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William James, the father of American psychology, gave a series of lectures at Harvard on cosmology and the structure of the solar system. After his lecture an older woman confronted James. She told him, “your theory that the sun is the center of the solar system, and the earth is a ball that rotates around it has a very convincing ring to it, Mr. James, but it is wrong. I have a better theory.” James politely inquired “and what is that, madam?” She replied, “we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle.”

Not wishing to tell her that idea was absurd and he could give her much scientific evidence, he instead said, “If your theory is correct, what does the turtle stand on?” You're a very clever man, Mr. James, and that's a very good question," replied the woman, "but I have an answer to it. And it's this: The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him."

James then asked, “But what does the second turtle stand on?” To this the woman said in triumph, “It’s no use Mr. James, It’s turtles all the way down.”

Epistemology is the field of study that explores how we think we know something and how that “knowing” determines our beliefs, opinions, and reality construction. Hidden influences include the beliefs and cultural norms we unconsciously incorporate into our lives by learning a language. Even if we think we speak a similar language of English but go to Britain, we discover there are many differences with how people act and their expectations of what is correct.

On one of our trips to London to visit our daughter, Tiffany, Bill walked up to a theater ticket booth and pleasantly said to the fellow selling tickets, “we would like tickets to “Wicked.” The ticket seller looked at him rather annoyed and replied, “you would would you?” and walked off. Tiffany told us that in Britain you must begin by saying, “I’m sorry to bother you. Would it be possible to purchase tickets to a play from you without too much trouble.” And so we discovered how direct Americans are and how in England that approach is sometimes offensive.

In a world where there is little consensus on the “facts” and most people don’t examine how they think and if what they think is based in fact or comes from the prevailing opinion from those who promote conspiracy theories, we find ourselves trying to cope with “turtles all the way down” thinking. This thinking is so rigid and laden with falsehoods but cannot be questioned so a completely side-ways reality is constructed. It becomes the perfect double bind. You must accept a lie as truth but not say anything about it. If thinking is based on a lie, you can never be happy or satisfied.

Most of us learned simple math in elementary school and how to question our own thinking if we came up with a wrong answer. We learned that 2 plus 2=4 is the agreed upon answer. However, in George Orwell’s 1984 the ruling Party created a doctrine that said 2 plus 2 equals 5, and you were required to believe it. In that threatening environment of alternate facts and intimidation to believe them, each mind developed a “mind of its own” in its tightening spiral of inner thoughts fraught with fear and insecurity.

While we didn’t know it at the time, when we learned to question how we came to a math answer, we were developing the art of discernment by asking “is this the right way to think about the problem?” But our environment influences what we think is truth. Without using a process to think through the dominant messages and whether their sources are credible, we fall prey to turtles all the way down thinking.

When we are offended it is useful to be curious about our own reaction and to wonder what it is really about. Does it harken back to some historical time when we were wounded in our family or is it related to some emerging fear? States of fear can lead to projecting our own feelings and motivations onto others, and we may end up blaming them for our negative states of mind. Then the danger is to develop apopenia, the tendency to perceive patterns and meanings between unconnected events and facts, which is a characteristic of those who believe in conspiracy theories without enough information.

Intentionally conditioning calmer mental states, which can be accomplished with meditation, hypnosis, or technology like the Muse device, a technology that trains calm states, may be the first step toward perceiving the deeper aspect of our upset and whether our thinking has clarity and truth. Then we can explore the deeper layers of our essence through our own inner journey. The process is important to developing a nonreactive mind; probably a life goal but one that is worth the effort.


Look for our comprehensive Ericksonian Hypnosis Mastery Course for 13 ce hours for U.S. clinicians on our website: The course is sponsored by our Australian colleagues at While the course is designed for mental health clinicians, it is available for coaches, health practitioners, and professionals with at least a Master’s degree in health related fields. This intensive and comprehensive training brings a rapidly growing contemporary psychotherapy to our international community as we incorporate the latest hypnosis and neuroscience research translated into powerful and practical methods and techniques.

For those who desire a certification from our Milton Erickson Institute of Houston, find the requirements on our website.

Be safe and well,

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