Monday, April 01, 2024

It's Never Turtles All the Way Down

Occasionally we see stories of turtles that have grown moss on their backs, or a turtle that emerges from hibernation carrying a slab of sod on its back. These posts often reference Terry Prachett's Discworld, in which a turtle carries Discworld on its back. That idea was based on an old Hindu story in which the world rests on the backs of four elephants standing on a turtle. There are similar cosmology stories in Native American mythology, without the elephants. These tales worked because a turtle's back really looks like an island in the water. But the stories don't work with gravity as we understand it today, so the question becomes, "What is the turtle standing on?" Well, another turtle, who is standing on another turtle, and it's turtles all the way down, like that one scene from Yertle the Turtle. In this video, Dr. Moiya McTier goes over the various ancient tales and how we got the catchphrase "Turtles all the way down." (via Laughing Squid)


Bicycle Bill said...

In Pratchett's Discworld novels, there ARE four elephants on the back of the Great A'Tuin, the gigantic turtle, and THEY are supporting the Discworld. 

And the cosmic chelonian is actually swimming through space, so there is no need for it to be standing on anything.


Miss Cellania said...

Yeah, that's explained at the link.

Anonymous said...

The turtle and elephants could hold up an island or continent but the Earth needs nothing to hold it up as it spins through space. Freebird!!