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.