When people ask me “does your tattoo have meaning?” it makes me smile, because of course it has meaning! It has a lot of meaning. Here is the tattoo:
The first important thing about my tattoo is that I’m not the only person who has it. My best friend, lover, partner and passion, John, has the same tattoo, in the same spot. When we are being cute we always say “I love you times infinity”. There has been an ongoing cuteness between us around this concept. Its linguistic foundations define it as being “endless”. Our love, support and friendship… is endless. (For himself, John has some double meaning here around the idea of the universe, too. And also… it’s math-y )
2. The Pale Blue Dot
Beside the infinity symbol there is a small blue dot. That small blue dot is Earth. When Voyager 1 was about 6 billion kilometers away from Earth NASA, at the request of Carl Sagan, had the camera turn around and snap a picture of Earth. The result was a tiny, 0.12 pixel, dot in the middle of a vast darkness of space. Carl Sagan then wrote a book entitled Pale Blue Dot filled with romantic and inspiring imagery and language about the consequence of seeing Earth in that context. Take this excerpt, for example:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
As environmentalists, secular humanists and lovers of romance this speaks very strongly to John and I – hence, the dot. And it is not without purpose that the dot is beside the infinity symbol. The Earth is floating in this sea of infinite darkness… and we’re on it. (For John I think there is also some context here about wanting to explore the infinite,
3. Adaptive Cycle
John and I both relate to the tattoo differently. One of my unique connections with the infinity symbol is the theory of an adaptive cycle. The theory and idea of an adaptive cycle comes from systems theory, a theory that encompasses a philosophy that I stand behind very strong. A philosophy of looking at interrelationships, building on knowledge, learning as a form of action … etc. Adaptive management seems people, places, problems and things going through cycles of change. It uses iterative decision-making from multiple perspectives to deal with problems that have high uncertainty or that are going through phase changes into transformations. This is a really interesting and eloquent theory, that if understood and looked at from a certain perspective you can apply to a lot of things. I happen to apply it to my life. I see myself going through phase changes, reaching tipping points, transforming and resettling into a new order… and then going through it all over again. I see everyone going through this. I see the world going through this. I love this idea of constant learning, constant transformation and trying to be aware of what stage I am in to better understand my own feelings and where I should be in life.
And that’s my tattoo!
I’m currently in the process of designing tattoo number 2 which is going to be incredibly beautiful and will encompass my philosophy of and passion in life. It’s one I actually sketched out in high school, but more informed… and prettier.