I had the words Cogito ergo sum (“I think therefore I am) inked beside a geometric circle on my left upper arm. The two elements stand apart but in relation to each other (like a satellite in orbit).

What’s it’s meaning? Well…

René Descartes’ Discourse on the Method was the first proper philosophy I ever read in my teens. It became the foundation of western thought, and the Age of Enlightenment. Cogito relates to certainty, to doubt, to the centrality of reason, rationality and the authority of the human mind to discern what is true and what is not. It permits no unfounded belief. It gives assurance of actuality and therefore of potential. It influences how we think about everything else.

I’m attracted to the circle; this simple form of Euclidean geometry. It’s one of the most fundamental mathematical constants of the universe. The path of its circumference is eternal, and possesses unique depth as expressed in the number Pi (π) which itself goes on forever (as far as we know). It’s written in the language of numbers. It expresses wholeness as well as simplicity. It’s proof that the infinite exists in some form, so it also seems positive and hopeful to me.

This tattoo is also ironic, since it’s inscribed upon a body, not a mind (it isn’t my body thinking and therefore existing); a body that will certainly not be infinite but will soon die, at which point the statement may better read: “I thought, therefore I was.” In that way, this ink is finite and captive on my arm, but it directs attention toward the concept of the infinite, to freedom of thought. Like a prisoner in a cell writing novels about the world beyond, it reminds me of what it’s like to look out at the vast beyond in the night sky and realize that – although we’re captive and unable to leave earth to find out the truth about it all – we are still free in mind and spirit to conceive of what lies beyond.

It’s simple and it’s complex. It’s meaningful and it’s profound. And also, it’s just a tattoo.

(Inked by Stutter Tattoo on the day after the 2012 presidential election, November 7th, 2012.)