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Heidegger's Cat

I made the quip the other day regarding my tattoo, commenting that it was "permanent, or at least as permanent as I am." This got me thinking about the idea of how permanent I am.

This has been a question that has left me cold ever since a 4th grade teacher explained to the class that we were made of tiny atoms. I'm not sure if the rest of the forth graders immediately traced that new fact to its ultimate logical conclusion, and the existential horrors that accompany it, but I certainly did.

It is a question I pondered often during my last two years of college, when my lofted bedroom had me sleeping in an alcove a few feet from the ceiling. I spent at least an hour each night staring at the blackness of the top of the room mere inches from my nose, as if the eternal blackness itself had walked up to me in a bar, stuck his face in front of mine and asked "what are you going to do about it?". Each night I tried to find a clever solution to this problem, but never found one.

However, having revisited it again, ten years later, I think I've found an unspoken assumption that this atramentous fate seems to depend on. (more)

Now with Extra Carbon!

So if you haven't heard yet, as of Oct 10th 2010 I am tattoo'd.

My Friend Kamil Whose Blog is Better Than Mine really deserves the credit for inspiring the whole thing. I had been wanting to do something to commemorate 10/10/10 properly for awhile, but I just couldn't think of anything appropriate. I played around with trying to organize a party, but no venue or activity really seemed to fit.

So I was semi-moping around, kicking playground stones when Kamil called me up and said I should get a 101010 tattoo since it was 10/10/10 day. I took in a breath ready to explain to him why that was impossible and very likely to mock him, but instead I paused, and eventually agreed. Because he was completely correct, it was the exact thing to do.

He, with some other local help, found a tattoo place open on Sunday (a rare thing it seems). I then pleaded with my best puppy dog eyes to my wife if she could watch our lad while I went off to deface my body, which she understandingly, but without enthusiasm, agreed to.

Now the idea of me getting a 101010 tattoo has been around for awhile. The problem was that I never could quite find the right design. Just numbers were a bit plain, and all the other designs I had just seemed too cutesy and held no resonance with me.

I always was the type that works best under pressure, and immediately sat down at my computer, having approximately 15 minutes to put something together before I had to go drive to my appointment. I eventually decided on using pixelated numbers to give it a bit of artistry, and to further distinguish it from a concentration camp mark (which according to my mother's first reaction I failed at).

The actual tattoo process didn't hurt at all. My last tooth cleaning was many times more uncomfortable. The whole thing took about an hour and a half, and Kryss my artist was very nice, we spent the time chatting about a large domain of subjects from Carl Sagan to Self-Hating Hipsters.

My chair was facing the front of the store, so it was also sort of fun to watch people come in, dicker with the "front desk" person, and see the results that would trickle back as questions to Kryss regarding feasibility and pricing of designs. I tried to have an open mind about some of the designs she had to vet, especially since my tattoo design was eccentric at best. Eventually I brought up the subject of some stories I've heard of people getting tattoos that, to me, seemed like they wouldn't age well.

Her response to this was memorable: "Every design people choose is an indication of the place they were at when they got it. If they go somewhere else from there, at worse they have a sign post to look back on."

I was mainly looking to make a joke, but was struck by the wisdom of it.

My wife is against tattoos as a rule since she thinks it unlikely that the tattoo will be meaningful or flattering 20, 30, 40 years down the road. And she's of course right, it seems very unlikely a stodgy 70 year old Kyle is going to be happy about the math/sci-fi pun on his arm.

That said, it isn't my job to care about that. There is so much meaning compressed into those 6 digits for me about who I am and what I've done for the past 15 years, that I have no regrets about it. While "101010" will very likely seem childish and less meaningful to me in the future. The fact that it was important to me right now will not easily be forgotten.

On Thinking

So a few weeks back my wife blindsided me with the proposal that we goto the Rally to Restore Sanity.

When I had heard of it my immediate instinct was "Wonderful, I hope it is well attended!" The thought of attending myself was never really entertained, the logistics involved for such a short event just didn't even merit it a consideration.

However, even when she proposed it, I still didn't even consider it an option. Which immediately startled me, since a lark of a trip out to the Capital to see what some of my favorite comedic writers can put together should have been immediately compelling... What's worse, I didn't even begin to consider it until I heard a quip on NPR's Marketplace of all the god damn things, where they mentioned a study that showed that "doing things" made people happier than "buying things". That memories such as vacations or experiences in the end made people happier.

So, to recap, I only agreed to this semi-spontaneous outing after a finance show on in the background of a car drive established the necessary utilitarian calculus for me to understand that it would possibly be worth the trouble... Mortifyingly terrible truths right there. Someone really ought to mock the crap out of that guy, preferably while he's eating vegetarian sushi.

Speaking of which, it was this event and my lingering reaction to the vegetarian book that made be realize that one fundamental problem I have is thinking. Over-thinking might be a word for it, but that seems to not properly convey the purposelessness of it. It isn't done out of caution, but out of obliging routine. Like a dog with nothing else to do who nibbles on the back of his paw until it is raw and seeping.

I dabbled a lot with meditation last year when I was having trouble sleeping at nights, and I always found it terribly curious how I'd be in bed, trying for hours to sleep, and spectacularly failing in that endeavor, but then I could get up, go in another room, sit for a few minutes and try not to think about anything, and I'd very nearly fall asleep upright, even with my back straightened and my legs folded in a uncomfortable mockery of lotus.

The calming silence of no thoughts.

Tonight it dawned on me what these things all have in common. The inability to control *what* I think about. The fact that my mind seems to have its own mind made up about what it wants to contemplate seems like a fundamental human issue to be discussed.

I think this is why the vegetarian book bugged me so much. I had expected a high minded ethical discussion on what our duties were as everyday consumers of food, and while that was discussed he also slipped in imagery that I cannot *not* unthink of when looking at chicken meat.

Marketing and Politicians know these things. They know that even the best intentioned voter, who views voting as a sacred and responsible act can have his or her thought process continually interrupted by sound bites and accusations that are virtually guaranteed to, at minimum, create noise that makes considering well reasoned arguments more difficult, or at worse makes it virtually impossible for a large set of people to engage in a reasonable discussion.

In an earlier post I had claimed the secret to happiness was positive thinking, which seems to assume that a person can control what they actually think about from moment to moment. At this point, I'm pretty convinced the secret is to know when to stop thinking about something.

Please don't take this as my siding with the "ignorance is bliss" crew. I still believe in the importance of self-examination and logic. The mind is an absolutely amazing tool, but so is a chainsaw. And the woodsmen who can't put his chainsaw down or shut it off when he tries to sleep for the night is not doing anyone a service.

The key really seems to be recognizing whether you're in the forest or not, which in this case, I think the forest is an extended metaphor for tortured extended metaphors.

Pop Quiz

I found this story entertaining. The Pew Research center asked 3,000 American's a set of religious question, and the results were that self identifying Athiests/Agnostics and those of the Jewish Faith scored highest? Despite many of the questions being specifically about Christianity?

Since one of the criticisms of the poll were that its questions were akin to "Trivial Pursuit", I decided to take it myself to see how arbitrary they were. I thought most of the questions were fair, and definitely spanned a wider range of religions than just Christianity.

In any case, I got 12/15, whereas my wife the atheist/agnostic got a perfect score, adding another data point to the study. =)