Talk:Turtles all the way down
|WikiProject Philosophy||(Rated Start-class)|
- 1 Most Common Usage
- 2 Research
- 3 Theosophy?
- 4 Tortoises vs Turtles
- 5 Notability
- 6 Major revisions
- 7 Dawkins
- 8 split off infinite regression (?)
- 9 What's wrong?
- 10 Native American story
- 11 Picture?
- 12 Related concepts change.
- 13 Unrelated concepts
- 14 Infinite regression of turtles?
- 15 Clarification
- 16 Derogatory misinterpretation
- 17 Image wanted
- 18 Hittchikers guide mention nonexistant
- 19 Comment about "In popular culture" section
- 20 It comes from Bertrand Russell's autobiography
- 21 Pratchett's domain name
- 22 'See Also' section needs cleaning
- 23 Teller
- 24 Is page image appropriate?
- 25 Inaccurate origin information - please revise based on this evidence
- 26 Homunculus Argument?
- 27 Origin
- 28 1854
- 29 Changes to lead section
- 30 Changes to §2, "Notable modern allusions or variations"
Most Common Usage
The article doesn't state this term or phrase's most common usage, as an argument against The Big Bang Theory. A proponent of this theory states or believes all matter in the universe was once compacted into a single object no larger (if you can believe it) than a thimble. However the proponent cannot explain where this thimble of matter comes from. Often, instead, the proponent will give an additional theory stating or proposing that eventually all matter with compact into a thimble again and that it already has multiple times, there have been many universes prior to ours, each caused by "big bangs". However they cannot say when the first universe began or where the matter came from before all these universes. To which an opponent than replies: "Yes, it's turtles all the way down." 22.214.171.124 (talk) 18:19, 11 May 2016 (UTC)
I know google searches almost always point to the Hawking version. I guess this just prooves that books are still important sources for research! Slrubenstein
I've heard a version in which the "old lady" was a Theosophist, which would offer some connection between the attested Indian version of the tale, and the later British and American ones. Sadly, I have no source to cite, which is why I'm posting this here rather than editing the article. --FOo 02:15, 28 July 2005 (UTC)
- I'm pretty sure that Aleister Crowley mentioned the "turtles all the way down" anecdote; I'm not sure whether he was speaking of a Theosophist or not, but there's a good chance of that. It might have been from Magick Without Tears. Afalbrig (talk) 08:20, 8 March 2009 (UTC)
Tortoises vs Turtles
I have never read A Brief History of Time, and so cannot comment on whether the switch in the ancedote from tortoises to turtles occurs as is stated here. Could someone check this out? At the least, "tortoises all the way down" should redirect here; at the most, this page might have to be moved. --Martey 01:52, 25 August 2005 (UTC)
- It's a word to word transcription of my edition at least, so yes it does strangely switch from tortoises to turtles.--Gwynplaine 03:30, 28 August 2005 (UTC)
- Interesting. Made a redirect page. --Martey 08:22, 28 August 2005 (UTC)
- There's also a less common "elephants all the way down" version of the tale. Should there be a redirect page, and maybe also a mention of that in the article? --Guest 20:56, 16 January 2006 (UTC)
- It was elephants when I first heard the tale, back around 1974. A turtle standing on an elephant seemed less of an affront to reason than the other way 'round. I'm not a big fan of Brief History of Time, so I'm not surprised Hawking got it backwards. LightSpeed (talk) 21:40, 30 January 2012 (UTC)
- Interesting. Made a redirect page. --Martey 08:22, 28 August 2005 (UTC)
I don't feel this is notable enough for a page on its own and I would sooner see it abridged and merged with urban myth or origin belief or just so story. As Slrubenstein pointed out, Tatwd derives its notability entirely from Stephen Hawking's book, and the book's notability in turn rides on Stephen Hawking's immense contribution to theoretical physics and his battle with disability. Hawking is non-notable as a philosopher, and, like many people, I wasn't that impressed with the book per se. So I think the notability of the tutles story is not fundamentally greater than any other urban myth or origin belief or just so story, and merging would be a better idea. Zargulon 14:10, 15 September 2005 (UTC)
- I disagree. The story is perennially retold, and actually encapsulates an Eastern or holistic view of metaphysics — that of ontological irreducibility. --goethean ॐ 15:57, 15 September 2005 (UTC)
- On this note: Do you feel, as I do, that the article in question deals with ontological irreducibility with a patronizing tone? Rmilligan 06:00, 27 August 2007 (UTC)
Totwd it is not notable for illustrating ontological irreducibility. As for the story being perennially retold, independently of Stephen Hawking's book, I would like to see some evidence of this. Zargulon 17:03, 15 September 2005 (UTC)
- A Google Search on the exact phrase "Turles all the way down" NOT wikipedia NOT hawking gives 115,000 hits. --goethean ॐ 18:12, 15 September 2005 (UTC)
- I just noticed this story in William James's book The Will To Believe, specifically in the essay "The Sentiment of Rationality" (p. 104 of The Will To Believe in the Dover reprint):
- Like the old woman in the story who described the world as resting on a rock, and then explained that rock to be supported by another rock, and finally when pushed with questions said it was rocks all the way down, -- he who believes this to be a radically moral universe must hold the moral order to rest either on an absolute and ultimate should, or on a series of shoulds all the way down.
