Friday, 2 January 2009

The Earth and the Turtle

A recent computer science blog reminded me of the wonderful story about what holds the earth in place. There are many versions, but the one I like best, as told by the folks at Wikipedia, comes from Stephen Hawking:

The most widely known version appears in Stephen Hawking's 1988 book A Brief History of Time, which starts:

“ 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!"

Whether you see it as deeply metaphysical, or just poking fun at physics, you can still read it and smile.

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