365 Days of Earrings

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Turtles all the way down

A phrase popped into my mind this morning as I chose these earrings to match my pale turqoise shirt: Turtles all the way down.

As I recalled the anecdote, a philosopher gave a lengthy speech describing his theory about the origin of the universe. 

At the end of this presentation, an old lady rose in the audience to say, "I don't believe a word of it. The world rests on the back of a turtle."

"My dear woman, on what does the turtle rest?" the scientist responded, amused.

"It's turtles, all the way down," she stated.

Since I first heard this tale, long ago, I've loved the notion of the infinite regression, with one baseless idea resting upon another, carefully stacked in convincing fashion to make a believable theory. Believe what you want, but be willing to accept that the beliefs of others are equally valid. And understand that what can be believed is different from what can be tested and proved.

When I looked on the Internet, I discovered that the story may well be what my dad would have called "apochryphal." In some stories the philosopher is William James, in some Bertrand Russell, in some Thomas Huxley.

So I guess I cannot prove whether this encounter between the old woman and the philosopher ever took place. But I can still find joy in the notion of "Turtles, all the way down." My four pair are a pretty good start!

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