- The James collection was published in 1898. So we can conclude a) that the chunk of the Wikipedia article which attributes the quote to James is wrong, and b) that it probably had nothing to do with Russell. He would have been 26 when the James collection came out, and James was already describing this as a possible apocrypha. Slaniel 02:41, 26 March 2006 (UTC)
Accepted - thank you Zargulon 18:36, 15 September 2005 (UTC)
Thomas King's book The Truth About Stories is published by University of Minnesota Press. King is a professor of English at the University of Guelph, the book is a compilation of the 2003 Massey Lectures series, part of CBC Radio's Radio Ideas series. It is a book of essays (in First Nations storytelling style) about the importance of stories and storytelling to First Nations' culture. EVERY chapter opens with the turtle story (with the elephant left out, of course), leaving readers with the implication that it is a First Nations' story. On the other hand, the view of stories advocated by the author explicitly devalues identification of stories with authors, so he has no obligation to affirm or deny (or even care about) the source. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 126.96.36.199 (talk) 14:06, 2 October 2008 (UTC)
I just went through and tried to clean up this article a bit. It was previously suffering quite badly from the "stream of unorganized facts" syndrome that so heavily affects much of wikipedia. I wanted to make this discussion post in case anybody cares about the changes, since I made some pretty drastic revisions.
First off, I removed all but one example of the anecdote itself. Since they're all basically the same except for some minor specifics in wording, it's really not necessary to have three copies of the same thing up on the page. The only version with a major difference, in which an Englishman and Indian are involved instead of a scientist and old lady, I noted along with the reference to that occurrence, which I think is enough to give the reader the full idea.
I also changed the listing of the occurrences. The quote from STUMPERS-L was just wrong... following the link provided gave nothing close to what had been supposedly a direct copy and paste, so I made a note that the 1969 occurrence was unverified, and cleaned up that section in general.
I split everything up into sections that seem to make sense. Hopefully it's not too chunked... I think it's more readable this way, personally.
Finally, I split the Discworld and movie references off into a seperate chunk at the bottom, since they're related but not really talking about the anecdote itself.
This is my first addition to WP, so please be kind :-)
188.8.131.52 10:14, 13 November 2005 (UTC)enroth
One does not need to rehash Dawkins arguments concerning intelligent design, which does not mention turtles at all, in order to simply explain why ID itself might be an example of turtles. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 184.108.40.206 (talk) 05:39, 29 November 2007 (UTC)
dawkins is also, i think, a popularizer of determinism, isn't this a veild and science friendy version of intelligent design...? it at least leads to a form of infinite regress if not. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 220.127.116.11 (talk) 16:09, 3 October 2008 (UTC)
split off infinite regression (?)
I think this is a specific example of an infinite regression but not all infinite regressions are humping turtles. But I'm not entirely sure what an infinite regression is. Anyone want to split it off? — Dunc|☺ 23:31, 17 November 2005 (UTC)
If one can accept that our universe is space all the way out, why not turtles all the way down? Cheers :p
I take it the turtles are invisble... much like space.
