Help me honor the pursuit of science and truth with tattoos!
August 3, 2009 1:27 PM   Subscribe

I've been thinking of getting a tattoo for a long time, but only recently decided what would be meaningful enough to have permanently emblazoned on my body. I'd like to pay tribute to Galileo and others like him - the general concept of testing hypotheses, the power of logic and rational thinking, and not believing things just because they are the status quo. In short, Science - It Works, Bitches. What are some good quotes and symbols I can incorporate into a design?

I really like the idea of "Eppur Si Muove!", as seen here. The design is a bit too boring for me though. I'd like to incorporate some stylized image of a famous experiment (perhaps the apocryphal dropping of objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa). Alternatively, I'd to make some kind of ambigram of "Eppur Si Muove" with another famous quote about science/rational thought/defiance of traditional ideas in lack of evidence/etc.

Bring me your quotes in any language, design ideas, and favorite paradigm-shifting experiments, o wise MeFi!
posted by RobotNinja to Science & Nature (36 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Really, I think, "SCIENCE - It works, Bitches!" would be awesome. As far as design goes, maybe something from diffraction of single elctrons would be cool.
posted by notsnot at 1:34 PM on August 3, 2009

"I'd take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day." — Douglas Adams
posted by scody at 1:34 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

(And yeah, I actually love "SCIENCE: It works, bitches!" and would like it on a t-shirt.)
posted by scody at 1:35 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Sidereus Nuncius" is the name Galileo gave to the first published scientific work based on telescope observation, and Latin is always impressive. And it means "The Starry Messenger," which would be a good band name.

Alternatively, Einstein was always coming up with great quotations.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:39 PM on August 3, 2009

Now's your chance, scody!
posted by betafilter at 1:41 PM on August 3, 2009

Perhaps some of these drawings relating to Galileo will be of use:

Galileo's drawing of the moon.
His drawing of its phases.
A diagram of the famous Pisa experiment.
His diagrams of sunspots.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:48 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Physics makes us all its bitches." From Of Montreal's "Gronlandic Edit."
posted by np312 at 2:04 PM on August 3, 2009

Maybe not a design idea, but I'd recommend putting any tattooed words somewhere where you'll be more likely to cover it with clothing. Not because tattoos are socially inappropriate (I love them, personally), but because sun damage will cause the lettering to fade and blur. The last thing a statement like "Science: It works, bitches!" needs to do is become an incoherent blob on your arm.
posted by scarykarrey at 2:14 PM on August 3, 2009

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates

As for a design element, I think a basic astrolabe would be a good circular shape to work into a larger design or work within as the main structure of a larger piece, and it's appropriate for your astronomy/Galileo tribute without the obvious telescope image.
posted by ashabanapal at 2:39 PM on August 3, 2009

Response by poster: I've browsed the entire science tattoo emporium, but almost all of those are just symbols or quotes from some aspect of science. What I want to get at is the awesomeness of science in general, in particular when it goes against false ideas that we naively cling to, e.g. Aristotle vs. Galileo:

Aristotle: Isn't it obvious? Heavier objects clearly fall faster than lighter ones.
Galileo: Seems plausible. But is it really true? Let me check.

It's the open-mindedness coupled with "let me actually verify that for myself" coupled with "look how beautiful and amazing science can be on its own!" that I want to capture in some way.
posted by RobotNinja at 2:41 PM on August 3, 2009

Galileo's tomb (high-res image) in Florence has some simple diagrams of his significant contributions, including one of the sun being orbited by the planets and one of his experiments with falling objects. Those could be a good source of inspiration.
posted by fermion at 2:43 PM on August 3, 2009

I'd be more inclined to go with an image than words, and I've always found Kepler to be more interesting than Galileo. Perhaps something based on these diagrams of elliptical orbits, which were his real breakthrough and which laid the groundwork for the invention of calculus.

