Turtles all the way down

I visited a lovely nearby cafe this Sunday which serves amazing waffles alongside a selection of books you can read while enjoying your food. As I picked up ‘A Brief History of Time’ by Stephen Hawking, I was greeted by one of the best introductory pages ever written for a book (at least for me).

As much as I would love to explain it, there is no way I can do justice to it over what he wrote, so here is the excerpt from the book:

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!”

Most people would find the picture of our universe as an infinite tower of tortoises rather ridiculous, but why do we think we know better? What do we know about the universe, and how do we know it? Where did the universe come from, and where is it going? Did the universe have a beginning, and if so, what happened before then? What is the nature of time? Will it ever come to an end? Can we go back in time? Recent breakthroughs in physics, made possible in part by fantastic new technologies, suggest answers to some of these longstanding questions. Someday these answers may seem as obvious to us as the earth orbiting the sun – or perhaps as ridiculous as a tower of tortoises. Only time (whatever that may be) will tell.

The last line, that casts a doubt on all our known realities, means so much. We think what we know is absolute, but what does that even mean? Even the way we perceive quantities is relative in nature. While every generation, since time immemorial, has believed their times to be the best in human history, it is quite humbling to cast our current beliefs in the same shadow of doubt that we use for everything that came before it.

What if we are right? Time will tell. What if we are wrong? Time will tell.

80 thoughts on “Turtles all the way down

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  1. That’s a funny story and at the same time I keep pondering do we really have the right answers for everything that we know. And when you think about the expanse of the universe, it is crazy. Where does it end? Or is it turtles all around 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha. That’s the beauty of great minds like Hawking. They address the limits of their understanding instead of blaring a constant horn of their achievements. Who knows if it’s turtles all the way down? 😉 😉

      Liked by 4 people

  2. His curiosity is like a happy infection.. People say you never learnt a thing unless you could explain it clearly to any commoner. Stephen Hawking was one of that amazing personalities… This book is close to my heart than any other. You would find yourself chuckling at his nerdy humour all over the book as he takes you on a journey to uncover the secrets of universe..

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting…stirs up imagination.
    Is the lady right as per her theory or the scientists we believe in easily…
    Humans can get so creative, that’s the power of mind.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha. You are the second person to have said that to me about this 😀

          Hope we all stick around and at least we get some answers within our lifetimes 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow ……..it looks like my next to read is calling me 😉……
    It’s very thought provoking …….how we take a few things for granted now, like the earth revovlving around the sun whereas in ancient times there were very few supporters of the theory ……the universe is mysterious

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Neha’… You grew my curiosity whilst you liked my lines….. Am extremely delighted to see you have a list of worth reading stories.. If I well note… My thanks to you from having sparked your fervour in the expression I stumbled really hard … 🤓

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Presumably you are India….. The entire population is in deep slumber… And so was I… But felt the melody of your one touch…. Glad you did so… Can get another phase of good nights sleep… Before the sun shows its warm face…..

            Liked by 1 person

  6. Personally, I’m a fan of Hawking. This write up so thought provoking. We consider ourselves so superior but nature hasn’t given away even 10% of it’s huge secrets. We talk about Universe. But we don’t even really know what’s under us. The deepest we’ve gone into Earth is about 8 kms.
    There’s more to know than what we already know!

    Have a nice day 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for this post. It’s a brilliant idea from a truly brilliant mind and got me and obviously a lot of others thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. He has said in the book that a theory can never be proved right, it can only be proved wrong and when that happens, we device a new theory. Human have had believes more ridiculous than the whole turtle story, I guess we still do. One generations magic is next generations reality. Elon Musk has a believe that, we are probably characters in some advanced civilization’s video game…who knows….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. But time is a dimension in the space-time fabric, the only thing this fabric time ever spoke was..about the stitch saving nine, but nine of what? Only time can tell 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I agree, and I don’t believe the governments of the world want us to know any truths. Just go to work, watch tv and sports and don’t worry about it. But these truths will come out, I hope in my lifetime 👍👍

    Liked by 2 people

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