Native American story
The "turtles all the way down" idea also appears in Thomas King's The Truth About Stories (from the CBC Massey Lectures) as a Native narrative... I'm not sure how or where this would be best added, or I'd do so myself. (The exact phrase is on page 32, the myth shows up in a couple of other places, IIRC), 26 October 2006
See also - <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Thomas_King_(novelist)#Turtles_all_the_way_down_...> 18.104.22.168 (talk) 01:39, 12 January 2013 (UTC)
Slight, subtle variations upon a North-American indigenous creation-story (or stories, plural) are used by Dr Thomas King as his opening in every The Truth About Stories Lecture, as part of his entertaining, but meaningful preamble. It does not just "show up in a couple of other places". Rather its/their inclusion, with each's ingenious variations, is quite evidently intentional upon Dr King's behalf.
- That's very clever. I like it and I think's appropriate. There are some drawings out there that might be public domain that might also be famous. (Narkstraws 20:39, 13 February 2007 (UTC))
- Endorse I like it. Nardman1 18:14, 4 March 2007 (UTC)
- I agree that the picture does not teach you something the article can't. However, I still support having some picture, because
- 1) the article looked really barren without one;
- 2) the concept is innately visual and a picture seemed truly necessary -- you can't hear the words without forming a picture.
- I like the picture that is currently in use (the text "earth" on four large oversimplified turtles) because it captures the two paradoxes of the myth:
- 1) how do you get turtles to go "all the way down?"
- 2) is the "earth" in the myth supposed to be flat or round? Agradman (talk) 15:01, 10 May 2009 (UTC)
Related concepts change.
CanadianCaesar: Um, I suppose we could end crime by legalizing it, but that would kind of miss the point. The "related concepts" section looks like a trivia section, smells like a trivia section, and quacks like a trivia section. Why not call it a trivia section?
Also, it'd be nice if you didn't just do a blanket revert. Do you really think the ones I removed are relevant enough? And the usage of "see" terminology in the header, which is bad style on the Internet with hyperlinks? SnowFire 04:52, 2 March 2007 (UTC)
- Actually, I just incorporated your edit. I see no reason to invite more indiscriminate information by calling it Trivia. Just keep it to one topic. CanadianCaesar Et tu, Brute? 04:53, 2 March 2007 (UTC)
- Fair enough, now. SnowFire 04:57, 2 March 2007 (UTC)
Does anyone know if Dr. Seuss' book Yertle the Turtle was somehow inspired or influenced by the expression "Turtles all the way down"?
Anon Answer: No, it doesn't. It's about how a ruler's excessive greed/vanity can lead to his overthrow. You could make a case for the anecdote in Dr. Seuss' book Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? about the Bee-Watcher-Watcher. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 22.214.171.124 (talk) 02:36, 30 April 2009 (UTC)
Infinite regression of turtles?
Not necessarily. Assuming a curved spacetime, there could be a finite number of turtles, with the bottom-most one standing on the Earth, or any other solid ground for that matter. Maybe a physicist would like to comment on this hypothesis?
As an Indian and a scientist, I have to make a few clarifications about this article.
1) The motif being spoken of is something that I have never heard of in Hinduism. Despite being a reliegion, Hinduism has strangely neo-scientific views on the universe's structure and creation, including its cyclic and infinite nature.
2) Even if this motif does exist in Hinduism somewhere, I personally feel that this article is not fair in its portrayal of 'the Indian'.
- I would like to know this myself. Where does this idea of giant space turtles originally come from? Drutt (talk) 12:21, 8 November 2009 (UTC)
It doesn't matter if the Indian isn't correctly portrayed. Your commentary about Hindu beliefs distracts from the point of the anectdote. If you wish to correct this misconception at least take the comment out of the quote! I'm moving it. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 126.96.36.199 (talk) 14:41, 17 November 2009 (UTC)
IIRC, most of this is in relation to Chukwa, who (as Pratchett pionted out) is swimming through the Ocean of Milk. It's only necessary to have something for the turtle to stand on if one already asserts the relatively modern idea of empty space as we know it. So, it's a misinterpretation, attempting to make the believer look foolish. A sensible (and far more likely) answer would be "The turtle is swimming", or "The ocean of milk, which is bottomless".
