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Meditation 173
Turtles all the way down

by: JT

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There's an old story,[1] supposedly from India, about how the Earth is supported in the skies.

Apparently the Earth is supported on a large plate. The plate is on the backs of four elephants. Each of the elephants is supported by four turtles, one foot on each. And each turtle is standing on the back of another turtle.

And after that?

It's just turtles, turtles all the way down!

In its own way, it's an amusing tale, but, considered seriously, it leaves open the questions:

"All the way down to where? What is down there as the ultimate support?"

And those question are not answered. Which means the original question "How is the Earth supported in the skies?" has not been answered after all.

Isn't it the same when the questions: "Why are we here?", "Where did we come from?", "Where did all this come from?" are asked and the answer is given as "God." "Where did this god come from?" always remains unanswered, because the question is unanswerable.

"God" is no more than shorthand for "It's just turtles, turtles all the way down!"


  1. There are more recent, less complex versions of this tale which involve the proverbial little old lady talking variously to Huxley, Russell, Sagan, Asimov, or Hawking.