when that doesn’t work we modify our definition of human, saying that the perfect human condition includes not being good. Then every once and awhile something comes along that reminds us how diametrically opposed to perfection the one type of humans we have ever encountered is. 
This huge gulf between us and perfection, this dreadful imbalance between us and what our own nature should be, might be depressing. But I find it a joy. It’s a relief to know that a wish for something better is not an insanity. There is a an alternative answer to “What are we?” that in much better. It is not only conceivable, it is correct, even if we haven’t experienced it yet.