By Sean Carroll | November 24, 2006 12:09 pm

I’ll admit that for a while now I’ve been unsure what to do with the following bit of photographic evidence that happened to fall into my hands. But, following PZ’s sterling example, our first duty must always be to honesty, and let the chips fall where they may.

Russell's Teapot

Whatever can it be?

  • Thomas Larsson

    Of course it’s a Utah teapot.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    It’s the flying teapot in the sky
    from whence all dark energy flows
    or could it be green tea it brews
    or maybe the jean genie in a stew

    I know, I know – it’s a metaphor
    This is the source of the universe
    it pours like liquid from the spout
    goes thru you and you and recycled
    returns to make another magic brew

    Hope you had a great Thankgiving!
    Whether you thanked mum and dad
    or simply thanked your lucky stars

  • spyder

    Didn’t the FDA put a ban on Mormon tea? So what do they put now in the Utah teapot??
    This reminds me of the syllogistic absurdity i used to use in my classes for students to begin to appreciate the difference between logos and mythos. Most accept that the square root of two is an irrational number that can be rounded to a thousandth decimel of 1.414… this can be shown in a number of solution sets for various arithmetic and mathmetic constructs dating back more than two thousand years. The Greeks referred to this as part of the logos, that which is proveable, debateable, logical, to be critiqued. But i posit the square root of two being equal to blue. I know that to be true, and there is no proof for falsifiability nor verifiability of that equation; it just is. The Greeks referred to this as mythos, those things that are statements of absolute truth beyond the realm of verifiability and testing.

    Unfortunately for all of us, a group of second century CE theologians leaped all over this one, and proclaimed that the old religions were part of the mythos while this new Christian thang was the Word, and pure logos. By twisting mythos into logos, we have been hampered for 2000 years; no matter how much we are trying to undo this linguistic entanglement.

  • jimBOB

    I should think it at least merits a hat tip to Daevid Allen.

    High in the sky, what do you see ?
    Come down to Earth, a cup of tea
    Flying saucer, flying teacup
    From outer space, Flying Teapot

  • http://eterrnaluniverse.blogspot.com/ Joseph Smidt

    Yeah, I am a little familiar with the Mormon’s tea policy. Perhaps this picture is an omen to Sean that his next Thanksgiving post needs to give thanks to Tea/T-Duality.

  • citrine

    If it’s floating around in space there can’t be any tea in it. So it must be a cosmological null-tea.

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

    If the Universe goes on for too long, most teapots will be spontaneously created from the vacuum rather than manufactured by people. This is the “Boltzmann teapot paradox” :)

  • Cynthia

    It’s Clifford’s Lost Teapot that accompanies his set of “Storms in a Teacup”.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    Yeah JimBOB, my first thought was Gong, too
    Great lyrics from Daevid Allen, mind you
    depending what tea you drink you could end
    up at the “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” with Alice
    Gosh, – I wonder where half my old vynils are

  • http://eipipuz.blogspot.com Guillermo Alcántara

    Hey Sean, what do you think of the LMT?

  • Jack

    twinkle twinkle little bat
    how I wonder what you’re at
    Up above the world you fly
    Like a teapot in the sky

  • Thomas Larsson

    As is well known to all Max users, a teapot is a geometric primitive, with the same status as a box, a sphere, a cylinder, a torus, a cone, a geosphere, a tube, a pyramid, or a plane.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

    :-) Looks like the infinite improbability drive was at work – Don’t Panic!

  • Cynthia

    B, I’ve gotta compliment you on your sphere of speculation, which is most fantastic in nature! Sorry to say though, I’ve got some obvious reservations about just how this sluggish-looking, not to mention frail-looking teapot could possibly survive “Infinite Improbability Drive”. But then, on second thought, all the numerous crackpots scattered across the human-specific biosphere might simply be relics from all the numerous failed attempts to have human-teapots reach faster-than-light drive on planet Earth.;)

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    A new form of Tea-Duality.

  • Vince

    “If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”

    The presence of this teapot is disprovable by the scientific method. Just fly a probe to the region. Religion, and beliefe in God is not disprovable by the scientific method.

