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    • Irish philosopher Dr. George Berkeley (1685-1753) a.k.a. Bishop Berkeley, is most known for posing the following question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” 

      Now, as it turns out, Berkeley didn’t pose that exact question, but rather addressed the overall topic or concept of whether or not things can exist without being perceived. For example, if there is a tree in a forest and no one is there to perceive it, does it exist? Berkeley’s take on this can be described by the following set of limericks: 

      There was a young man who said God, must think it exceedingly odd if he finds that the tree continues to be when no one's about in the Quad.

      Dear Sir, your astonishment's odd I am always about in the Quad. And that's why the tree  continues to be since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.

      Berkeley’s answer to the question famously ascribed to him would be yes, the tree does make a sound because God is there to perceive the sound. Berkeley’s philosophy is known as idealism and it’s a bit whacky. The nut of it is that in order for something to be perceived, it must be an idea and that material objects don’t exist. That to be is to be perceived. In other words, the material world we see exists only as ideas and perceptions that come about by God. 

      What are your thoughts on Berkeley’s overall philosophy? In your opinion, does a tree falling in a forest make a sound if no one is there to perceive the noise? 

      Note: I have provided a link to Berkeley’s page in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy if you want to learn more about him. 

    • Yep, a falling tree makes a sound. Sound is a physical phenomemon which exists whether or not it is detected. That's what my simple, literal brain thinks; which may or may not be "true" in a metaphysical sense. But it's a workable hypothesis.

    • This passage on a similar vein was in the book Small Gods from the Discworld book series by Terry Pratchett.

      For some backstory if you are not familiar with The Discworld, and if you are not you really should be, the Disc World is a large flat disc which sits on the backs of 4 elephants, who in turn stand on the back of a giant Turtle swimming through space.

      The Turtle Moves

      "Sir, surely only things that exist are worth believing in?" said the enquirer, who was wearing a uniform of a sergeant of the Holy Guard.
      "If they exist, you don't have to believe in them," said Didactylos. "They just are." He sighed. "What can I tell you? What do you want to hear? I just wrote down what people know. Mountains rise and fall, and under them the Turtle swims onward. Men live and die, and the Turtle Moves. Empires grow and crumble, and the Turtle Moves. Gods come and go, and still the Turtle Moves. The Turtle Moves."
      From the darkness came a voice, "And that is really true?"
      Didactylos shrugged. "The turtle exists. The world is a flat disc. The sun turns around it once every day, dragging its light behind it. And this will go on happening, whether you believe it is true or not. It is real. I don't know about truth. Truth is a lot more complicated than that. I don't think the Turtle gives a bugger whether it's true or not, to tell you the truth."

      This blog post gives a good analysis of it

      Terry Pratchett is really illustrating the essential conflict between science and faith - science is, whether you believe in it or not. Religions, gods, require people to believe in them in order to keep existing. Without belief, religion dies. Yet gravity wouldn't stop working if everyone on the planet stopped believing in it. Evolutionary processes would continue to happen even if nobody was paying attention. Even when everyone was convinced it was the other way around, the earth continued to revolve around the sun.

    • Sound waves and light waves are part of a spectrum of waves which can be measured by machinery. However, what makes one wave a sound and another wave not a sound? A dog will react to a wave that is higher on the spectrum than a man can hear. Dog whistles are pitched to reflect this fact. If one blows a dog whistle in a crowd of humans with no animals around, does the whistle make a sound? Are ultaviolet waves light? Are infrared waves light? Are X-rays (which are lower on the spectrum than ultaviolet) light?

      The fact is that a wave is only sound if an ear can hear it and is only visible light if an eye can see it.

      If a tree falls in the forest it does produce the wavelengths that ears could hear if there were any ears to hear it but hearing is defined by the brain which analyzes the wavelength. Because machines can measure wavelengths above and below what we can detect without mechanical assistance we can measure them but the only reason that we do not call them sounds or lights is because our ears do not hear those wavelengths nor our eyes see them

      God is aware of all wavelengths and needs no assistance to perceive any wavelength for He created all of these things.

    • That great philosopher Jeff Bezos said, when asked if he was worried about Amazon being sued by Barnes and Noble, “The only real problem in life is being ignored.”

      The tree falling in the forest has become a bit of an Internet talking point for social media posts, no? “Oh, that was a tree in the forest post.”

      On the other hand, I can think of problems Jeff has had from not being ignored.

    • I would say no. @Chris can appreciate this: Every LDS church building has what’s called “The Relief Society Room” designated for where the Relief Society (the women of the church) are to meet for their lessons. At my ward/congregation, the women don’t meet in “The Relief Society Room.” They meet in the chapel while the men meet in “The Relief Society Room” for their lessons. I’ve asked people why we still call it “The Relief Society Room” if the women no longer meet in there. I have not gotten a good answer to my question.

    • Very interesting point about the different wavelengths and how there are some we cannot detect while animals can. You seem to take the position, same as Berkeley, that because God can perceive the wavelengths, a sound is being made. What makes this all tricky of course is a sound being made is different from a wavelength in that a sound is something we detect whereas a wavelength in and of itself we don’t detect unless there is a sound we detect to accompany it.

    • I'm of a scientific predisposition as well. The real world isn't like a video game where assets come into existence only when a player reaches a specific part of a map or game. Everything always exists even if there's nobody around to witness it.

    • The real world was here for quite a while before we arrived to experience it and I hope it will continue to be habitable by our descendents long after we've gone. But there are troubling issues with that . . .

    • Funny story: One of the classes I took at UC Berkeley was Philosophy of Perception. For those that don't know, Berkeley, California is named after George Berkeley, so UC Berkeley ipso facto is named after George Berkeley. While we were discussing this very question about a tree falling in a forest, a tree fell outside of our classroom. It was amazing.

      So to recap: At the school that is named after George Berkeley, while discussing his famous question about a tree falling in a forest, a tree fell outside of our classroom. And to cap it all off, it was in a Philosophy of Perception class, the very realm of philosophy that Berkeley specialized in.