Turtles All The Way Down

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

Once upon a time, there was a king who ruled a kingdom and who dreamed of knowing everything. He believed himself to be very learned and was interested in speaking with learned people like himself.  He heard about a wise man who was reputed to be the wisest man in the world and sought him out and invited him to his palace so that they together could to inquire into everything.

When the wise man came, the king said to him let us inquire together.

"My question is this?  If you ask anyone, they will tell you that the world is flat, and they will say that any fool can see that with their own eyes. That being the truth, then upon what then does the world stand?" 

The wise man said, "yes it is true that people would say that, and surely if the world actually is flat, it would have to stand on something." 

The King replied and agreed, “Yes it’s obvious. For example that the table we sit at stands on the ground, and everyone knows that because we can see it”

Then the King said, “Well, you are the wisest and most knowledgeable man in the world, please answer my question…The world must stand on something since we agree it is flat and obviously not a sphere that simply hangs in empty space.  Upon what then does the world stand?"

The wise man was silent for a moment and looked at the king as if assessing him. Then the Wise man spoke. 

He said, “My lord, you are correct, and since everyone says that the world is flat, so here is the truth which everyone will understand. The world stands on the back of a huge elephant and thus it is always strongly supported.”

The King believed himself to be a wise and learned man, so he asked the wise man the following question which followed from his logic. 

“Wise teacher, if as you say, a giant elephant holds the world on its back, then upon what does the elephant stand? Surely, it does not stand upon 'nothing.' It must stand upon something?"

Again the wise man fell silent and looked at the king and considered what to say to satisfy him because the wise man knew that the world was, in fact, a sphere embedded in space and thus was not flat. He also knew that the king would never accept this because it violated what he and his subjects believed to be true.

Not wanting to disturb their illusion, he added to it and he said,

“My Lord, the elephant stands on the back of a giant turtle. The Turtle thus supports the elephant who supports the world to keep it in place.”

The King thought about this and realized that something did not make sense, and he did not know what it was. Surely if the Elephant must stand on something, then the turtle must too, and this was common sense, and so the truth had not yet been revealed. He then asked the Wise Man…

“Ok, then upon what does the turtle stand?”

The wise man, of course, realized that there was no end to this and that the King required an explanation that he could accept, and the king would not accept that his logic was leading to a conclusion that could not be proved as a fact. He knew the King would not accept that his first premise of a flat earth was false. He looked again at the king and considered carefully what to say, and finally, he said.

“Your Majesty, you are indeed wise. This problem is really infinite. The answer is this… Its Turtles all the way down”

This being the kind of answer that the king could accept and explain to his people, it remains to this day the explanation for everything… It is turtles all the way down, and it has always been and it always will be, and the King was satisfied with his knowledge, and the wise man returned to his homeland, and all was well in the kingdom.

And the Earth continued to revolve around the Sun as it always has.

© Copyright 2014 Robert Fertman, All Rights Reserved

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