Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Turtles All The Way Down

I first read the phrase "Turtles All the Way Down" in a book by Stephen Hawking. According to the story, a big name scientist was giving a lecture on astronomy. After the lecture, an elderly lady came up and told the scientist that he had it all wrong. 'The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist asked "And what is the turtle standing on?" The lady triumphantly replied: "You're very clever, young man, but it's no use -- it's turtles all the way down."
I've asked several people what they think this story means, and everyone seems to have a slightly different take on it. To me, it is a reminder that most scientific fact is really hypothesis that has not been disproved, and there is always the possibility that maybe the old lady is right. Kind of like a perfect sand castle being whipped up from a sand dune by the wind. There is nothing in the second law of thermodynamics that says order cannot come out of chaos.

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