• Jacob-B
    22
    The Obsession with Perfection

    Ming vases are among the most exquisite work of arts. On average they fetch over $20,000 in auctions. Now, suppose that one such vase develops a small crack of say few mm. How would that affect its value? Well, it would not drop by merely 10% or 20% or even 50%. Its value is likely to be reduced by 90%. Why that so? The crack is barely visible and does not spoil the beautiful patterns of its glazing. Similarly, fakes of great paintings are often indistinguishable from the originals and yet the former would fetch a fraction of a fraction of the origin.

    Why are we so obsessed with perfection, originality, and (in some societies) with virginity?
    Does it have an evolutionary roots, social, or cultural rationale? It is worth pointing out that obsession with perfection has its downside in eventually reaching the point of diminishing returns where the cost of extra effort outruns the gain in value.
  • Christoffer
    486


    I think it has to do with purity. We have a disgust center in our brain, the anterior insula which regulates emotional feedback on disgust. People range between a wide range of disgust and it's also part of why we have political left and right leanings. Being politically right might have some influences in higher disgust feedback while the left is more open to things outside of those parameters. There are hypotheses on how society works best by a pendulum between right and left politics; the left embracing progressive ideas, new ideas, creative ideas etc. while the right embrace stability, security, and order. Neither would lead to a functioning society, but the two together form an alliance that moves society forward with each step; one for progress and one for taking the new and form stability around it.

    But everyone has feelings of disgust and it forces us to balance that feeling out with purity. If we see imperfections we want to correct them. Disgust is also about sex and relationships, we embrace purity, not just in virginity, but with how we look. We embrace symmetry. There is research that shows that we find symmetric faces more attractive for example. Foul smells and weird skin complexion makes us unsure of the partner's health and purity.

    All of this affects how we view art and form. It's why we find some forms soothing and balanced, why most symmetrical forms feel calmer than those that aren't. If a Ming vase is imperfect, it's purity is tainted and the hunt for perfection in life gets replicated in the price drop of those Ming vases. It's like finding the perfect partner in love and sex who is absolutely pure in every conceivable aspect. It's like cooking the most well-balanced taste for a meal, that absolutely nails the purity of the tastes. We search for perfection every chance we get and a small crack in a Ming vase means that it is tainted, it's no longer perfection and we feel disgusted.
  • tim wood
    2.2k
    To me it seems obsessive - but only after I've gone through the experience of wanting the perfect or the best. That is, I've been there and done that, although on a much smaller scale. One can grow out of it, but there is a parasitic industry that makes its bread by manipulating people into thinking they need things they absolutely do not need.

    The reverse of this is fools who are terminally self-manipulated into thinking they need what no person ever needed. And part of this is "my "d*** is bigger than yours."
  • Joshs
    565
    You could turn the question around and ask, why does it come up that we determine someone's standards with respect to an interest of theirs to be an obsession? Does the issue lie in their thinking or in our assessment of their thinking a extreme or obsessive or perfectionist?
    There are a lot of ways we could construe the situation with the vase that would not necessitate the label of perfectionism or obsession. for instance, the nature of collecting is that one becomes immersed in knowledge surrounding a collectable, be it stamps, coins, records or art. The more knowledgeable about the subject matter one becomes, the more one appreciates the most subtle details concerning the collectable object. So what would be a trivial detail to someone else is a big deal to the collector. This is simply an issue of specialization, not necessarily obsession.
  • Bitter Crank
    7.6k
    In far less rarified circumstances than Ming flower pots, I don't like buying even slightly dented cans, or boxes of food that have been slightly crushed. Like the vase (soft 'a' sound, 'z' for 's'), nothing is at stake, really. I've never opened a slightly dented can or slightly crushed box that was anything less than what I expected it to be, but still...

    I've observed better-grocers sorting fruit and discarding slightly blemished items. I once asked the produce manager why they did that, and he held up a 'perfect' pear and a slightly blemished pear, and asked me "which one would you buy?" Well, the perfect one, of course. Case closed. Hopefully they donated the slightly blemished pear to a food shelf. THEY CAN'T AFFORD TO BE THAT FUSSY!

