Re: Turtles, turtles, turtles... (was Re: Creationists)

David C. Harris (
Mon, 29 Jun 1998 02:10:35

When I saw the the thread about the infinite regress of
turtles/particles/explanations, I smiled a very big smile, for it reminded
me of a delightful experience.

Hara Ra and I have been friends for over 25 years, and I was visiting him
some months ago. He had read Ken Wilbur's "Sex, Mind and Ecology" which
discussed the concept that nature seems to be organized heirarchically
(atoms, molecules, cells, etc.) and defines the essential "unit" of this
hierarchy as a 'holon'. Hara Ra commisioned Thom Atkins to make a sculpture
based on this idea and the
notion of Fractal Turtles ("fracturtle").

So Thom, the artist, made Hara Ra a marvelous bronze cast sculpture. It
shows Hara Ra as himself wearing a large turtle shell, spinning the world
on one finger while standing on the back of a large turtle, whose four feet
rested on four smaller turtles, whose 16 feet rested on the backs of 16
smaller turtles, which then stand on 64 yet smaller turtles!

Hara Ra named the sculpture "Fractal Turtles", (Thom calls it "Tortelinni")
since like a fractal, it is self similar, i.e., one can take a small portion
and enlarge it to get the same image as the original. And he pointed out that
since the turtles are half sized at each level, the bottom level of "turtle
dust" is found at the plane two Big Turtles below Hara Ra on the sculpture.
So, an infinite number of levels of turtles, ever smaller, would converge
at a finite distance below the Original Turtle.

Hara Ra mentioned that Thom Atkins is willing to make more of these if
anyone is interested.

For me, seeing his "Fractal Turtles" was an experience of great delight,
combining beauty with the fascination of a story and a concept marvelously
expressed artistically.

At 10:52 AM 98/6/22 -0400, Jeff Fabijanic wrote:
>Michelle Jones <> wrote:
>> > The principle of creation implies a creator...BUT...who created the
>> > creator...and who created the creator who created the creator...and who
>> > created the creator who created the creator who...............
>> there is an apocryphal story of a young student who asks his
>> guru: mater, upon what does the earth rest? guru: upon the back
>> of a great tortoise, my son. student: but master, upon what does
>> this great tortoise stand? guru: upon the back of a still
>> greater tortoise. student: but master, upon what... guru: this
>> is an interesting line of questioning, my son, but i can assure
>> you, it is tortoises all the way down.
>In one of his biographies, Physisist Richard Feynman claims to have had an
>exchange much like this with an older woman after he presented a lecture on
>basic physics principles. She told him that she knew how the world was
>*really* set up, and when he queried her, she responded with the tortise
>premise. When he questioned her further, she scolded him and said that she
>knew he was trying to confuse her, but it was "turtles turtles turtles all
>the way down".
>Kelly and I use this expression as shorthand to gently point out
>unsupportable premises in the statements of others or ourselves.
>However, it is worth pointing out that even in modern physics, we seem to
>have infinitely-regressing-turtle-like situations, eg the apparently always
>receding "smallest things". First we thought it was gross elements, then
>atoms, then subatomic particles (mesons, leptons etc), and now even these
>themselves appear to be composed of yet smaller elements - the quarks. I
>for one, would not be suprised to hear scientists speak of even more
>fundamental objects/concepts of reality. It certainly seems sometimes as
>though the grain of the universe is always just small enough for us to
>barely make out, but when our "eyes" get better we see that the grain is
>finer still.
> - jeff