“You can’t choose the skin you’re born with, but you can choose how you represent yourself with it. I think tattoos are kind of a fundamental permanent way to do that” says Paul Fagan, a member of the KPL staff, a new dad, and a lover of science.
His first tattoo was a Celtic cross he got on his 18th birthday. “When I got the Celtic cross… well, I wasn’t really a Christian then, but now I’m a serious Atheist, which makes the cross kind of ironic” says Paul.
Actually, the Celtic cross can be tied to his passion for science. Paul explains that “it’s an adapted version of a Celtic circle, which coincidentally represented the four Aristotelian elements, which were brought to old Irish culture from the Arab cultures in the middle ages. So it was actually more or less a Pagan or scientific representation, which they extended the bottom of to make it look like a cross.”
“My favourite tattoo is always my newest tattoo - because I always try to get ones that represents me as I evolve.” His most recent are the symbols for the four Aristotelian elements - Earth, Water, Air and Fire, represented by their triangular symbols - one on each forearm and calf. So in a way, Paul has the four elements tattooed in two different forms, showing how significant they are to him. “They represent the weight of objects, because in Aristotelian physics there is no space - there are no gaps in the universe. Everything is made up of something and it’s a combination of these four elements.”
These tattoos were chosen not for the elements or Aristotle themselves, but for Paul’s reverence for the scientific method, which was developed based on these early elemental theories. “The scientific method has always been my biggest interest - you observe, and based on your observations, you try to develop theories, then you can test those theories and refine them until it becomes something that cannot be a broken rule.”
The scientific method is inextricably tied to Paul’s philosophy on life. Even as a child, he has always been a person who asks “Why?”. And this tendency to ask why is what lead Paul to work at a library. He has chosen to work in a institution of answering questions. His wife, a journalist, has chosen that too, and each in their own way answer questions, and not just the easy answers, but the “why”s behind them.
I’ve seen this quality in Paul as a librarian. When any patron - whether a child, a teenager, a new parent or a retiree - has a question, he equips them with a well-rounded and informed answer, offering possible alternatives and the reasoning to back it up.
From a patron wanting to use the library’s 3D Printer, to the questions that have puzzled philosophers through the ages, Paul approaches people and their questions with respect: “People laugh at flat earth theorists but I say, what evidence do they have? How can we actually prove it? What is the actual math behind proving we revolve around the sun? I look for those answers and the further back that I look, I come to the development of the scientific method and those first people, back in Greece and Mesopotamia that made these discoveries from asking ‘why?’”