First tattoo, my design. Here’s the story behind it.
Tycho Brahe’s Universe
The main part of the design is the Tycho Brahe model of the universe, a compromise between the geocentric (Copernican) and heliocentric (Ptolemaic) models. Brahe believed the Earth was at the center of the universe and that the sun and moon orbited the earth, while the planets orbited the sun. As you may already have noted, this is inconsistent with what we observe of the universe today. However, it was a paradigm shift in thinking that nudged us — and our egos — from the center of the picture, building toward a more accurate model. In fact, one of Brahe’s apprentices was Johannes Kepler, who, in later years, used Brahe’s work as the basis for the laws of planetary movement.
Here’s where it gets a little weird.
While I was doing some more research about Brahe, I learned that he apparently wore a prosthetic nose, allegedly a result of a sword duel:
“Tycho had earlier quarrelled with Parsbjerg over the legitimacy of a mathematical formula, at a wedding dance at professor Lucas Bachmeister’s house on the 10th, and again on the 27th. Since neither had the resources to prove the other wrong, they ended up resolving the issue with a duel.”
I kind of dig the fact that the nature of drunken academic disputes has barely evolved in the last few centuries. (I’m smarter than you. No, I’m smarter that you!”) Not to mention, this wasn’t Brahe’s only memorable brawl. He also got into a feud with Galileo.
And then…there’s the bizarre story about his pet moose:
The hoofed critter would trot alongside Brahe’s carriage like a loyal dog and lived inside his castle. But, unfortunately, it also appears to have developed a regrettable taste for Danish beer […] A nearby nobleman had asked him to send the moose to his castle to entertain the guests at a party. As the dinner wore on, the creature grew increasingly tipsy until it eventually wound up roaring drunk. According to Brahe’s biographer Pierre Gassendi, shortly thereafter, “the moose had ascended the castle stairs and drunk of the beer in such amounts that it had fallen down [them]” to its eventual demise.
Voyager and the Golden Record
On the outermost ring of my tattoo is an aerial view of a record needle, a symbol etched on the Voyager spacecraft’s Golden Record:
The Voyager space craft is best known for being the only man-made object to have exited the heliosphere, traveling farther than anything else humans have ever built. The Golden Record was a project (directed by Carl Sagan) to create an all-encompassing sonic record of life on Earth to send off into space. Think of it as an audio time capsule of our existence, meant for anyone or anything that may eventually find it.
The ethos of that project was this: “To the makers of music — all worlds, all times.”
On that record are sound samples of 55 languages, whale calls, folk songs, heartbeats, you name it. Listen to an excerpt of an ancient Chinese folk song on that record:
Not surprisingly, a radio piece made me fall in love with this project, the story of how Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan fell for each other:
On a macro level, the tattoo design also resembles a mandala, elaborate and artful circular symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism. The psychologist Carl Jung once wrote that mandalas are expressions of the “totality of the self.” They are also used as representations of the universe:
In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe.
Monks who are trained to create mandalas spend days, even months working on meticulous designs, only to destroy them after they are finished. They are reminders of the impermanence of life itself — how the things we build, no matter how beautiful nor coveted, will eventually give into entropy. This follows the Hindu cycle of the universe, a belief that things are created and destroyed repeatedly, which I believe to be true in science and in ourselves. Matter and energy within the universe combine in a multitude of permutations to give us elements, planets, stars, and life. Within us, the energy and matter that encompass us allow us to experience life through suffering, joy, and healing (forces of destruction and creation in their own right).
I also have a penchant for circles.
Mathematically, circles incredibly intriguing. They have an infinite number of tangents, and all points in a circle are equidistant from a center point, giving it a unique symmetry. Then, there’s the infamous value of π, taken from a circle’s circumference divided by its diameter (C/d), which has maddened mathematicians and mystics alike. The number continues without a sensible pattern into infinity; the fact that such an irrational number can be derived from such a symmetrical shape is simultaneously fascinating and perplexing.
In nature, circles occur almost everywhere you look: ripples, halos around the sun, craters, bubbles, hurricanes. They also occur in man-made objects, e.g. clocks, wheels, bowls, compasses, buttons. They have come to symbolize balance and perfection, despite the fact that perfect geometry only truly exists in abstraction.
…Which brings us to the whirling dervishes from the Mevlevi Order. You’ve probably seen movies or photographs of whirling dervishes: men dressed in white gowns and tall hats spinning continuously – as if in a trance– usually on a stage or in a large hall. This dance, called the Sema, originated in the 13th century:
The Sema represents a journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to the “Perfect.” Turning towards the truth, the follower grows through love, deserts his ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the “Perfect.” He then returns from this spiritual journey as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, able to love and to be of service to the whole of creation. The Sema is a testament to the dizzying effects of attempting to reach perfection.
If you think about it, the earth spins on its axis; the planets rotate around the sun. The quantum particles around and in us vibrate and spin, though undetected by the naked eye. Because we are rooted on the earth and made up of these particles, we are all eternally spinning. We are all constantly attempting, reaching to be better than ourselves.