It is about as humorous as asking a Christian creationist - "So, what day was it before Monday" - and the reply being - "Oh, every day was a Monday before that". Quite funny, if you aren't a creationist. I haven't yet met a Hindu who takes the Chukwa myth as anything other than a mythic metaphor, even though I've met plenty of creationists who really believe that the Universe was created in seven days..
If we accept the Chukwa myth on it's metaphorical basis, then it's not dissimilar from all those marbles-on-mattresses pictures used to show the curvature of space-time under gravitational fields; if we were to update the metaphor, we could say that the child Chukwa is swimming around a whirlpool caused by the mighty Surya-Chukwa (the sun-turtle), while the baby Chandra-Chukwa (moon) is swimming around a similar 'whirlpool' created by our own Chukwa.
So, just because current science prefer marbles and mattresses, it doesn't make it particularly funny if someone else uses turtles and oceans. What makes it sad is when someone takes another myth and ridicules it in a short-sighted, and arrogant, manner. Moreover, the (rather tired) scientific misogyny comes out in naming the person in question as being a woman.
An big, fat white scientist goes to Kumbh Mela, and joins in a conversation with a group of Sadhus listening to a Yogi who is discussing Chukwa. After listening for a while, the scientist pipes up and tells them "Actually, you are all wrong - the earth is a marble on a mattress" - the Yogi gave a superior smile and asked "what is keeping the mattress dry?" - the response came rushing back "It's not wet - because God never got laid!" (20040302 (talk) 10:00, 8 August 2008 (UTC))
- The Kurma turtle swims in the cosmic ocean called Garbhodaka. Pic from "Vedic Cosmos" DVD cover: http://akincanaforum.eponym.com/DVD-inlays-&-cd-2.jpg 188.8.131.52 (talk) 18:57, 22 February 2009 (UTC) Jan
Hittchikers guide mention nonexistant
just read through entirety of hitchikers guide series, my brain hurts now, but no mention of turtles all the way down. Man was mostly harmless messed up! -forgot ,y username i'll put it in later
Comment about "In popular culture" section
At the beginning of the "In popular culture" section, someone posted a complaint that reads as follows:
"Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (October 2009)"
I think this complaint should be deleted. I think that the list of references in that "popular culture" section are entirely appropriate -- the references show exactly what the heading says the section is about. It should be left as is. Worldrimroamer (talk) 18:01, 21 February 2010 (UTC)
I agree, I don't think the the Wikipedia Trivia Sections guideline (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Trivia_sections) applies here. The guidelines specifically states: "This guideline does not suggest always avoiding lists in favor of prose. Some information is better presented in list format. The information here is perfectly suited to list format (a list of popular culture references to the main topic). Rodrigotorres (talk) 23:23, 9 April 2010 (UTC)
Anyone consider Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle somehow related to this notion? -- sorry I'm not currently signed in —Preceding unsigned comment added by 184.108.40.206 (talk) 19:08, 17 November 2010 (UTC)
It comes from Bertrand Russell's autobiography
Russell tells the story in his autobiography, it should not be that hard to find a source. I don't have my copy here. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 220.127.116.11 (talk) 02:21, 1 February 2011 (UTC)
- Interesting. See the quote from Russell's lecture included in the article. It involves nothing (or something unspecified) below the tortoise, but not "turtles all the way down". And it's a thought experiment, rather than a description of an incident. Does it appear as an incident in his autobiography? Shreevatsa (talk) 04:40, 1 February 2011 (UTC)
- Yes, it comes from Russell's biography, which I read many years ago. As I recall he said he was on a train talking to an old woman. I don't remember if he told her anything about cosmology himself, or just listened to her explanation that the world was flat and sitting on the back of a giant turtle. He asked what it stood on and she replied that it was another turtle. He asked what that turtle was standing on, and smiled as if she saw him looking for a flaw but missed the obvoius; she said "it's turtles all the way down". I have to say it was a rather boring book and I didn't finish it, and I don't know if I still have it or not, but this should be fairly easy for someone to look up and verify. Eric Myers 14:50, 29 March 2015 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by Eric Myers (talk • contribs)