His harmony of the spheres is better-known and more visually interesting. Unfortunately, it was wrong, a product of the same kind of a priori thinking that stood in the way of science for millenia. Perhaps both together, to symbolize both the power of science and the fallibility of humanity.
posted by adamrice at 2:47 PM on August 3, 2009

I say this a lot in tattoo threads, but that's because it's broadly appropriate: find an artist that you like, and talk over your ideas with them.
posted by box at 2:58 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about a picture of Mount Rushmore, but instead of the past presidents put Newton, Galileo, Darwin and Mendeleev.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 3:34 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The word science has two connotations: scientific fact (theory), and scientific inquiry. Most people are familiar with specific theories and facts, like evolution, astronomy and electrons. Fewer people are familiar with scientific investigation. And the only time it comes into public consciousness is when a finding is impossible to duplicate, like cold fusion.

Theories and formulas are easy and plentiful. Experiments are not. Probably the most valuable scientific tool we have today is the double blind experiment. It recognizes that people are not open-minded, and attempts to eliminate the bias in the experimentation. Then actuaries go in and mine the experiment for proof in support of their product, or reject it and try again, etc.
posted by pwnguin at 3:45 PM on August 3, 2009

From a previous post like this.
posted by charlesv at 3:50 PM on August 3, 2009

A flow-chart diagram of the scientific method.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:14 PM on August 3, 2009

If I were to have a scientific omnibus tattooed on my back, I'd include the diffraction pattern from the Michelson-Morley experiment. Not quite "science triumphing over natural philosophy", but pretty close. I also like this experiment because it truly shows the value of scientific inquiry - the first reported results were horribly inaccurate and inconclusive, but over time as better apparatuses were developed the estimated velocity of the "luminiferous aether" approached zero.

A more recent one: Helicobacter_pylori, the cause of 80% of peptic ulcers, which were for a very long time attributed to bad diet.
posted by muddgirl at 4:26 PM on August 3, 2009

How about a big rock attached to a small rock by a rope (with maybe some comic 'speed lines' to show they are falling)? Here's Galileo's reductio ad absurdum argument for falling objects (adapted from Galileo's Discorsi, 1638):

1) Assume that Aristotle is correct, and heavier objects fall faster than light objects.
2) Imagine a heavy rock tied to a lighter rock by a rope, dropped together (from the leaning tower, of course).
3) Heavier rock falls faster, string pulls taut between the rocks.
4) Lighter rock is being pulled downward by the string, so it will fall faster than it would alone.
Heavier rock is being pulled upward by the sluggish light rock, so it will fall slower than it would alone. Result is some rate intermediate to the individual rocks' rates.
5) But... The heavy rock/light rock/rope system is heavier than the heavy rock, and should fall faster than the heavy rock. This internal inconsistency leads us to reject Aristotle's supposition.

Works with non-rock objects if you want a more interesting tattoo.
posted by Killick at 4:43 PM on August 3, 2009

Not sure what your attitudes are about language, feminism, humor etc., but give some serious thought about what it might be like to have the word "bitches" tattooed on your body, especially in snowclone form. Not only might your attitude about the word "bitches" might change over time, but the socio-cultural attitudes on such a loaded slang term are likely to shift as well, and one cannot predict how. Just throwing that out there as something to consider. Especially lettering, placement, visibility, etc. Also consider that people may see that, make judgments, and you might not have a platform or way to explain yourself or divert any assumptions they may make from such an ambiguous stance. Only you know what you're comfortable with, and so this may not be something that phases you one bit. Either way, good luck and enjoy the experience and lifelong art!
posted by iamkimiam at 4:44 PM on August 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd go for "Nullius in verba"--"On the word of no one." or more informally, "Take nobody's word for it"--the motto of the Royal Society.
posted by LucretiusJones at 5:37 PM on August 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

I am going to suggest a graphic of his first and last name, as a sort of reflection. Great symbolic meaning.
posted by effluvia at 6:06 PM on August 3, 2009

Ok, and maybe under his name: Gravity is a drag.
posted by effluvia at 6:08 PM on August 3, 2009

