Skip to main content

What’s in a Song: Turtles All the Way Down

By Sturgill Simpson, April 2014

This is the first of a recurring post theme that will try to find some wisdom in songs that I like.  Could be a verse, phrase, or the whole song.

The Song

In the artist’s words, the song is about “giving your heart to love and treating everyone with compassion and respect no matter what you do or don’t believe.”  I appreciate it for both its depth of subject and willingness to run counter to accepted trends in today’s country music (ballads about heartache & drinking, with videos of hot girls on farms).   Indulge me and play the song while reading the lyrics, or while reading the rest of the post if you’re impatient.

Link to youtube song, in case embed doesn’t work in your browser.


I’ve seen Jesus play with flames in a lake of fire that I was standing in
Met the devil in Seattle and spent 9 months inside the lions den
Met Buddha yet another time; he showed me a glowing light within
But I swear that God is there every time I glare in the eyes of my best friend
Says my son it’s all been done and someday y’gonna wake up old and gray
So go and try to have some fun showing warmth to everyone
You meet and greet and cheat along the way

There’s a gateway in our minds that leads somewhere out there far beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain
Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain
Some say you might go crazy, then again it might make you go sane

Every time I take a look inside that old and fabled book
I’m blinded and reminded of the pain caused by some old man in the sky
Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see
But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life

So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes
Or fairy tales of blood and wine
It’s turtles all the way down the line
So to each their own ’til we go home
To other realms our souls must roam
To and through the myth that we all call space and time

Cosmic Turtles, Come On?

The expression “turtles all the way down” refers to a humorous answer to the infinite regress problem presented in Aristotle’s cosmological argument of a central “Unmoved Mover.”  Generally – any movement needs to be caused by some initial force, or mover.  But that can go back infinitely – so there must be one Central Being that caused the motion of the universe to begin.

Paired with that, there are Hindu stories of the earth being held up by elephants which are standing on the back of a great world turtle.  These concepts were meshed in the following anecdote:

Earth on Elephants on the World Turtle
Earth on Elephants on the World Turtle

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!”

—Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 1988


Any Ties to Life or Personal Finance?

So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes
Or fairy tales of blood and wine
It’s turtles all the way down the line
So to each their own ’til we go home

Turtles a couple of levels down
Turtles a couple of levels down

The lesson I took from this song comes from these lines.  As a Christian, I could be offended by someone calling a tenet of my religion a fairy tale.  But that is juxtaposed with this person’s apparently ridiculous declaration that “it’s turtles all the way down the line” as a belief.  So my judgement is the same thing that I disliked in their original statement.

So better to leave “to each their own ’til we go home.”  Let’s each explore and hold firmly to our values, but allow others to believe differently without judgement or persecution.  Many can quickly and easily apply this point against religious types – nothing is more cliche than an annoyingly judgmental evangelical Christian.

But let’s shine the light also on our own personal finance/blogging world.  I love reading many of the popular personal finance blogs that deal with frugality, financial independence, early retirement, etc.  The writers have broken through social norms to find a fresh (& non-consumerist) set of goals.  The forums and comment sections are filled with a chorus of voices espousing the same values & lessons.

But sometimes the voices contain a certain disrespect for those who have not “learned the truth.”  It feels more safe as part of an anti-establishment minority movement (frugality/FI types) whose central theme is living a better, more fulfilling life.  Then again, that is how most religions started – certainly Christianity.  Pride and exclusiveness are unbecoming on all.

And this lesson passes beyond the halls of the internet.  Whether with co-workers, neighbors, or family members – don’t use your successes to highlight others’ failures.  That creates separation and tension.  By avoiding judgment, you can use your successes as encouragement to others who seek a better way of life.  Your accomplishments can highlight the attainability of the goals presented.

While I believe the tenets of this frugality faith has much truth to it, let’s not judge and condemn others who do not share these beliefs (or way of life).  Open dialogue, debate, discussion – yes.  But each of us can try to remember that there are many paths, and ours isn’t right for everyone.  I will try hard to keep that as a core principle in my writing.

All wrapped up in a badass country song.


If you just can’t get enough, song commentary below:

God, Drugs, and Lizard Aliens: Yep, It’s Country Music