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I Gave Myself a Tattoo

Boob Tattoo

See more funny tattoos here.

I got a tattoo.  It covers my entire body.  I did the whole thing at once.  And I did it myself.

It would be all but impossible, if not for the design I chose: Null.  i.e., I’ve given myself a Null tattoo.  i.e., There is not a drop of ink on my entire body.

So…you didn’t get a tattoo…

Oh no, I did…


The first university class I ever took was calculus at 8am on a Monday morning.  They had told me about high flunk rates in first year, but I was about to experience what they meant.  The prof kept talking about “jiro” and I had no idea wtf that meant.  Was I supposed to know this?  Did everyone else know this?  A week had passed before I figured out he was saying “zero”.

But Jiro has been a puzzle for a lot longer:

Records show that the ancient Greeks seemed unsure about the status of zero as a number. They asked themselves, “How can nothing be something?”, leading to philosophical and, by the Medieval period, religious arguments about the nature and existence of zero and the vacuum…

The concept of zero as a number and not merely a symbol for separation is attributed to India where by the 9th century AD practical calculations were carried out using zero, which was treated like any other number, even in case of division. —Wikipedia

You have to admit, zero is a weird number.  When you add zero, you accomplish nothing.  When you multiply by zero, you get nothing.  And every time you divide by zero, a mathematician dies (bless the mathematicians).  It’s not even, it’s not odd.  It’s neither prime nor composite.  It’s excluded from the set of natural numbers — I guess that makes it unnatural.  No wonder it took us until the 9th century to accept zero as a number.

Given what we’ve learned from zero, why shouldn’t we accept the Null tattoo into tattoohood?

The Power of Nothing

Thirty spokes meet in the hub,
but the empty space between them
is the essence of the wheel.
Pots are formed from clay,
but the empty space between it
is the essence of the pot.
Walls with windows and doors form the house,
but the empty space within it
is the essence of the house.  —Lao Tse

Null Picture

Let’s say my body is a 300×300 pixel square (it won’t be far off pretty soon) where each pixel can be black or white.  There are 2^(300×300) possible designs, one of which is pictured below.


All white pixels is also one of the possible designs: the Null design.

Null Song

If a song is a combination of notes and silences, then a combination with only silences is the Null song.  Is the Null song a song?  Well at least 2 artists thought so, and were willing to put six figures worth of money where their mouth is.

Miles Davis famously described his improvisational technique as parallel to the way that Picasso described his use of a canvas: The most critical aspect of the work, both artists said, was not the objects themselves, but the space between objects.  In Miles’s case, he described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between notes, the “air” that he placed between one note and the next. —Daniel J. Levitin, This Is Your Brain on Music

Negative space is indeed an important concept in art.

So far we’ve managed to carve out some acceptance of the Null tattoo based on technical reasons, which are important, but only half the picture.  It’s time to get Real.

Getting Real (Like, Realistic)

You want the truth?  Don’t worry, you can handle it.  Not so sure about me.

I guess I’ll come clean and tell you I have an aversion to needle poking and a fear of permanency, which may have had something to do with my design decision.

Cat’s out of the bag.  Is this what it’s all about?  Just me being too pussy to get a tattoo?  Well, there is that, but not just that…

Getting Real (Like, Really)

The outward beauty of tattoos gets ooohs, aaahs, and deserved appreciation, but when you hear people really get into talking about their tattoos, they inevitable talk about what it means to them.  A tattoo is an outward expression of the inner self.  Like good sex, it may have its form on the skin, but it resides in the mind.

So what does my tattoo mean to me?

I am an abstractionist, an idealist, a dreamer.  I like seeing how things fit into the whole.  I take disparate concepts and integrate them.

I thought about a circle as an appropriate symbol, but like the Tao, once you express It, It evaporates.  To embrace everything, the ultimate symbol must be nothing.  Nothing encompasses everything, while at the same time being contained within the everything…and all that eastern philosophy crap that I won’t go into now.

Getting Real (Like, Naked)

I guess it would be unusual to talk about a tattoo so much and not show it, but given the nature and placement of my design, I think we’ll save that for a more intimate occasion…oh what the hey, here you go:

It looks similar to this one.  Sort of.  Okay, not really.

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