A concept that has fascinated me for some time is that of perfection. People will say something is perfect, but what does that really mean? If we look at the dictionary definition we see that perfect means having no mistakes and flaws or completely correct and accurate. But all of these words have some subjectivity to them. Few people agree on what a mistake or flaw is. And is anything completely correct and accurate? If something can be, we often find that there is disagreement here also.
It seems to me that perfection is ultimately an ideal that everybody holds, but that nobody really agrees on. In this way I find it very similar to the concept of God. And many people say God is perfect and so the analogy is even stronger in that respect. Nobody can really agree on the nature of God and everybody holds a slightly different view of what God wants and how He/She behaves. In addition to the fact that I believe it is not up to the atheist to disprove the existence of God (but up to the theist to prove the existence of God), it seems also a fruitless task to disprove something which is not clearly defined. Perfection seems to me exactly like this. If perfection is an ideal and what is ideal is subjective to the person holding the ideal then perfection as a concept maybe limited in value to all but the individual. Which means just like you shouldn’t be trying to enforce your vision of God on anybody else, perhaps we should also not be so adamant that others share our view of perfection.
Can we truly experience a shared value of perfection? Many have tried to define a perfect system of government, a perfect society or
civilization, a perfect self, but it is unclear that everybody agrees with those ideals, and many times they seem so implausible to reach that it seems that they will simply be rejected because some feel they are not rooted in reality. But I think those that try to come up with these “universal” ideas of perfection do believe they are obtainable, at least in some distant future. I hold similar ideals as I am sure all you do as well. It seems to me though that we define this conceptual perfection beyond the present, but feel that the goal of perfection is not so far away that we can eventually reach it. Science might give us some better clues as to what some perfect state might be, but to do so we would have to be sure we knew absolutely all the variables. And we are far, far away from that and it seems likely we will never be at a state in which we know everything about the universe.
The next question then is, well what if we really do reach some state of perfection? I wonder if we can simply be content and happy in the long term, before we are really start thinking about how things could be even better. This seems true at an individual level or even if we do have some shared value of what perfection is. Unless we knew everything (highly unlikely) it seems like we would always be searching for more and that perfection is not possible.
Finally I think then it is worth asking the question, are such ideals like perfection a good thing? If it is a goal we can never reach does it prevent us from being content and happy in life? The answer is maybe. I think if you accept that perfection is some point on the horizon that you can move towards but never reach (or at least not reach easily or quickly) then you might instead to learn to appreciate the journey you take to get there. If on the other hand you believe the perfect state is actually reachable in a tangible way and you don’t get there, then this can leave one frustrated, disappointed and unhappy.
While I ponder about perfection frequently, the most recent inspiration was looking at my son. He seems perfect. He has no mistakes or flaws. He will make mistakes and he will have flaws however. Thus I began to wonder if maybe, even as a concept, perfection doesn’t exist. It’s just something we believe in but have no evidence of. Because he is who he is, and while we will try to nurture him positively into the world, everything about his life will be different than mine and who he ends up as will be who he is supposed to be. He is supposed to make mistakes and have flaws. Thus he is in accordance with his nature. As we all are. Our nature is to change, to grow, and be imperfect. In the end perhaps we are all according to our nature, and maybe that is what perfection really is. The good news is, nobody is saying you have to like it.
I think it is very important, however, that we have these lofty concepts, and that we continue to dream of better ways to live life, because it could be that in our imaginings we do end up moving towards some better future. I think as long as we remain humble about our dreams of perfection and be willing to modify and change our ideals when life presents us with new information then the concept of perfection can have meaningful purpose.