Turtles all the way down

Tue, 2 Aug 1994 13:39:05 EDT

In PHILOSOP we've been discussing the story of 'Turtles all the way down'
and how scientists and philosophers have used it. It's become apparent
that it goes back to antiquity and appears to be outside the domain of

Here are some of the anecdotes.

>Stephen Hawking in BriefHistoryOfTime starts with the same anecdote.
>A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once 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."

>About East Indian mythology: JosephCampbell in TheHeroWithaThousandFaces
>writes: "The dome of heaven rests on the quarters of the earth, sometimes
>supported by four caryatidal kings, dwarfs, giants, elephants, or turtles."
>Bulfinch's Mythology says: Vishnu is second in the Hindu Triad, the
>preserving principle, and on his second decent to earth he took the "form
>of a Tortoise, which form he assumed to support the earth."

>In a reference to China, Chochod says: 'The primordial turtle has a shell
>that is rounded on the top to represent heaven, and square underneath to
>represent the earth."

Does anyone in ANTHRO-L know some Turtle anecdotes or information about the

I'd appreciate any direction, references or comments.


William Hayes