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The search for perfection

Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity (E=mc²) when he was only 26 years old.

Relativity became the foundation stone in the development of nuclear energy. He continued working intensively as a physicist for most of the rest of his life and died in 1955 at the age of 76.

Einstein believed the universe was one of absolute law and order, not one of chaos or chance. He believed there was a probability of a single key to all the laws of physics, and searched until the end of his life for the "unified field theory," but never found it. It never has been found (if there is one), though occasionally some physicists have claimed to be close.

The search for absolute perfection is probably a universal human drive, though most of us operating in our day-to-day lives don't spend much time thinking about it.

Aspirin, developed by a French chemist, Charles Frederic Gerhardt in 1853, was once considered the perfect medicine. It has been used to fight the fever and pains of the common cold, to help with achiness, discomfort, headaches and migraines.

Aspirin, taken long term in low dosages, can help prevent heart attacks, strokes and blood clots and when taken immediately after a heart attack, reduce the risk of another heart attack. It is also an anti-inflammation drug.

Today aspirin is one of the most widely used medications anywhere, with over 40,000 tons consumed every year. But the main side effect of aspirin is gastrointestinal ulcers, stomach bleeding and tinnitus. In truth, there probably is no perfect medicine.

Some years ago, the comedy movie "10" featured an unknown actress, Bo Derek, as the "perfect 10" in face and figure. She was an overnight sensation. Later she was given a starring role as Jane in "Tarzan, The Ape Man." The critics called Derek the worst Jane ever and the movie one of the worst 20 films ever made. They called Derek "beautiful but talentless." Is this perfection?

Michael Jackson was a cute little kid. Even his nose was cute. As lead singer for the Jackson Five, singing with his four older brothers, he was a sensation. Later he decided he wanted a better nose -- the perfect nose. So he had surgeons go to work on his nose. Once? Twice? Three times? Who knows.

In the end, his nose was a disaster area -- a weird, thin, pointed nose with an unnatural white color. The pursuit of perfection led to a train wreck for Jackson, rest his soul.

Now with energy shortages and the push to reduce our carbon footprint, the perfect combination of automobile and fuel would be a car that ran on the hydrogen in water. Could anything be better? Can it happen? What else might happen?

Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard formed a musical group, The Carpenters. Karen was an outstanding drummer and singer. The group was a huge success.

Karen stood 5'5" and weighed 145 pounds. She went on a diet under a doctor's supervision and got down to 120 pounds, but she was still not satisfied with her weight. She wanted a more perfect figure so she starved herself. The last pictures of her looked skeletal -- probably less than 100 pounds. Less than a month before her 33rd birthday, she died of heart failure brought on by the chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa. How many girls wreck their health with eating disorders, striving for the perfect, slender figure?

Sometimes perfection is a natural disaster.

The "Perfect Storm" was a dramatic book, made into a movie, telling the true story of a swordfish fishing crew in the Atlantic Ocean in October of 1991, 575 miles from their home port of Gloucester, Mass., who were caught between a powerful Atlantic Nor'easter and an equally powerful storm coming from the opposite direction. They perished and their boat, the Andrea Gail, and their bodies were never found. The storm caused massive destruction along the coast.

Perfection and the pursuit of perfection can be a tricky, scary business, with unintended side effects.

Tread with caution. For most of us, the pursuit of excellence would be a much healthier option.