One of the main goals of Mad Art Lab is to encourage more artists to lend their skill and their intellect to furthering the public’s understanding of science, skepticism and critical thinking. In order to keep in line with that goal I have decided to do a regular feature here at the Lab called, Awesome Artist Guest Posts. This will give me the ability to feature artists that I stumble upon via my travels or the intertubes and it will allow us to foster an exchange of art and ideas and will hopefully open a window into a world that is just a bit more beautiful, a bit more thought provoking a whole lot more awesome!
With that idea in mind I would like to introduce our first Mad Guest Poster, Sarah Hamilton.
*if you would like to submit a post or artwork to Mad art Lab, please use the contact link above or email: [email protected]
Actively joining up with the skeptic community within the last year or so has been fueling my intellectual hunger with delicious and informative morsels that are chock full o’ science-fortified nerdgasms in every crunchy bite. However, I do not come from a science-based or mathematical background and I have not always been so inclined to seek out and absorb related subjects; on the contrary, I have spent my formative years actively avoiding what I perceived to be “out of my realm” and instead pursuing music, theater, writing and reading fiction and poetry, and the greatest love of mine, visual arts. Though I always had a distinct curiosity for what science subjects I did take, furthering that interest was always just out of my reach due to my horrific grasp of math and the persistent struggle to get by coupled with the attitude that I just didn’t have a “head” for numbers, so to speak.
Fast forward to today. I’ve got my BA in Visual arts and French, which has understandably left me in a strange position when considering what kind of contributions (if any) I could make to the skeptical community, which has its share of mind-bogglingly intelligent and informed people leading the way. What can I offer that is unique to me? What can my vision for art do to further the idea of critical thinking and what skepticism can be applied to something so inherently subjective and (at times) tenuous as art? And, of course, can I make it look cool?!
I decided to make my tentative foray into the tasty melange of art and skepticism by way of incorporating a quick and easy photomanipulation coupled with a meaningful quote — pretty standard fare. All things considered, this was expected to be a fairly straight-forward exercise to get my feet wet, something that could be completed in a matter of hours after gathering my resources. Indeed, I felt clever for making use of NASA space images and geometrical design and plugged right along near-effortlessly until I hit a roadblock: the quote itself.
My first choice was a simple, two-word Latin phrased popularly used by Michael Shermer. “Cogita tute”, it said, and I with my junior skeptic whirligig hat and bright, round anime eyes said, “Okay! I’m sold!”. However, as I happily plugged the text in and painstakingly chose just the right font, a creeping sense of wonder washed in. You might recall that one of my degrees is in the French language and so my curiosity and occasional skepticism of translation work has been well-founded after years of making my own linguistic mistakes (je suis excitée; use at your own risk!) and reading less-than-stellar translations by others. Naturally, I decided to give Google a whirl with the Latin and was surprised to find that I perhaps had some research of my own to do before I could comfortably complete the piece.
I sifted through pages and pages on Google to no real avail. The only people paying attention to the phrase were those skeptical admirers quoting Shermer on blogs and book reviews and the odd, unrelated forum post on RVs — in other words, nothing of real value to me to adequately confirm or deny. I attempted to access Latin dictionaries online as well as internet translators, but remained guarded as they are also notorious for poor translation work. Google Translate offered this [http://translate.google.com/#la|en|Cogita%20tute], which seemed fishy, but not unusual for an online translator to butcher. My next step was to ask a variety of knowledgeable Latin speakers and students to give their input. They all seemed to corroborate each other in that Shermer’s usage was not the best.
One kind contributor pointed me to this: [http://diaphanus.livejournal.com/2023053.html] It seems we have a winner! The culprit appears to be “Lingua Ratina”, the Latin equivalent of everybody’s beloved (or, shall I say, beroved) Engrish. “Think! You yourself” is not quite what I was aiming for, but those Latin speakers were kind enough to point me to the phrase “cogita tibi”, or “tibi cogita” if I wanted emphasis on the you/yourself — with Google Translate giving me a much more desirable result as such: [http://translate.google.com/#la|en|Cogita%20tibi].
I still feel a sense of doubt, as language can be a thorny subject and especially so when you’re dealing with dead languages and interpretations that can be subject to the translator’s own voice and intent. If the translation is a botched one, I am gently amused that a skeptic such as Shermer would (accidentally?) popularize it, but regardless of whether or not it’s true (I leave that to those knowledgeable in Latin to decide), I am pleased that what was essentially a small, throwaway project to start turned out to be an invaluable lesson into a kind of skeptical application all its own.