    When you buy a new car, you should hit the hood with a hammer and put a noticeable dent in it, before you even drive it off the lot. This will relieve the new-car-driver of the horror of getting the perfect new car scratched or scuffed in a parking lot. Just dent the damned thing and get it over with.

    Perfection is a maybe-not-quite-literal fetish--less in the sexual sense (being turned on by some thing) and more "bad juju" -- being haunted by a bad vibe. The dented can or barely visible Ming vaaazz is touched by bad juju. It's contaminated. Some people have contaminating power. One might have admired a particular shirt, but if you see it on one of these corroding persons, the shirt is immediately degraded. If Donald Trump were to say he loves to read Dostoyevsky--and worse, quoted something significant from that esteemed author, references to Dostoyevsky would disappear from The Philosophy Forum. Donald Trump's bad juju would spread shit on all of Russian literature for several thousand well-read liberals.

    (Fortunately bad juju wears off, and can be cleansed with the appropriate action.)
  • Joshs
    565
    Ok, your post was a lot funnier than mine.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    5.5k
    Ming vases are among the most exquisite work of arts. On average they fetch over $20,000 in auctions. Now, suppose that one such vase develops a small crack of say few mm. How would that affect its value? Well, it would not drop by merely 10% or 20% or even 50%. Its value is likely to be reduced by 90%. Why that so?Jacob-B

    The crack increases the chances of the vase breaking probably by at least 90%.

    When you buy a new car, you should hit the hood with a hammer and put a noticeable dent in it, before you even drive it off the lot. This will relieve the new-car-driver of the horror of getting the perfect new car scratched or scuffed in a parking lot. Just dent the damned thing and get it over with.Bitter Crank

    That's right, every time I get a body job done on a vehicle, I'm so afraid and nervous about driving it, that I go and hit something right away (not intentionally but because my driving is affected by the anxiety) and this removes the anxiety which makes me drive badly. So I might just as well do it intentionally to get it over with.
  • Bitter Crank
    7.6k
    Or, just don't get the body work done -- I mean, if the driver's side door still works, and the windshield is intact, that's pretty much all you need. If your car looks bad enough, other cars will start avoiding you -- bad juju, again. Make it work in your favor.
  • xyz-zyx
    16
    We have a disgust center in our brain, the anterior insula which regulates emotional feedback on disgust.

    –Christoffer

    I don't believe perfections has to do with disgust, disgust is too far from being triggered by things that are perfect.

    We don't avoid something that is great or good and strive for perfection because we are disgusted by something good.

    I believe disgust is a driving force away from things rather than towards. It's enough to get away from what disgust us into neutral territory, it doesn't have to be perfect, if things have to be perfect for someone in order to not feel disgust they probably have a personal problem they need to deal with.

    That people want perfection I think has to do with being afraid of other peoples opinion, insecurity or wanting to impress.

    I think these two are the main drivers.

    People who fix old cars or boats into perfection, often really like to exhibit their vehicles.

    I don't think they would spend so much time polishing their cars if they knew noone would ever see their work.
    So I rather believe it's social status that is the most important motivation.

    I personally don't care that much about perfection, I wouldn't polish an old car or boat into perfection, I would rather enjoy using it. But it is nice to look at the work of people who strive for perfection. Who doesn't enjoy being impressed by a balette dancer, artist or anyone who has honed his skill to perfection.

    I believe that to be admired and show your skill or when it comes to objects, show of your 'acquired taste'. Is the most common motivation behind perfection.

    When it comes to collectors searching for the perfect item, it's probably also the hunter gatherer in us.
    Finding a perfect object to a collection, could be similar to finding a treasure. The hunt for a perfect object is in itself a pleasure. But the endgoal is to exhibit your collection or item.

    There is a good article on Wikipedia under how perfection is the enemy of good.

