organon

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?"

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Sound involves the interaction of vibrations in some medium caused by some agent, e.g., a falling tree, or a rock hitting the side of a granite wall, upon the relevant "sensory modality". A proper grasp of any given word relating to perception, e.g., "sight", or "sound", includes the context of a consciousness that is perceiving (listening, or seeing) whatever thing we may be referring to. If there is no consciousness present to perceive (in the case of sound) the vibrations in a medium, there is no sound, even though the vibrations are there.

In the absence of one who hears, there is no sound. In the absence of one who sees, there is no sight.

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Sound involves the interaction of vibrations in some medium caused by some agent, e.g., a falling tree, or a rock hitting the side of a granite wall, upon the relevant "sensory modality". A proper grasp of any given word relating to perception, e.g., "sight", or "sound", includes the context of a consciousness that is perceiving (listening, or seeing) whatever thing we may be referring to. If there is no consciousness present to perceive (in the case of sound) the vibrations in a medium, there is no sound, even though the vibrations are there.

In the absence of one who hears, there is no sound. In the absence of one who sees, there is no sight.

I think all will agree that in the total absence of those things which can perceive there is no perception regardless of how many perceivable events take place.

Question to you: do the gray and brown-fur animals in the forest count? They can hear, probably better than humans.

Bob Kolker

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I think all will agree that in the total absence of those things which can perceive there is no perception regardless of how many perceivable events take place.

Question to you: do the gray and brown-fur animals in the forest count? They can hear, probably better than humans.

If they hear then there is sound. The sound they hear may be different because their sense organs respond differently to the stimuli -- higher frequencies, different amplitudes, etc.

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Sound involves the interaction of vibrations in some medium caused by some agent, e.g., a falling tree, or a rock hitting the side of a granite wall, upon the relevant "sensory modality".

Sounds are weak compression waves which propogate at the local speed of sound; it makes no difference whether they are heard or not. They are merely a grouping of compression waves, grouped based upon the capacities of the human ear. In a physical sense, there is no essential difference between them and blast waves propogating at high mach numbers.

If, however, you mean nothing is heard which is not capable of being heard, you are expressing a tautology.

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If, however, you mean nothing is heard which is not capable of being heard...

Were there a consciousness capable of hearing present, the vibrations would be heard, and thus 'sound' would have occurred. In the absence of a consciousness, since the words 'sound' and 'sight' are properly grasped in the context of a consciousness, there is no sound. Again -- in the absence of one who hears, there is no sound; in the absence of one who sees, there is no sight.

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In the absence of one who hears, there is no sound. In the absence of one who sees, there is no sight.
I'm sorry, did you say something? I wasn't listening.

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If, however, you mean nothing is heard which is not capable of being heard...

Were there a consciousness capable of hearing present, the vibrations would be heard, and thus 'sound' would have occurred. In the absence of a consciousness, since the words 'sound' and 'sight' are properly grasped in the context of a consciousness, there is no sound. Again -- in the absence of one who hears, there is no sound; in the absence of one who sees, there is no sight.

They are different kinds of things; sight is a sense, whereas sound is the thing sensed. Beyond this absurd error, you are stating tautologies. Sight is the ability to see and hearing is the ability to hear; so, of course, there can be no seeing if there is no ability to see and there can be no hearing if there is no ability to hear.

What exactly is your point?

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I will not respond directly to Mr. Hale, but do want to clarify something (should it be needed).

When I write "Without one who sees, there is no sight," I am referring to 'sight' not as "the power or faculty of seeing" but rather "an act, fact, or instance of seeing"[1].

Be well.

John

--

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com.

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Were there a consciousness capable of hearing present, the vibrations would be heard, and thus 'sound' would have occurred. In the absence of a consciousness, since the words 'sound' and 'sight' are properly grasped in the context of a consciousness, there is no sound. Again -- in the absence of one who hears, there is no sound; in the absence of one who sees, there is no sight.

They are different kinds of things; sight is a sense, whereas sound is the thing sensed. Beyond this absurd error, you are stating tautologies. Sight is the ability to see and hearing is the ability to hear; so, of course, there can be no seeing if there is no ability to see and there can be no hearing if there is no ability to hear.

What exactly is your point?

Clearly he is referring to the concept of sound as a perception by a conscious being, as he stated, as opposed to the wave propagation causing a physical stimulus. It is not an absurd error to use the word 'sound' this way. The resolution of the paradox about whether there is a sound of a tree falling in the forest if no one is there to hear it lies in simply defining what one is talking about instead of equivocating between cause and effect. That is not stating tautologies.

