Falling Trees And Forests And The Possibility Of Auditory Sensations

Nitrogen Tetroxide and Hydrazine. Two chemicals that are currently two of the most common liquid propellants in deep space rockets. Forgive me for sliding into a different, possibly inappropriate character, here, but some crazy-ass fool figured that out. Someone figured out that, with the right materials, we could reach deep space. The final frontier. Those balls of plasma that us bleeding-heart poet laureates only had the chance to write about, as we compared them to the eyes of whatever thing of beauty we were currently obsessed with? And I quote,

Light as the linnet on my way I start,

For all my pack I bear a chartered heart.

Forth on the world without a guide or chart,

Content to know, through all man’s varying fates,

The eternal woman by the wayside waits.

-Robert Luis Stevenson, “Light As The Linnet On My Way I Start”

how beautiful, the stars that collide

like constant fireworks up in the midnight sky

how beautiful, the sky that has nothing to hide

not even the light in the darkest of nights

-Monty Hall, “Beautiful”

How countlessly they congregate

O’er our tumultuous snow,

Which flows in shapes as tall as trees

When wintry winds do blow!–

-Robert Frost, “Stars”

Yeah. Those. N2O4 and N2H4 make it possible for us to witness the real things of beauty, up close and personal. Those chemicals, however, are highly toxic. Take, for example, our friend Ted. Ted is a portly gentleman, pizza-faced, and rosy cheeked. Decked out in a fresh orange jumpsuit, Teddy is ready to start his new job. Ted’s job, as the intern, is to handle these chemicals. But, the poor fellow never had the greatest luck. He’s well renowned for being clumsy, and most remember him for flattening his sister at his high school prom. Ever since then, all it took was a look at his equally rosy cheeked sister, and poor Ted would start to get all fidgety. Maybe the containers that held the chemicals reminded him of his sister? Who knows. All we need to know, however, is that Ted loses his grip on the containers, and the chemicals spill. Ted is infected in a matter of seconds, and is subsequently rushed to the E.R. His family pays to keep him alive through various means of life support, which are all manned and overseen by a staff of specialized doctors and nurses. These humans, like ourselves, all must eat. Not only to survive, but to keep their minds sharp and their wit intact. Some of them may opt for pure sources of energy. Energy pills, energy bars. Others may wake up a little too late in the morning, and pick the hastily microwaved burrito.

And so on and so forth.

Do you see the point I’m trying to make, here?

All of what we have, all of what we eat, all of what we do, all of what we have created…we owe a great majority of it to our collective minds. Microwaves, vitamins, machines that keep us alive, chemicals, cars, clothing.

Yet, in all our infinite wisdom, no one can give us a definite answer to one enduring question.

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

This is a damned tough question. Saying that the state of the tree had changed from “standing” to “fallen” would have to imply that someone was around to observe it to even be able to ask the question at all, even if it was by a deaf bystander.

But, for the sake of giving a legitimate answer, let’s just forget about that.

Sound and I have faced each other many a time. Normally, we end up working together to create a cacophonous wonder of funk, rock, and heavy metal. As I sit here, however, I hear a knock on the door. Sound is back. And this time, he’s pissed. Menopausal, even. Like a raging bull, Sound bursts through the door, and heads straight for the sweets cabinet.

A deafening roar sounds from the kitchen.


Sound doesn’t know what it is. It’s like a teenager about to enter adulthood, if you will; it needs to take that road trip around the world to ‘find itself’. Many have argued over Sound’s true meaning, but none are willing to compromise. Sound, as argued by scientists, is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard. Most everyone else, on the other hand, will tell you that sound is the auditory sensation of aforementioned waves.

It isn’t fair to limit Sound to a single, succinct definition. In my opinion, Sound is Sound from start to finish, from creation to sensation. Who are we to say that sound isn’t sound until it reaches our ear, or that sound only encompasses the waves themselves? My definition of sound would have to be as follows, in this case: Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations. In the case of the tree, sound would still exist, even if no one was present to perceive it.

At the same time, you wouldn’t exactly be walking on solid ground if you were to say that everything about the unobserved world was absolutely certain. The observer, in its own existence, imposes upon the reality observed. Most scientists would agree that the presence or lack of an observer wouldn’t change the fact that the tree fell, and caused a sound. Some scientists might also argue that a truly unobserved event is one that realizes no effect on any other, it therefore can have no legacy in the present, wider physical universe. Ergo, it can be equated with an event that didn’t occur at all. Myself, I think the British philosopher Roy Bhaskar said it best.

If men ceased to exist sound would continue to travel and heavy bodies to fall to the earth in exactly the same way, though through ex-hypothesi there would be no-one to know it.

If the arguments with myself haven’t made it clear, already, this is an absolutely impossible question to prove one way or the other. It all comes down to speculation. How we see the world. Though we know that, how, and why trees exist, and though we know how sound works…it’s still an impossible thing to prove. My speculation? There exists the unobserved reality. To say that something simply doesn’t exist, simply because we don’t see it, would be to deny our sense of object permanence. Life continues on, in our absence. To say that, though you might have never met your mother, you never had one, wouldn’t be fair to the body that birthed you.  Although, we owe our knowledge of trees and sound to the man who first observed them.

Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to read through this. I hope I’ve given at least one of you something to think about. If I have…all the better. If I have not…I ask that you continue living your life, knowing that whether or not sound exists outside of our perception is none of our real concern. Sound exists. Sound loves you. Even more than your mother. Maybe.

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