    “The reason organized religion merits outright hostility is that, unlike belief in Russell’s teapot, religion is powerful, influential, tax-exempt and systematically passed on to children too young to defend themselves. ”

    Defend themselves against what? Against something that many adults have converted to (and still convert to) who were once athiests, by their own volition?

    I also think that since the President is powerful and influential, he/she deserves outright hostility. Meditation is also powerful and influential and therefore deserves outright hostility. Science as well.

    “Children are not compelled to spend their formative years memorizing loony books about teapots. Government-subsidized schools don’t exclude children whose parents prefer the wrong shape of teapot. Teapot-believers don’t stone teapot-unbelievers, teapot-apostates, teapot-heretics and teapot-blasphemers to death. Mothers don’t warn their sons off marrying teapot-shiksas whose parents believe in three teapots rather than one. People who put the milk in first don’t kneecap those who put the tea in first.”

    Well duuh. That’s because teapots in outer space most likely don’t exist and science can one day prove this with a spacecraft. Also, the existence of teapots in outer space is not allowed by the currently accepted model of solar system formation (neglecting the possibility that aliens deposited a teapot in outer space).

  • Vince

    Of course, when I say that religion is not disprovable by the scientific method, I mean the self evident statement that follows from the fact that the major tenets of religions which are, of course, beyond scientific investigation (ie. God exists, Jesus rose from the dead, God spoke to Moses).

  • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    More confusing than the teapot is the minimum of five different sources of illumination necessary to explain the lighting on all the bodies in this picture…

  • Chad

    This photgraphic evidence justifys my long-standing faith in the teapot. Oh sure, everyone said, “But there’s no evidence for the teapot!” But I had faith. Now all I need is a photograph of jesus ascending into Heaven and I’ll be set!

  • http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/ beepbeepitsme

    Damn. I wondered where I put that teapot…

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Vince writes “The presence of this teapot is disprovable by the scientific method. Just fly a probe to the region. Religion, and beliefe in God is not disprovable by the scientific method.”
    No its not disprovable, by definition this teapot is too small to ever be observable.

  • http://quasar9.blogspot.com/ Quasar9

    One hundred years ago
    neutrinos could not be counted or measured
    Does that mean neutrinos do not exist?
    and, did not exist one hundred years ago?

    I thought neutrinos are supposed to have started their journey 13.7 billion years ago in a big bang that cannot be proved (or disproved) – and flew straight thru the great teapot in the sky, and the teapot where you are brewing your pot of tea

    Whether Tin tea pot, or china teapot?
    Must be proof that intelligent life ‘created’ it
    And used it in some (obscure) ritual called ‘brewing tea’

    Whether this ritual was imported to China from India, or whether the British Empire tried to tax the ritual – no one is sure, but someone tells me “The Boston Tea Party” is where American Independence began. And the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s track of the same name is still awesome, though not neutrinos but some other ‘nuclear decay’ have already called time on the man

  • Cynthia

    Originally, this talk on a teapot in interplanetary space was, more or less, gently oscillating between physics and culture. Then somehow, strangely enough, this teapot managed to find itself amidst religion and – of all things – amidst intelligent design. Yet, with the help or Quasar, of course;), it has managed to become embroiled in an epic tea party. Now, it’s truly unfathomable to me how this little teapot has ended up sitting in the middle of the American Revolution. Go figure!

  • Vince

    “No its not disprovable, by definition this teapot is too small to ever be observable.”

    Then it doesn’t exist, by quantum mechanics.

    Also, if it’s too small to be observable, then how is it a teapot? A teapot is something you use to brew tea. If it’s too small to be observable, then you can’t use it to brew tea, hence it’s not a teapot. If a chair had all its legs removed, it’s not a chair anymore. If a physical object can’t, in principle, be observed, then in what sense is it a physical object?

  • Vince

    Also, I’m not sure what’s wrong with parents, who believe in a religion and in its truth and benefit to themselves and to society (as long as it embraces the dignity and rights of all humans), passing on their religion to their kids. Unfortunately, I can’t ask Russell.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Vince, please present the full argument from quantum mechanics that this teapot doesn’t exist; at least more than “by quantum mechanics”. I am sure your argument will take us a long way in ‘proving’ that God doesn’t exist.

    Also you ask:
    “If a physical object can’t, in principle, be observed, then in what sense is it a physical object?”

