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If a tree falls in the forest

Created by dave. Last edited by dave, 18 years and 39 days ago. Viewed 3,724 times. #1
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Poll question on NerdPerfect, 5 August 2000: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it fall, does it make a sound?

My reponse:

To answer this question, we must deal with both the physical definition of sound, as well as the metaphysical manifestation of the spirit of the sound.

Firstly, and easilly, the definition of sound is a transmitted pressure distortion in the local media. When we clap our hands together, the slap of palm on palm causes a pressure wave in the air which radiates from the hands. Our ear drums capture this local distortion, flex as it passes, and our brain interprets all the resulting mucking about with bones and nerves and neurons as sound.

The question implies that a sound may not exist without an observer. In other words, that a mere transmitted pressure distortion wave is not, by itself, sound.

Let us consider the nature of the observer for a moment. If I am in the forest, and close enough to the falling tree to observe it (while being suficiently far away to avoid getting schmucked by it), my eardrums register the pressure distortion as the sound of a tree falling. This tree clearly made a sound.

Now let us consider a fuzzy and friendly bunny rabbit. Our rodent, if within the same experimental paramters as I was in the case above, will react to the pressure distortion registered in its finely designed ears by running as far as it's fuzzy feet will carry it. Clearly, this second tree also made a sound.

Next, let us remove the forest of all the potential observers which might naturally observe the pressure distortion and react to it -- all the animals, rodents, insects, worms, you name it. Say we place a microphone near a suitably unstable tree and connect it by wire to a studio some distance beyond the range of our candidate pressure distortion. Now our forest dies (due to the lack of insect life to help it live) and eventually our candidate tree falls over. Assuming we ourselves have not died of boredom awaiting this moment, we hear the sound through our microphone.

Let's back up a minute, because this is interesting. If the microphone is disconnected, or powered off, or manufactured by Radio Shack, it probably won't record too much of anything. The microphone will stay motionless before, during, and after the passage of the pressure disturbance, so it is arguably not an observer. In this case, there might not have been a sound since there was no candidate observer.

But let's pretend the microphone was connected to a tape recorder (since we are by now busy out having a life or being dead or something and therefore not around to listen to our tree live). The tape recorder continues doing what it was doing before, during, and after the pressure distortion, and by similar reasoning cannot be considered an observer of the sound. However, we can press the rewind button on our tape player, and assuming it isn't a Realistic product, we can listen to the sound at a later time.

Therefore, we can show that there was in fact a sound even though there was no candidate observer. The only way out of this is to define the microphone and tape recorder as candidate observers, and therefore any object -- including the falling tree itself -- is a candidate observer, and therefore a sound is always made.

Nevertheless, I voted for the mimes option because I hate them.

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