If a tree falls in a forest…

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Discuss.

What do you think?

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      • Well it’s a pretty dumb philosophical question; I presume the original question was a better philosophical riddle.

        The tree sends out sound waves whether or not there is “someone” listening. It’s also an anthropocentric question, because forests are full animals with acute hearing.

  1. Depends… if you have radio playing but disconnect the speaker is it still making a sound, if nothing exists to interpret the pressure waves in the air from the fallen tree did it make a sound?

  2. In my personal opinion it makes sound waves but these are not converted to a sound if they are not received and processed by someone’s ear and brain.

  3. My Dad once asked similar, about if a man speaks in a forest and there’s no wife there to hear him, is he still wrong.

    He’d cheerily quote the question on being incorrectly accused of things, or of being wrong, with ‘When a man speaks..’.

  4. let’s rephrase the question a bit more sensibly.

    Does sound exist if it is not heard?

    The answer must be “Yes” as sound can leave physical traces even if it was not heard at the time.

    I would agree that no sound is heard without a hearer or a means of recreating the sound from its physical traces but it is not true to say that there was no sound, unless of course the event which would have generated a sound happened in a vacuum.

    Think of a cat in a soundproof box in which sits an Edison cylinder recorder. The cat is deaf so it can hear no sound but it Miaows loudly so as to be recorded on the cylinder. The sound was recorded, not heard, as the box was soundproof. Sound is a physical manifestation whether heard or not. An ultrasound image is created even though no sound is heard – The ultrasound is real but at several meghertz it could never be heard without frequency conversion to audible range.

    In reality it seems rubbish for someone to allege that sound has to be heard.

    I do realise this is a philosophical debate but from a linguistic point of view sound does not have to be heard to have been.

      • sound is a physical phenomena while hearing sound is a subjective experience. Sound can be felt without hears! If an F4 Phantom overflies you at a handful of feet you experience the sound in your jellied guts – it is a physical disturbance beyond the sensory level and the main thing you experience.

        Perhaps another bit of evidence is machines responding – Alexa or Siri responding to a car radio being on and receiving a broadcast featuring a presenter addressing either of them has been found to have affected the device in the vicinity of the radio (initiating a search specified by the broadcaster) has happened whether or not the owner of the device was present to subjectively hear the broadcast sound. A physical event happened and a mechanical device detects it, without subjective experience, and alters state as a result. By definition the device microphone that detected the sound from the radio is responding to “sound” – ie audio frequency energy picked up by it so that sound must exist.

        I am not defining sound in that way – it is implicit in the word as used in an everyday and scientific sense. If philosophers wish to define it perversely that is their problem.

        I prefer to wonder in a similar vein, if some being does something really horrible to another being somewhere in time and space not witnessed by any other being – does that matter at all? To me that is a more worthwhile problem to address than an artificial problem created by misusing words

  5. That is one of the daftest questions I’ve ever heard

    I notice you said “does it make a sound”, not “does anyone hear a sound”

    Anyone who answers “No” to your question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” is implying that if there was a sensitive tape recorder switched on near the tree (but no humans near the tree) when it falls, and the tape is later played back, there will be no sound on the tape. That is patent nonsense, as anyone can see within about 2 seconds

    Thanks for your question, but ——– next question please

    • But then you don’t hear the sound made by the tree falling, you hear the sound made by a loudspeaker…….

      The question isn’t about whether falling trees vibrate the air which you could hear but about how we observe things and how this influences either our knowledge of their existence or whether they actually exist at all. It was an early attempt in some ways leading to quantum mechanics on that it poses the question are objects composed of matter and the information giving them an identity or are they just matter and their identity produced by the observer.

      • The original question was the type of intellectual wank that gave philosophy its well deserved bad name. There is , of course a real world out there that exists without anyone having to be consciously aware of it.

        Next question…

  6. People who don’t understand philosophy (or science) at all think this is a deep philosophical question.

    People who understand it a bit more think it is a triviality.

    People who understand it a bit more again think it’s not so trivial as it seems.

    I can’t speak for the next level.

    • Regarding this classical old ‘sound’ conundrum, I don’t actually see it as a philosophical question at all, but a scientific one. Sound waves seem to exist objectively, even if we’re not quite sure what they are, but something has to ‘hear’ them as sounds, either a living being with some kind of ear, or an artificial ear (i.e. microphone) which coupled to a recorder can record them without any living being being present, or a radio/TV/or computer (ditto). But but for us to hear that sound on a computer or recorder we still need a working ear. Otherwise it’s like that classic Rowan Atkinson sketch when a guy who is stone deaf has the clever idea of rigging up a flashing light to tell him when his phone rings. It works beautifully – he goes over to the phone, picks up the receiver, says hello, but then can’t hear anything coming out of the earpiece. …

  7. IMO the properties or characteristics of any object are not at all determined by our perception*. Our image and perception of it, of course, but that is different.

    This should have been settled, though, back in 400 AD in Alexandria, or failing that, at the beginning of the age of enlightenment at the latest.

    Unfortunately you can still find modern, actually largely postmodern, philosophers, who deliberately fail to make that distinction. Lacan, Kristeva and their ilk were only the tip of an iceberg that led, over the last 40 years or so to glorious Sokal hoax. Unfortunately that did not stop anti-scientific departments of gender and grievance studies from infesting our universities , as ridiculed more recently by the fantastic grievance studies stunt:

    There also was a recent paper in Science demonstrating that even bumblebees can be taught to abstract and transfer information between sensory modalities. The experimental setting is of course rather crude, but the concept is clear: Animals are taught to associate sugar water with a ball like marker, and a liquid source to avoid with a cube like marker. The groups are split during the training phase into animals that can see but not touch the marker in the light, and others that are able to crawl over the markers while being trained in the dark. Interestingy, both groups can recall abstract information and make the correct choice when tested in the respective other condition, meaning that even insects with at best half a milllion central neurons (about as many as you kill drinking a couple of pints) have an abstract represenation of “roundness “vs. “cubeness”.

    If you in any way subscribe to the idea that “our” experience is pertinent to the characteristics of an object, you therefore better include insects in that “we”!

    • I prefer to use the term “measurement” rather than perception – more helpful. In effect the presence of anything interacting with something “measures” it and that interaction may alter the thing being measured on any scale – it removes any spooky requirement for a conscious “observer”. The whole idea loses some of its mysticism and becomes more sensible

  8. There are a zillion things that happen without us sensing them: if you’re standing on an empty plain and you fire a bullet a mile into the sky and a mile away from, will it hit the ground? If you don’t see it hit the ground, do you think it will fail to hit the ground? No – of course not

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