    The teapot is a physical object in the same sense God is a physical object.

    I never said there was anything wrong with following a religion.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Vince, #26 I said “The teapot is a physical object in the same sense God is a physical object.” Now that I think about it, I think that is confusion on my part. Staying strictly on topic, I think what Russell was trying to say is that to whatever degree of accuracy you can observe the volume between Earth and Mars he wants the teapot to be smaller than that. So I still think its very much *not* disprovable.

  • Vince

    Sorry, I was responding to a part of the quote in that wikipedia link when I wrote about parents passing a religion down.

    Also, by “physical object” I mean a material object, an object made up of standard model, etc., particles.

    If you can’t observe any of the properties associated with a teapot, then it’s not there.

  • Q9

    Cynthia said – “Now, it’s truly unfathomable to me how this little teapot has ended up sitting in the middle of the American Revolution. Go figure! ”

    Cynthia, no history of “American Independence” in your school? – it was all a storm in a teacup – the storm brewed & brewed until it spilled over, it was a costly and blood-thirsty storm over taxes on T

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    Vince, Suppose I believe in this thing described in #27; if someone wants to say that it doesn’t exist they should have 100% accurate knowledge about everything.

  • Vince

    I don’t know what you mean here. If I send out a probe and it travels to every corner of the solar system and finds nothing, then it doesn’t exist as a real object. Therefore the existence of this thing in the solar system is disprovable. Why should I need to know the complete quantum theory of gravity (which makes up a part of “knowledge about everything”) if I need to know whether this teapot exists?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Actually this teapot was destroyed be a meteor a couple of thousand years ago, so we can’t prove or disprove its existence empirically. But there are compelling non-eyewitness accounts suggesting that it cared about us and insisted upon our devotion.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    No I don’t mean a theory of everything (I mean experimental knowledge).
    So yes if you *can* perform 100% accurate observations 😉 between Earth to Mars in every direction at the same time and it doesn’t show up then I’ll stop believing in it. But until that happens no one can tell me not to believe in it.

  • Vince

    Since it was destroyed by a meteor, surely there must be debris floating around space. So, send out a few thousand probes and let it search every planet and every little spot in the solar system. It must find something. If not, then most likely it never existed.

    Teapots don’t care about us. Teapots don’t even have a will or an intellect for God’s sake!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Can you prove that this teapot didn’t have a will or intellect? How can you make such definitive statements about things that science can’t prove?

  • Vince

    Perhaps you can’t prove it didn’t have a will or intellect. I suppose you’re perfectly entitled to believe that it did have a will or intellect, though you’d have no basis for that belief unless you knew something about this teapot that sets it aside from all other teapots that leads you to reason that this teapot is smart. Or perhaps many people throughout the ages testified that the teapot once existed and had a will and intellect and wrote about the cool things that the teapot did for them and said to them.

  • Chinmaya Sheth

    “Since it was destroyed by a meteor, surely there must be debris floating around space. So, send out a few thousand probes and let it search every planet and every little spot in the solar system. It must find something. If not, then most likely it never existed.” What will be the experimental errors in this suggested experiment? I am a believer and I won’t accept anything less than 100% accuracy.

  • Cynthia

    Come on Quasar, Clifford’s “Storms in a Teacup” are explicitly about a battle brewing within physics, not a war brewing within civilization!

    Face it, with an underlying intent to break away from the Motherland, colonial rebels staged a tea party to stir up support for revolution. In fact, the tea party was merely a platform to express a rallying cry; a rallying cry aimed to entice young recruits for battle. After all, leaders of the American Revolution knew good and well that residents from the old country were being hit with even higher taxes than the colonists: taxes needed to cover enormous debts following the costly Seven Years’ War.

    These revolutionaries (including a few of my ancestors, in fact) were willing to sacrifice their safety: the safety of living under the security of a great military might, The British Empire. Simply put, they chose a chance for independence over safety and security. Doubtlessly, it was a huge gamble. But luckily, the chance for independence- needless to say – paid off quite handsomely.;)

  • http://www.pyracantha.com Pyracantha

    Why all this argument? It is the “Teapot Nebula.”

  • Richard

    Oh my goodness, could that really be the Doormouse out there?



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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


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