Pratchett's domain name
Terry Pratchett operated a personal website under turtlesalltheway.com for many years. Now it redirects to a merchandise page for official Discworld stuff, including many items personally signed by Terry Pratchett. He is still listed as the active registrant for the domain. Is this something to add to the existing Pratchett section? I find it interesting and relevant, but I'm quite the convinced Pratchett-reader. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 18.104.22.168 (talk) 20:55, 15 August 2011 (UTC) I am deeply disappointed that Terry Pratchett is not mentioned in the article! — Preceding unsigned comment added by 22.214.171.124 (talk) 13:14, 13 November 2012 (UTC)
'See Also' section needs cleaning
There are a few seemingly irrelevant links in the see also page. Should definitely be cleaned up. I don't think simply also referring to a turtle warrants inclusion, e.g. 'Kurma' and 'Post turtle'. Also, I don't personally see (or understand) the connection to Hilbert's Paradox, or Holon. All Clues Key (talk) 16:41, 6 December 2011 (UTC)
If I remember correctly (it has been decades since I heard it), Edward Teller mentioned this myth of the world being on a turtle on another turtle, ad infinitum on his vinyl record about the theory of special relativity and cosmology. That would have been in the 1950s or 1960s. JRSpriggs (talk) 06:01, 2 June 2012 (UTC)
- There is a poem containing a similar idea:
- Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs that bite them; and little fleas have smaller still; and so ad infinitum.
- JRSpriggs (talk) 06:09, 2 June 2012 (UTC)
The version I'm familiar with is attributed to Augustus De Morgan, a Victorian era mathematician:
- "Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em,
- And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
- And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
- While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on."
Is page image appropriate?
for one, it doesn't even demonstrate the infinite regression of turtles going all the way down-- instead a stack of only 7 of them is sitting on the ground. secondly, the tone of the image just seems a bit silly for a Wikipedia article. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 126.96.36.199 (talk) 19:42, 30 July 2013 (UTC)
- If you can get a commons image of an infinite regression of turtles, I would be happy to replace the current image in this article. As for the tone, the article has 13 footnotes, and all of the relevant information is cross-referenced. Is there anything in particular that you would recommend be changed? TechBear | Talk | Contributions 19:55, 30 July 2013 (UTC)
Inaccurate origin information - please revise based on this evidence
[UPDATE: I removed the disputed accuracy tag I originally placed based on the claims I made below. Now I see that the claims were already incorporated into the text - Locke is indeed cited properly as referring to the myth. Perhaps the article could be cleaned up a bit to show the reader quickly where some of the earliest mentions to the myth arise. My apologies for misreading the original version.] — Preceding unsigned comment added by Nyncvm (talk • contribs) 15:24, 27 April 2014 (UTC)
The Origin section needs to be rewritten in light of the reference below. I'm a graduate student in philosophy, and know nothing about Wikipedia editing procedures so I'm hoping someone who knows that stuff will incorporate this information into the page. (You can double check my references, since they are well known philosophical texts).
By 1690, John Locke repeatedly mentions a myth given by an `Indian' about the world resting on an elephant, which in turn rests on a tortoise. See An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, e.g.
"If any one should be asked, what is the subject wherein colour or weight inheres, he would have nothing to say, but the solid extended parts; and if he were demanded, what is it that solidity and extension adhere in, he would not be in a much better case than the Indian before mentioned who, saying that the world was supported by a great elephant, was asked what the elephant rested on; to which his answer was—a great tortoise: but being again pressed to know what gave support to the broad-backed tortoise, replied-something, he knew not what." (II.xxiii.2 from Jim Mannis's translation.) See also II.xiii.19. 
This is in a discussion of what the notion of `substance' is, where Locke is trying to argue that the older notions of substance as an explanatory posit are pointless and question-begging in the same way that the cited elephant-turtle anecdote would.
