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What I've been thinking about...

This is a real myth, but I can’t remember where I read the phrase that has stuck with me ever since:

"You can’t fool me, it’s turtles all the way down!"

That sentence goes through my head regularly, and at first I always thought about it when somebody defended a silly claim by inventing an even more silly claim.  Sometimes I think defenders of the literal meanings in the bible end up positing infinite turtles, all to support the first one.

However, lately other interpretations occur to me…

There’s a consistency to an infinite stack of turtles.  After all, each one really does have something to stand on.  We might get tired of counting down the stack after some time, but that doesn’t stop each turtle from perching comfily on its downstairs neighbor.  It sounds ridiculous, but it’s got internal consistency, and if you’re only looking a turtle or two down the stack, there’s no real problem.

I see an analogy here with Reductionism, or even with Explanation itself.  Humans are made of cells (next turtle) which are made of molecules (next turtle) which are made of atoms (next) which are made of particles (next) in turn made of fields (next).  That’s as far as we know for now, but do we assume the lowest level we’ve reduced to is a turtle miraculously floating in the air, supporting all the others… or would we rather there was always a next turtle, if only we can find a way to look far enough down?

Even if you don’t like my reductionism example, the act of Explanation creates just the same chain.  Why is the sky blue?  (next turtle) Why does water refract light? (next turtle) Why does light do that? (next turtle)… Ultimately, would we rather reach an ultimate floating turtle, or find that they go on forever (OR, that the circle around and stand on one another?)

So the refrain could be:

"You can’t fool me, it’s explanations all the way down!"