Good Enough

To paraphrase Voltaire: perfection is the enemy of the good. We often deny ourselves the chance to do something well because we can’t do it perfectly. This is true in so many areas of life.

Many artists and writers endlessly work on their personal masterpieces, but find that they is never perfect enough to show the world. But Christiaan Huygens, the Dutch polymath, knew well the value of publishing imperfect work. In science especially, no understanding or writing is ever absolutely perfect, so the sooner good ideas are made available, the sooner they can be built upon. And at very least, it is better that ideas are allowed to be viewed and critiqued than locked in a desk drawer because the author hasn’t had the time to make every last amendment and correction. Huygens wrote in the Preface to his Treatise on Light, “I have finally judged that it was better worth while to publish this writing, such as it is, than to let it run the risk, by waiting longer, of remaining lost.”

In fields that are less practical than science, specifically in the arts, one is tempted to think that a work should be brought as close to perfection as humanly possible before it is unveiled. Many writers sit on manuscripts for their entire lives, revising and editing to no end. Luckily for you, I am not one of them. In fact, it seems that very few bloggers are perfectionists. Blogging seems to be a medium that has at its heart a “good enough” mentality. People flood the internets with writings of various qualities, but the short, quick nature of blogging makes it a rough and ready system. Few if any blogs are extremely polished, but they don’t need to be perfect, they are good enough.

Beer of the Week: Oranjeboom – The Dutch have given the world the pendulum clock and probability theory (thanks to Huygens.) They’ve also given the world Orangeboom beer. This particular beer strikes me as a “good enough” effort. After a somewhat citrusy and almost grassy aroma, this beer offers a crisp, clean flavor that ends very dry. It is not perfect by any means, but it is good enough for its purpose.

Reading of the week: Preface to Treatise on Light by Christiaan Huygens – The Preface to this treatise is not the most exciting read, but it offers some interesting historical perspective including a reference to the disputes between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz as well as an explanation of the practical differences between geometry and experimental physics.

Question of the week: Is there any work of art that is actually perfect? Any painting that could not have been improved by even a single brushstroke more or less? Any book that could not be made even slightly better by substituting a word or adding a comma?

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One Comment on “Good Enough”

  1. I forget who said it, but somebody claimed that Pascal wrote the perfect poem. Any change would ruin or diminish this particular pensée:

    “Le silence eternel des ces espaces infinis m’effraie.”


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