Note that this source is much earlier than any of the ones I see discussed on the Origin page. There are still lots more questions as to the origin, but this pushes back its date by 200+ years from what some of the other claims here have been.
I've never edited a Wikpedia entry so I don't know how to add the info, but wanted to contribute some expert historical knowledge to try and improve the inaccuracy of the page. Would someone who has expertise in editing the page be able to incorporate this into the text?
I was tempted to rebuild the "history" section in chronological order, beginning with the earliest references to Hindu world turtles, but it seemed too fitting to begin with the now-familiar form of the story and then regress to its earlier variants. But it now seems the story does first appear in 1599 as "the Hindus put the world on an elephant, and when asked they put the elephant on a turtle, but when asked again they cannot say what the turtle is standing on"; this form was used early (17th and 18th centuries) on as an illustration that infinite regress was (supposedly) a fallacy, but only in the 19th century (not coincidentially with the development of valid methods of infinite regress?) the all the way down form appears. --dab (𒁳) 08:38, 11 November 2014 (UTC)
Currently the article says 'The earliest known version of the story in its "turtle" form appeared in 1854', but while the citation supports the quote it does not support the fact that it is the earliest know version. The claim either needs a citation or it neads to be change to "Another version of the story..." -- PBS (talk) 17:18, 9 February 2015 (UTC)
Changes to lead section
According to Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Lead section, the primary function of the lead section is to summarize what's discussed in the main body of the article. It says in particular, "Apart from basic facts, significant information should not appear in the lead if it is not covered in the remainder of the article." In light of this, I decided to remove two paragraphs from the lead section. The specific passage I removed is:
The expression is an illustration of the concept of Anavastha in Indian philosophy, and refers to the defect of infinite regress in any philosophical argument. Contrary to most extant western references, it is not a popular Hindu belief. Rather, it is a widely accepted principle in Indian philosophy, commonly used to reject arguments for the creator God or "unmoved mover".
The phrase has been commonly known since at least the early 20th century. A comparable metaphor describing the circular cause and consequence for the same problem is the "chicken and egg problem". The same problem in epistemology is known as the Münchhausen trilemma.
I decided to remove these paragraphs because the topics they bring up (i.e., Anavastha, the "chicken and egg problem", and the Münchhausen trilemma) are only discussed in the intro and not elaborated on in the main text. This is a clear breach of the policy I mentioned above.
I've already incorporated the second paragraph into §2, "Notable modern allusions or variations". I think it would also work to integrate the paragraph on Anavastha into the section on Hindu mythology, although I haven't done that yet.
What do you all think?
Changes to §2, "Notable modern allusions or variations"
I recently removed a good chunk of material from §2. With the exception of the sentence on Clifford Geertz's book (which I removed because it did not fit the flow of the section), all of the material I removed was unsourced. The material I did keep (e.g., the excerpt from Scalia's Supreme Court opinion, the sentence on John Green's book, and the sentence on the song by Sturgill Simpson) was all reliably referenced. I believe any new material added to the section should be sourced in a similar manner. Besides upholding the bedrock Wikipedia principle of verifiability, this would guard against the section becoming a collection of superfluous trivia. As is mentioned in WP:Notability, insisting on verifiability is probably the best way to avoid an indiscriminate inclusion of topics.
I also moved the quotes from Hawking and Russell from the "History" section to §2. Those quotes were out of place in the history section. Hawking, in particular, is an indisputably modern author; it doesn't make sense to feature a quote from him in a section where all the other excerpts are from the 19th century or earlier (or, in the case of Ross, discussing a story from the 19th century). While an argument could be made for keeping Russell's quote in the history section, I decided to move it as well because Hawking explicitly mentions Russell in his excerpt, so separating the two could lead to confusion.
Finally, I moved the paragraph from the lead section discussing the Münchhausen trilemma and the chicken and egg problem into §2. I'm not sure if this paragraph should be kept. It doesn't fit well into the overall scheme of the article and it is unsourced. However, I was hesitant to delete it because it does seem somewhat relevant (the Münchhausen trilemma in particular). I'm just not sure the best way to integrate it into the existing structure of the article.
Any thoughts? If anyone disagrees with the changes I made I would be happy to discuss them further.