The classic elementary college textbook Mechanics, Heat and Sound by Sears states: "The term sound is used ... to designate the sensation in the consciousness of a human observer when the terminals of his auditory nerve are stimulated, and ... with reference to compressional waves in the air which are capable of stimulating the auditory nerve. Waves in solids and liquids are also called sound waves if they lie in the audible frequency range" - i.e., "sound waves" qualifies the kind of waves in terms of their spectrum. You can refer to the propagation of "sound" to mean the pressure waves that cause the sensation of sound, but the term is not always used that way.

The relations between sound waves and the sensation of sound are as complex as the relation between the physics of light wave propagation and sight.

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Just to make sure I'm clear on the key issues here, I'd like to ask a question. In order to have "a sound," one needs both a consciousness ( C) to hear it, and something additional that is purely physical (P). C alone is not adequete to have a sound. There must also be some kind of P.

Now, the usual form in which I've heard the "falling tree" issue expressed is: does a falling tree make noise when no one is there to hear it? The term "noise" rather than "sound" apparently emphasizes the P element. Does the P element still exist even if there is no C in the vicinity? That is my understanding of the question that philosophers have posed. I.e., how can anyone know if the P is still there, if there is to C to perceive it? How can one know that the "sound" one hears is not entirely in one's own head, without any kind of independent P element?

Does anyone doubt the existence of the P element, independent of C? It's interesting to consider exactly how the existence of P without C can be verified, since any verification process would have to involve C. An engineer or physical scientist might propose setting up a microphone and recorder, and listening to the recording only long after the event had passed. Of course, philosophers might then reply: how do you know that the sound wasn't the result of the recording device being in the vicinity of the allegedly noise-making event? I.e., the recorder caused the sound, somehow (unspecified)?

But are there simpler ways to verify that P exists without C, relying on man's more basic sensory-perceptual capacities? Aren't there all kinds of ways that man could obtain evidence clearly pointing to (integrating) the conclusion that there is some kind of P involved independently of C? Such as being too far away to hear the sound, yet still able to see the tree fall and observe all kinds of birds and other animals running away or being startled? Or is the presence of animal consciousness in the vicinity supposed to be the be cause of the sound? In that case, why would the quality and/or intensity of the sound change as man gets closer or farther away? Or is it claimed that the presence of C (such as animals) is necessary in order for P to arise, but once P comes into existence, it is independent of other C (such as man)? Man can position himself at varying distances from the object and observe the gradual decrease in the magnitude of the perceived sound. He can use friends to listen at varying distances and then discuss what they heard after the event has passed. And so on.

Any one perception by itself wouldn't be conclusive, but put a whole series of perceptions together, from many sources and perspectives, and you get an integration in which the existence of an independent P seems an unescapable conclusion. The conclusion might be of the form: I hear the sound, but through integration of many observations I find that there is something there that I didn't create or imagine, something independent of me. To know exactly what it is, of course, I have to use my sensory-perceptual and rational faculties (and maybe some modern technology and physics theory). But to know that it is, I can observe directly, given enough observations that all point to the same conclusion. I can also clap my own hands together with varying degress of forcefulness, and perceive an audible effect that I surely didn't imagine or invent. I can set up all sorts of other scenarios that do or do not result in audible sounds, and I can see what they all have in common (and/or how they may differ from one another), and the correlation of those observations to the sounds that I hear.

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Just to make sure I'm clear on the key issues here, I'd like to ask a question.

There are about a dozen question marks (?) in your post and I don't know what your basic question is.

In order to have "a sound," one needs both a consciousness ( C) to hear it, and something additional that is purely physical (P). C alone is not adequete to have a sound. There must also be some kind of P.

That is true for any act of consciousness. To be aware is to be aware of something, whether the awareness is perceptual or conceptual. Your perception of sound is objective -- an awareness of something in external reality by your specific means of consciousness. Something physical causes waves of pressure to propagate through the air (or water, etc.), they go into your ears, cause your eardrum to vibrate, which sends pulses through your auditory nerve, etc., and you perceive a sound. The pressure waves are there whether they impinge on your ears or not.

Now, the usual form in which I've heard the "falling tree" issue expressed is: does a falling tree make noise when no one is there to hear it? The term "noise" rather than "sound" apparently emphasizes the P element.

That depends on what is meant by whoever says it, but "noise" usually means the perception.

Does the P element still exist even if there is no C in the vicinity? That is my understanding of the question that philosophers have posed. I.e., how can anyone know if the P is still there, if there is to C to perceive it? How can one know that the "sound" one hears is not entirely in one's own head, without any kind of independent P element?

What certain skeptic philosphers make of the old paradox of the tree isn't the same thing as the way it is usually understood, which is simply explained by the difference between a physical cause of a perception.

