What is perfection?

It suddenly occurred to me as I was walking back from the village that there is no absolute arbiter of anything, especially when it comes to aesthetics. We make it up as we go along. There are arbiters who we bestow authority onto, the most notable being the media. They seem to have the monopoly on what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in just about everything. Why we have done this I am not sure but I suspect there might be a lot of usurping on the part of the media.

Take beauty for example. Who is to say what is beautiful? And what criteria do they use to reach their decision? I know there is a measurable criterion of symmetry in beauty (which is also a useful measure of life – living things tend to have symmetry). The more symmetrical a face is, the healthier it tends to be and therefore more fit for breeding. Our genes regard breeding fitness as beautiful which explains why several stereotype images such as large breasts in women etc. are attractive to most males, alpha or not (although, in nature, it seems to be the female which decides on the most suitable mate). So a lop-sided face could be seen as less desirable to a mate than a more symmetrical face as it could indicate faulty genes.

This makes sense. But if two faces are equally symmetrical how do we choose between them? Presumably our genes still guide our choice and they ‘ask’ questions such as; are their genes compatible with ours, do they look a bit (or a lot) like us, is one face imperceptibly more symmetrical than the other? The attractive face has to push certain buttons in the control panel of our primitive minds to get a positive reaction. These buttons can be wired to all sorts of influences including childhood memories. So the arbiter here can only be ourselves – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What about art? If we take genetics out of the equation we are in a completely human-made environment. I don’t see how anyone can argue logically why they consider one abstract painting more beautiful than another except from a purely subjective standpoint. I suppose science could show that one painting provokes more brain activity than another but is that beauty?

What about a popular song? Can it be deduced that a song is ‘good’ because it is popular? If our brains respond to certain stimuli then it must be possible for a song to address those stimuli more successfully than another one which is less popular and so produces fewer stimuli. So a popular song merely identifies more responsive stimuli in our brains. This does not make it ‘good’ (except in the sense that it is good at hitting more stimuli) or beautiful; just popular.

At the other extreme it might be that rarity constitutes a beautiful quality. We often admire and praise athletic prowess that is rare and considered the ‘best’ in the world but only in certain disciplines, a long distance spitter is not a lauded skill for example (why not?). If it is rarity then any unusual feature can be construed as rare. If it is a rare, perfect symmetry I suppose the best we have as a measure is popular acclaim. If more people find one face more attractive than another then it could be said that “more people find one face more attractive than another” which really is no criterion at all. And beauty is subject to cultural and historical influences; what was considered a beautiful face in the 1700’s in Egypt might be seen as plain today.

How about comedy? Some comedians are more ’successful’ than others in popularity stakes. This does not mean their humour is universal. No matter how popular a comedian is you will always be able to find someone who despises them; are these people wrong to despise them when so many find the comedian funny?

My point is this; anyone can say “I am the example of perfection” and no-one can challenge this assertion through any meaningful argument. What we might perceive as inadequate in ourselves has to be measured against something and if that something is a constantly changing illusion with no basis in reality then there is really nothing to measure against and so why do we feel inadequate at all – nay, why does the concept of inadequacy exist at all?

Better to feel unique and to consider any ‘defect’ as simply our particular adaptation or skill.

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