Zip Files All The Way Down Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2010.

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2022-06-22 16:00:09

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!”

Scientists today are pretty sure that the universe is not actually turtles all the way down, but we can create that kind of situation in other contexts. For example, here we have video monitors all the way down and set theory books all the way down, and shopping carts all the way down.

And here's a computer storage equivalent: look inside It's zip files all the way down: each one contains another zip file under the name r/ (For the die-hard Unix fans, r.tar.gz is gzipped tar files all the way down.) Like the line of shopping carts, it never ends, because it loops back onto itself: the zip file contains itself! And it's probably less work to put together a self-reproducing zip file than to put together all those shopping carts, at least if you're the kind of person who would read this blog. This post explains how.

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