Nobody's posted this yet, so I just want to make sure that everyone here knew that "Science: It works, bitches." really is on a t-shirt:
posted by Precision at 6:10 PM on August 3, 2009

How big a tattoo are you thinking? Because you could incorporate many of these ideas into a bitchin' sleeve or half sleeve. Find a fantastic artist and talk to him/her about it. Seriously.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:34 PM on August 3, 2009

Three that come to mind:
Science ... commits suicide when it adopts a creed.
Science is the poetry of reality.
Entropy ALWAYS wins.
posted by Shot a man in Reno... at 6:39 PM on August 3, 2009

I really like E pur si muove! (But still, it moves), which Galileo was supposed to have said in response to being forced to renounce heliocentrism.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:07 PM on August 3, 2009

...and that's what I get for skimming the question. Carry on.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:08 PM on August 3, 2009

Well it's math rather than general science but I would chose Euler's Identity or Maxwell's Equations. I might also consider any of the nice graphical depictions of the Pythagorean theorem.
posted by chairface at 7:52 PM on August 3, 2009

Tom Weller's flowchart of scientific methods is truer than anyone would like to admit. (From the Hugo-winning Science Made Stupid.) I second LucretiusJones's idea of working Nullius in Verba in there somewhere. That really seems to capture the anti-authoritarian empiricism you're after.
posted by drdanger at 9:47 PM on August 3, 2009

Darwin's first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his 'First Notebook on Transmutation of Species' (1837). Difficult to identify a more significant scientific claim, and at the same time this is such a childish and free-spirited drawing.
posted by eccnineten at 11:03 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

"Eureka!" - supposedly uttered by Archimedes after he discovered that the king's crown was made of lead rather than gold.
posted by qmechanic at 1:05 AM on August 4, 2009

How about an analemma somewhere in the design?
posted by primer_dimer at 3:45 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "Nullius in verba" is more of the concept that I'm going for here, but possibly also coupled with some beatiful/elegant experiments that successfully challenged existing ideas. Michelson-Morley is a good example.
posted by RobotNinja at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2009

Interesting. FWIW, I have a tattoo that means (among other things) something very similar to me as what you describe. It is a famous illustration from Vesalius from his work De Humani Corporis Fabrica ("On the Fabric of the Human Body" according to Wikipedia). The way the meaning of this tattoo overlaps with your idea is by representing, to me, the idea that Vesalius was not satisfied with Galen's explanations for anatomical features. As the Wikipedia article puts it, "with this novel approach to the problem of venesection, Vesalius posed the then striking hypothesis that anatomical dissection might be used to test speculation."

That is, as opposed to how things were done up until then, he didn't just believe it because Galen said it: he observed directly himself and came up with new ideas which contradicted Galen's ideas but were based on evidence. That is, through observation we can test hypotheses. We don't have to believe things just because they are the status quo. In short, Science - It Works, Bitches (this is all sounding very familiar...hmm...).

Anyways, I'm not sure if this will help you, but: there is one thing I can add--this tattoo means a lot to me, and not just the above (although that is a very important part of it). Naturally, a skeleton represents a lot of other stuff, like change, awareness of one's mortality, etc., and for me there was also importance in choosing something from European culture--not because I think it is the be-all-end-all of world culture, but because I feel more reasonably connected to it compared to, say, a Maori tribal tattoo, or something in Kanji/Hanzi. There is also the mere fact of getting a tattoo--something as permanent as your body, but subject to the same sorts of changes as your body--which had meaning to me.

So. I guess all I'm suggesting is that you considering what other meaning(s) you might incorporate in this tattoo. Why are you getting a tattoo now? Why is it so important for you to put this particular sentiment/idea in permanent ink on your body? What types of symbols--verbal or visual--have meaning for you, and relate to this main meaning? Etc. I hope it is obvious that I don't put these questions out there to criticize, but I hope answering these questions could help guide you towards exactly what you want!

And of course, if you can't figure it out, "Science - It Works, Bitches" is pretty kickass.
posted by dubitable at 8:23 PM on August 7, 2009

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