    Perfect is the enemy of good, or more literally the best is the enemy of the good, is an aphorism which is commonly attributed to Voltaire, who quoted an Italian proverb in his Dictionnaire philosophique in 1770: "Le meglio è l'inimico del bene".[2] It subsequently appeared in his moral poem, La Bégueule

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_is_the_enemy_of_good
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    5.5k

    Well, the rust gets real bad after a while. I hate it when my seat goes through the floor and hits the pavement at 60 mph.
  • Terrapin Station
    8.5k
    With artworks, a lot of it is simply fueled by the idea that scarcity drives up prices even more. So collectors have an incentive to put more limitations on the criteria of value.

    More people could make money with less stringent value criteria, but that would just be a lot of people making a little money. People get into the game because they're wanting to make a fortune. Most high-end buyers see it primarily as an investment. So there's a self-perpetuating set of aims that keeps the value criteria much stricter.
  • Jacob-B
    22

    To a large extent, purity is in the eye of the beholder.
    To a large extent, purity is in the eye of the beholder and obsession with what one considers as 'pure'
    is at the root of intolerance. Present day jihadists and the inquisition are examples of people trying to impose the 'purity' of their respective religions on others. As for symmetry, much of the thrust of modern art is a revolt against boring symmetry. Isn't a cracked mirror more interesting than a blank one?
    It leaves more room for imagination!
  • TheMadFool
    3.1k
    Why are we so obsessed with perfection, originality, and (in some societies) with virginity?Jacob-B

    Is "perfection" the right word regarding the value of an object? Perhaps the proper description should be "undamaged goods". When you value an object it is in a particular physical state that is associated with a particular time, place or person (history). An objects history can only get richer but not poorer. That means the only thing that can change is its physical state. Any change/damage that occurs to the object will reduce our ability to preserve it. It's like a crack in a window - it can only spread and become bigger until we'll have to change the entire window. So, a crack/damage to a valuable object is sign of its eventual destruction. Thus the diminished value.
  • Jacob-B
    22
    OK, maybe a crack being a strucual fault was not a good example. So let's have a chip of few square mm. Such a chip won't shorten the life of the vase by even one second. What's more, it would not prevent one from enjoying the patterns n colours of 99% of the vase. Never let the effect on its value would huge. I that is irrational but paradoxically hs rational roots. While roaming the savannah
    our ancestor had to watch for the slightest anomaly in their surroundings to make sure that a sabretooth is not lurking in it. That instinct for watching a break in the pattern (like other irrational responses)
  • Jacob-B
    22
    OK, maybe a crack being a strucual fault was not a good example. So let's have a chip of few square mm. Such a chip won't shorten the life of the vase by even one second. What's more, it would not prevent one from enjoying the patterns n colours of 99% of the vase. Never let the effect on its value would huge. I that is irrational but paradoxically hs rational roots. While roaming the savannah
    our ancestor had to watch for the slightest anomaly in their surroundings to make sure that a sabretooth is not lurking in it. That instinct for watching a break in the pattern (like other irrational responses) is still with us.
    2 minutes ago Edit
  • kill jepetto
    66
    Perfection is comforting; like why people buy paintings.

    If someone regularly creates perfect art, they're likely to become rich from their efforts - this doesn't mean that imperfection isn't art, it means that perfect art is preferred.

    If you could have everything you wanted at the simplest thought, that would be more perfect (and thus comfortable), no?
  • Jacob-B
    22

    To a very large extent, perfection is a projection of power and wealth. One buys what he considers to be the best and is fussy about trivial details because he got the power and money to do so. People who cannot tell van Gogh from Velazquez pay millions for top paintings.

    Regarding the dented can; Would you buy it if it is reduced by 50%, 75 %? Probably not, nor would I, despite it probably being a bargain. Similarly, some people won't lower scale brands, despite knowing they are as good as the higher scale ones. Perfection in this sense is an aspect of snobbery.
    You don't have to worry about Trump reading 'Crome and Punishment' even if it were abridged to a half page.
  • Rhasta1
    45
    An objects history can only get richer but not poorer.TheMadFool

    what do you mean an object's history can get richer but not poorer? people don't like PUBG as much as when it came out
  • NKBJ
    904


    I take your silly perfect Chinese Ming vases and I raise you the Japanese art of Kintsugi:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kintsugi
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