Thursday, October 15, 2009

Turtles All The Way Down

"Turtles all the way down" refers to an infinite regression belief about cosmology, the nature of the universe. An infinite regression not so simply implies that each proposition depends on a prior proposition and since each relies on the previous there is no end to the propositioning and therefore no real, baseline knowing. This can lead to circular arguments when one of the propositions is repeated and therefore ultimately depends on itself for its veracity. Most such rhetoric comes from the cosmological argument, which is in itself the search for the First Cause or the answer to the questions: Why are we here? or What is the meaning of life? or simply WTF! First Cause is also the argument for (or against) the existence of God or god or even gods.

But back to the turtles. Rumor has it or at least Stephen Hawking tells it this way:

A well-known scientist (some say Bertrand Russell) gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever", said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"

This fable more than likely arises from a Hindu cosmology that has the earth resting on an elephant's back and the elephant standing on a turtle. When a wise Hindu scholar was asked what the turtle rested upon, he replied: "Why don't we change the subject."

There are as many explanations of the cosmos as there are or were cultures. Creation myths are as plentiful as the stars in the sky. What I find most interesting is that when you find a true believer in any one explanation and you ask them about any other view, they will tell you it is a myth. But of course, those who adhere to anyone of those other "myths" would label their true belief just the same.

Perhaps rather than turtles, it is really myths all the way down.

As for me, I always carry cat treats and a container of turtle food.
link to artwork


Kenneth Rougeau said...


Thanks so much for including my Turtles All The Way Down artwork in your blog post. I did notice, however, that the image is linked only to itself. Would it be at all possible to change it so that the artwork links directly to my online shop? In this manner, anyone who might want to could find and perhaps purchase the artwork for themselves. It would mean a great deal to me. The address to my shop is

Thanks & have a wonderful day!
- Kenneth Rougeau

The Shrink said...

Happy to add the link.