That old chestnut

I love my referral logs. Basically it’s a narcissistic practice but it’s also the fuel that fires my creative juices. 21 grams is certainly generating a lot of traffic for me but more importantly a fresh supply of comments for me to digest. It was recently posted in this Philosophy Forums discussion, which hasn’t been as insightful as I would have hoped yet nonetheless the board looks very promising. I may have to switch from TGM to this new one, if I can find time again.
One of the comments in the 21 grams thread led to the old question of does a tree make a sound if it falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it? A lot of people seem to give up on this question as it seemingly comes down to semantics, however I think that there may be an answer and I’ve attempted it here.

The lack of depth of the “falling tree” question serves to effectively demonstrate that humans are currently incapable of determining the full scope of reality. This demonstration is based on our inability to even effectively graph a riddle to present the question. Similarly, the “one hand clapping” and other philosophical malignancies have outlived their useful life. Sadly, we have nothing to replace them with. This brings us to our fundamental paradox: since we don’t know the answer, how can we ever hope to present the question in a coherent manner? I believe asking humans to present clear analysis of a system as complex as “reality” is a bit like asking a monkey to do complex division. Eventually, and with enough effort, they might get it, but any correct answers will be purely coincidental!
However, having said that, it is still fun to predict and live long enough to be proven wrong, which is really the life result of all of our greatest thinkers!
Thoughts anyone??
Posted by: Gord at January 6, 2004 05:27 PM

What exactly do you mean by “lack of depth”? I’ve been struggling with this question for as long as I’ve been really thinking. I believe by the tone of your reply that you too have struggled with this question, haven’t come up with any ‘definitive’ answer and are now trying to move on. But this struggle is exactly what gives a question depth, and the more the struggle, the more the journey to answer that question will add to the all that is you.
So really, I think what we need is to find some kind of place holder for this one and then see where it takes us as a society. In order to find an answer of best quality we should really try to disect this question and look at it from a different perception.
Does a tree make a sound if it falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it?
This question is deceptive because it blinds us by flattering our humanistic ego. It panders to the idea that we are all that matters, that we are the only observers. The question is always ‘no one’, but is it ever ‘no man’? It is always perceived as ‘no man’. This however is a key to answering this question. Are we the only observers?
Take for instance the perception of a squirrel. There are no humans around but a tree falls – you know that squirrel is going to run. It hears a sound, so the tree makes a sound.
Then you have the other plants. There are no humans or squirrels, but a tree falls and a bush vibrates from the soundwave caused. This vibration interrupts sap and hormones moving throughout the bush and produces some kind of response. Isn’t that all obeservation is? Stimulus response, where the response is a reordering of internal static values?
Finally you have the rocks which at first glance would seem completely unaffected, but upon closer examination a small crack occurs in a boulder because of the vibrations, a seed that crystalizes due to previous stress. Stimulus, response. Observation.
As abstract as this concept may be nonetheless they are all forms of observation, which is the crux of this question. If one takes the question to ask if ‘no man’ is around, then of course it makes a sound! There is plenty to observe it and adjust or respond to the stimulus. If one takes the question to ask if ‘no one’ is around then it is a trick question, because there wouldn’t be a forest at all, and thus no tree to fall.

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