You know that the falling tree results in pressure waves whether you are there or not because by that point you already know the elementary physics. You don't start in an intellectual vacuum pondering a tree you aren't there to see. You already know that the perception of sound results from the pressure waves. You know the tree hits the ground, causing an impulse that sets up the pressure wave in the air. You know that the waves travel through the air in accordance with the acoustic wave equation, that it can be measured, and that nothing in that depends on you being there at the other end of the path waiting to perceive it.

Philosophically you know that the process of hearing isn't in your consciousness alone because you know that existence precedes consciousness and that your perceptions are perception of physical reality. With that knowledge you go on to understand how hearing works and the physics of sound waves, but you don't have to know much about that to realize that there is a physical cause of what you hear and that your consciousness does not create existence.

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Sound involves the interaction of vibrations in some medium caused by some agent, e.g., a falling tree, or a rock hitting the side of a granite wall, upon the relevant "sensory modality". A proper grasp of any given word relating to perception, e.g., "sight", or "sound", includes the context of a consciousness that is perceiving (listening, or seeing) whatever thing we may be referring to. If there is no consciousness present to perceive (in the case of sound) the vibrations in a medium, there is no sound, even though the vibrations are there.

In the absence of one who hears, there is no sound. In the absence of one who sees, there is no sight.

There certainly IS sound even if no "one" is there to hear it. Sound waves can start an avalanche on a snow saturated mountain peak, even if there are no sentient beings to hear it. A dog whistle makes sound even if no dogs are around to hear it. Sonar works under water, even if no humans or fish are in its path to hear it. And, what about no sentient beings around, but a tape recorder is turned on and left there in the woods? Would you argue that when humans come around to push the play button, that it is only at that time that the sound is made? Sounds are made all of the time that people don't happen to hear. Perception or non-perception of a thing does not determine its existence.

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If a tape recorder is left on in the woods, and a tree falls nearby, does the tree make a sound?

What actually is occurring? The vibrations impinge upon the recorder's microphonic equipment, and the relevant changes are made to its media. And that is all. So no, a sound does not occur.

There is a sound when a man with the faculty of hearing plays the recorder.

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Just to make sure I'm clear on the key issues here, I'd like to ask a question. In order to have "a sound," one needs both a consciousness ( C) to hear it, and something additional that is purely physical (P). C alone is not adequete to have a sound. There must also be some kind of P.

A bit of an aside here: when I was younger, there were times that I would be in a near-silent environment thinking of a song and I was sure that I actually, very faintly, could hear it. This hasn't happened for a number of decades now, but I remember the sensation very clearly. I don't know if this is a recognized phenomenon or if I am mistaken in interpreting what was actually happening, and I'm certain I wasn't creating sound with my mind, but the sound seemed as real as any I'm hearing right now (as opposed to the "mental sound" of thinking of the song, which I'm sure everyone is familiar with through their own experience). It only ever happened with music, too.

Thinking about it now, it seemed as though the sound was sort of "inside my ear" rather than coming from elsewhere. Strange, but it was quite intriguing.

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A bit of an aside here: when I was younger, there were times that I would be in a near-silent environment thinking of a song and I was sure that I actually, very faintly, could hear it. This hasn't happened for a number of decades now, but I remember the sensation very clearly. I don't know if this is a recognized phenomenon or if I am mistaken in interpreting what was actually happening, and I'm certain I wasn't creating sound with my mind, but the sound seemed as real as any I'm hearing right now (as opposed to the "mental sound" of thinking of the song, which I'm sure everyone is familiar with through their own experience). It only ever happened with music, too.

Thinking about it now, it seemed as though the sound was sort of "inside my ear" rather than coming from elsewhere. Strange, but it was quite intriguing.

That sensation was coming from memory of something you had heard before, either directly or by reconstruction of notes or phrases re-assembled from something else.

There can also be hallucinations, which are not sense perception, and there are known biological anomolies in hearing in which you have the sensation but it has an entirely internal (to your body) physical cause. This can take the form of 'ringing' in your ears that is a well-known problem, or more elaborate sensations.

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The question "If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" is used for only one purpose: to kill a philosophical discussion by instilling doubt, uncertainty, skepticism and agnosticism in the minds of the others participating in the discussion. This usually happens when the discussion, despite whatever disagreements are occuring, is actually getting somewhere--that is, cognitive progress is actually being made. One or more people in the group is actually putting 2 and 2 together; someone is learning something, expanding their awareness, building their concepts or learning new ones. Someone is achieving certainty, and the person asking the famous "deep" question cannot allow this. In fact, they are terrified by it. This person is thinking, in essence: "If that person can achieve certainty and look at the truth head-on [so to speak], then I can, too. But I don't want to!" So they throw out a question for the others to "ponder", believing that the tree/forest question will bring everyone to an intellectual dead end; all they want them to do is to "ponder", and not come to a conclusion. If this works, the discussion comes to a screeching halt and the person who asked the question can feel free again to continue along on his or her irrational road.

