A falling tree creates vibrations in the air (as well as some damage on what it falls on). Vibrations in the carrier medium are not sound. Sound is when someone perceives those vibrations and therefore hears sound.


Original writeup preserved. December 7th, 2000 update:

My reply to piq: as the matter here is one of definition, I suggest reference to the word "sound". psykelus says that sound is "A vibration of a medium, a compression wave -- as interperted by the human ear.". Webster 1913 states, aside from all the other interesting meanings of the word "sound", that:

The peceived object occasioned by the impulse or vibration of a material substance affecting the ear; a sensation or perception of the mind received through the ear, and produced by the impulse or vibration of the air or other medium with which the ear is in contact; the effect of an impression made on the organs of hearing by an impulse or vibration of the air caused by a collision of bodies, or by other means; noise; report; as, the sound of a drum; the sound of the human voice; a horrid sound; a charming sound; a sharp, high, or shrill sound.

piq, if your stereo is playing away in the middle of the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does that make any sound? How about if we take your stereo, start it out playing loudly and slowly reduce the volume until nobody can hear it anymore? Is it still making a sound? It's still creating vibrations in the air even if they are too weak for anyone in the room to hear them...

Sound is in the mind of the perceiver. I rest my case.


pfft has a point, but discussing that goes way over my head (for now, anyway).

I hestitate to contribute to this trite little query, but alex.tan's w/u is plain out wrong. (Sorry, alex.tan.) These high-frequency vibrations in the air which fall into the spectrum of human auditory perception are called sound-waves. Right now, my stereo is playing in the living room, but I am unable to hear it. It still produces sound. As to the metaphysical question, our sanity and maybe existance is based on the assumption of a physical world.

"Deep", you say? Deep is a very shallow word.

How about these twists on the old question:

If a tree falls in the forest one foot away from a deaf man, does it still make a sound?

How about leaving a tape recorder there. Nobody is around, but the sound can still be recorded.

If a tree fell in a forest on Schrodinger's Cat, would the cat be alive or dead?

If a forest full of trees fell on a spotted owl, would any loggers notice?

If a tree falls in a forest on a computer, would there be less annoying nodes?

If a tree fell in Everything2 on Nate, would he just de-exist the tree before it existed?

This question is inconsistent, because it assumes that a world which doesn't produce sounds that are not heard would have trees that fall outside of perception. Perhaps the tree is seen from a distance? In any case, the intended question is really "Does the physical universe exist outside of our perceptions?"

The world we perceive (the phenomenal world) is fully and consistently conceptualizeable in physical terms. If the nature of the universe is in fact not physical (so that the falling tree does not make a sound), this fact is epistemically inaccessible. However, the fact that the universe acts consistently enough that our theories of its operation are consistently corroborated makes them useful concepts even if they are, objectively speaking, false. They may or may not be objectively correct, but they are intersubjectively correct*.

Theories which produce accurate predictions can become conceptual frameworks . If we refer to a 'sound wave' as a real thing, that is a valid concept even if there is no 'real' air to be vibrating: our concept merely refers to a different underlying noumenon than we imagine. Our constructed world is consistent, and has a place for sound; so long as the universe continues to supply us with phenomena which support these constructions, sound is a valid concept.

If we wish to make the application of these constructions completely valid, we must make our claims in terms of perceptions (that way they can be tested). Well, we are assuming we don't hear the sound of the tree - and sound is transient. But it could have effects, knocking dust around in a particular way or something recognizable. This would be indirect, yes. But if we saw the wave on an oscilloscope would we have really seen any more? What about hearing the sound directly? In all three cases have perceived that something affected the environment in a way which we characterize as 'sound'. Whether the universe actually had vibrating waves or filled in the details as we looked for them, the end effect upon us is the same. We could choose to call all of these effects sound.

Essentially, we have information about what the noumenon can be, because whatever it is, is must be something which is capable of producing our perceptions. Any noumenon which could not cause our perceptions must be rejected. We are not a simulation run on a two-state Turing machine with a four-bit-long tape, because at any given moment we perceive more information than that entire system contains.


*Before everyone jumps on my assertion that our scientific theories are correct: I am referring to the basic understandings we have about matter: things have extension, weight, make sounds upon collision. Especially that one, considering the matter at hand. If you wish to debate that these provide accurate predictions...


Converse56, there is a collossal difference between
"Our patterns of perceptions ... are so very much like the world which we have constructed and called 'physical reality' that our intuitions and theories concerning our construction bear much explanatory and predictive power over our perceptions, and thus the universe."
and
"The world we perceive is so much like the world we perceive, that the world we perceive is like the real world."

The former states that we have some information about the noumenon by way of our models (not our direct perceptions, as you seem to indicate), because the phenomenon is contained within the noumenon. The latter, your farcical repeat, states that the noumenon is contained within the phenomenon, a (probably unintentional) straw man you proceed to demolish quite effectively. Congratulations, you just said '1+1 != 732', and then said that 'my brand of logic' claimed the contrary.

Oneiromancer, writing on the fourth of January 2001, says, "Our patterns of perceptions ... are so very much like the world which we have constructed and called 'physical reality' that our intuitions and theories concerning our construction bear much explanatory and predictive power over our perceptions, and thus the universe."

Careful study of this long sentence reveals the following meaning: "The world we perceive is so much like the world we perceive, that the world we perceive is like the real world." Unfortunately, this makes no sense. No matter how carefully we study our experiences, we won't know how the universe actually looks, according to certain thinkers namedropped below. At any rate, one cannot go from the tautology of "The world we perceive is like the world we perceive," to make the conclusion that the real world is therefore somehow related to this world we perceive; nowhere in the setup is there mention of a real world, so it ought not to be in the punchline.

The point of the dichotomy between the phenomenal world (the world we see, the world we experience) and the noumenal world (the world as it actually is) for people like Gottfried Leibniz (who did not, admittedly, use that terminology) and Immanuel Kant (who, to the best of my knowledge, came up with that terminology) -- being, respectively, the first to attempt a separation of consciousness and the universe in which it exists, and the first to "successfully" achieve it -- et al., is that we cannot know the real world, the universe as it is, the thing-in-itself. If you want to distinguish between a phenomenal realm and a noumenal realm, you do so for a reason: namely, you have no idea what goes on in the noumenal realm, so you have in some way to explain the phenomena going on all around you. It is redundant to say the phenomenal realm and the noumenal realm are the same thing, because in that case there would just be on Realm, known as the universe.

G.W.F. Hegel, I believe, built his philosophy on being able to know the noumenal realm, whereas Kant said we could only know that the noumenal realm existed. You do not have to believe in this dichotomy, of course. (Rene Descartes, for all his questioning and doubt, ultimately concluded that the world we experience is the world as such; Aristotle and Plato, from what I know, did not consider this issue at all.)

Even if you do not believe in the dichotomy, though, or even if you're a Hegelian, Oneiromancer's brand of logic just won't work.

(PS, I think the tree does make a sound. I happen to think that the emission of sound waves constitutes the making of a sound. Thanks, QXZ.)

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.