As I noted in an earlier post, the apparent recent fad for tattooing and body modification is nothing new. A paper published in the Journal of Urology reports that the practice has been going on from at least the upper Paleolithic period as evidence from the portable stone and bone art that dates from between 38,000 to 11,000 years ago. Apparently ancient man was just as obsessed with his genitalia as he is today. Many of the phalluses or phalli represent piercing and tattoos as well as modification.
That ancient man was so obsessed with his penis that he wanted to show it to others is not particularly surprising – (remember Weinergate earlier this year?) but I was interested to read that many of the tattoos were geometric shapes – much like the images that have been found in the further recesses of the caves where it is believed individuals used to wedge themselves (the spaces were only big enough for one person).
One intriguing hypothesis put forward in his fascinating book, “The Mind in the Cave” by David Lewis-Williams, is that shaman would induce sensory deprivation in isolation in the recesses as a means of altering their states of consciousness – no doubt helped along by some herbs. These were not public ceremony or rituals but solitary events that he reckons may have been an attempt to return to the womb of mother earth. One of the perceptual experiences of various hallucinogens and sensory deprivation are vivid experience of geometric shapes! One hypothesis for this is that retino-cortical map of visual area V1 is aligned in geometric patterns similar to those observed during hallucination and becomes over-stimulated in altered states.
Not so for the more recent fad for scientific tattoos that has recently been highlighted by Carl Zimmer in his amazing book, “Scientific Ink” which is a collection of scientifically-themed tattoos that he highlighted in his blog on this at the Discover Magazine (take a look). Many of the examples come from scientists so there are a fair selection of geometric patterns that are found in Nature from star systems, chemical structures and so on.
I do not have any tattoos at the moment but who knows? What would your scientific tattoo be?