The proper answer to this question is: "It depends on how the word 'sound' is defined. If 'sound' is defined merely as vibrations travelling through the air, than the answer is 'Yes--the fall of the tree does make a sound'. If 'sound' is defined as vibrations travelling through the air and being received by a functioning ear, than the answer is 'No, it doesn't make a sound." Contrary to the evasions and wishes of the person asking the question, the question is answerable.

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If a tape recorder is left on in the woods, and a tree falls nearby, does the tree make a sound?

What actually is occurring? The vibrations impinge upon the recorder's microphonic equipment, and the relevant changes are made to its media. And that is all. So no, a sound does not occur.

There is a sound when a man with the faculty of hearing plays the recorder.

Those "vibrations" that "impinge" are "sound." The microphone picks up "sound." Sound waves can cause an avalanche. Nobody needs to be around.

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Those "vibrations" that "impinge" are "sound." The microphone picks up "sound." Sound waves can cause an avalanche. Nobody needs to be around.

The microphone picks up sound waves; but sound waves, i.e. vibrations in air, are not 'sound' (in the context of its definition as an instance of hearing; see above).

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Those "vibrations" that "impinge" are "sound." The microphone picks up "sound." Sound waves can cause an avalanche. Nobody needs to be around.

The microphone picks up sound waves; but sound waves, i.e. vibrations in air, are not 'sound' (in the context of its definition as an instance of hearing; see above).

Sound is a traveling wave which 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. This is a dictionary definition.

"Sound is a traveling wave...composed of frequencies within the range of hearing..."

This means that it just has to be at a frequency able to be heard, but not actually be heard.

If we are using different dictionaries, then which one are you using?

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The first definition of sound given at dictionary.reference.com is:

"The sensation produced by stimulation of the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air or other medium."

This is the relevant definition when one speaks of a sound, e.g., "make a sound."

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Sound, then, has two meanings:

(1) Pressure waves propogating through a solid, liquid, or gas which can be heard.

(2) The sensation of pressure waves acting on the sense organ responsible for hearing.

So, if a tree falls in the middle of the woods, there is no sound in the second sense, unless there is some animal with hearing, but there is in the first. The two senses refer to two different, though related, concepts.

Excuse my condemnation for the use of the second sense.

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I still see a bit of a "disconnect" between the following positions:

1. "In the absence of one who hears, there is no sound. In the absence of one who sees, there is no sight." (Another posting notes that this is equivalent to saying that if there is no conscious entity in a given region, then there is no consciousness in that region.)

2. "A falling tree makes no sound or noise unless there is a conscious entity within range of hearing it or otherwise sensing it." (I mention "otherwise sensing" to cover the case where someone sets up a microphone connected over a long distance to a realtime oscilloscope, out of human hearing range of the falling tree, but able to see the signal pattern of the soundwaves on the oscilloscope, as detected by the microphone -- and not as a recording, but live as the event happens.)

The problem here is the use of the verb "makes" in formulation (2). If a tree is "making" something, one is hard pressed not to regard it (whatever the tree is "making") as an action of the tree, independent of any nearby or distant observers.

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2. "A falling tree makes no sound or noise unless there is a conscious entity within range of hearing it or otherwise sensing it." (I mention "otherwise sensing" to cover the case where someone sets up a microphone connected over a long distance to a realtime oscilloscope, out of human hearing range of the falling tree, but able to see the signal pattern of the soundwaves on the oscilloscope, as detected by the microphone -- and not as a recording, but live as the event happens.)

If by 'sound' you mean the perception of a consciousness, then in this second case of there being only a microphone within range there is still no sound -- the recorder does not hear and your seeing the pattern on the oscilliscope is not hearing. If you listen through headphones to the signal picked up by the microphone then you are hearing the sound, or more precisely a replica of would be the sound created in the forest, as reproduced by the electronics.

The problem here is the use of the verb "makes" in formulation (2). If a tree is "making" something, one is hard pressed not to regard it (whatever the tree is "making") as an action of the tree, independent of any nearby or distant observers.

The tree falling does make the sound in the sense that its impact creates the pressure waves independent of any observer. For sound as a perception, the tree causes what you hear, but what you hear is in accordance with your own particular means of hearing, not from the tree alone.

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