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"If a tree falls in a forest ... does it make a sound?"

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Sorry, I thought we were dealing a little closer to the perceptual level here. Must be the electromagnetic interference scrambling the automatic integrations performed by sensations prior to being confused by the . . . what the heck are we talking about here again???

I can't HEAR you. Oh, sorry, it must be those oscillating waves.

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Sound is about sensory information. Without animals, the unconscious existence is not to ``hear`` anything.

But, for sure, the waves, among with their own entire attributial code as a whole, exist objectively and independently of man`s faith, emotion, or hope.

Existence is a primacy over each other axiom. Without existence as an absolute, how can one`s `spirit` or his `beliefs` ever exist?

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Of course it is a trivial matter of definition. Take for example the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Definition of SOUND

a : a particular auditory impression : tone

b : the sensation perceived by the sense of hearing

c : mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium (as air) and is the objective cause of hearing.

If you use definition b, there is no sound of the falling tree, but if you use definition c, there is. Originally the word sound would probably have had only the meaning b, but when people learned to understand the physical characteristics of sound waves, the same term was used for the physical phenomenon. Compare with "light". Will the light from a new star only become light when it reaches the retina of a human being so that he perceives that star after say a million years (supposed that there will be humans around then)? That seems to me a rather silly viewpoint. We call the visual sensation "light", but also the physical phenomenon of photons. Why should it be different for sound?

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I think that philosophy does have a role here in determining if certain definitions are even appropriate.

If we are to allow that we can even use definition b then we are denying the very principle of A is A by suggesting that something can only exist if someone perceives it.

The question itself seems to be derived from ignorance of the nature of sound. We shouldn't be asking this anymore than we should be asking if a tree exists if there is no one there to touch it.

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I think that philosophy does have a role here in determining if certain definitions are even appropriate.

If we are to allow that we can even use definition b then we are denying the very principle of A is A by suggesting that something can only exist if someone perceives it.

There is no contradiction. If sound is defined as a particular perception (definition B), then of course it can only exist if someone perceives it.

The question itself seems to be derived from ignorance of the nature of sound. We shouldn't be asking this anymore than we should be asking if a tree exists if there is no one there to touch it.

The point is that more than one definition is possible, a word can have several different meanings. As I said before, I suspect that B) is a more historical definition, from the time that people were indeed ignorant of the nature of sound. Later the concept of sound was extended to the physical mechanism that caused that perception, but that doesn't necessarily imply that the older definition is no longer valid, only because we now also have definition c). Another example: "space" is originally meant as that extent that we perceive around us, where every point can be characterized by 3 coordinates. Later this concept was extended in mathematics and in physics to other dimensions, infinite dimensions, abstract spaces etc. These different definitions are used side by side, there is no question that one is wrong and the other one correct.

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Of course it is a trivial matter of definition. Take for example the Merriam-Webster dictionary: Definition of SOUND a : a particular auditory impression : tone b : the sensation perceived by the sense of hearing c : mechanical radiant energy that is transmitted by longitudinal pressure waves in a material medium (as air) and is the objective cause of hearing. If you use definition b, there is no sound of the falling tree, but if you use definition c, there is. Originally the word sound would probably have had only the meaning b, but when people learned to understand the physical characteristics of sound waves, the same term was used for the physical phenomenon. Compare with "light". Will the light from a new star only become light when it reaches the retina of a human being so that he perceives that star after say a million years (supposed that there will be humans around then)? That seems to me a rather silly viewpoint. We call the visual sensation "light", but also the physical phenomenon of photons. Why should it be different for sound?
Exactly. It is after all, a trick question to impress one's buddies in the bar. They answer "yes", you can invoke definition 'b', and 'prove' they are wrong. They say "no", you tell them the definition is 'c' - and likewise they're wrong. So while I agree that it's a silly viewpoint, we are stuck with the ambiguity. Edited by whYNOT
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Exactly. It is after all, a trick question to impress one's buddies in the bar. They answer "yes", you can invoke definition 'b', and 'prove' they are wrong. They say "no", you tell them the definition is 'c' - and likewise they're wrong. So while I agree that it's a silly viewpoint, we are stuck with the ambiguity.

The good remedy against ambiguity is to invoke a context. It is very difficult and often impossible to define concept out of context. Try for example to define " bank". Dictionary can bring you many definitions and all of them will be useless without context. The same applies to "sound". To "untrick" the question one should define his terms first. BTW, "sound" also means sane, valid. So, to make sound argument about sound, one needs sound premises of context.

Edited by Leonid
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I translate: If something happens, but there is no evidence that it happened, then did it happen?

Well, yes. Duh. Just because I am not aware of something does not mean it doesn't exist.

Unmasked, this "paradox" boils down to a fly-in-the-face challenge to the axiom of Existence. If it happened, it happened. Period. Primacy of Existence.

No?

- ico

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I translate: If something happens, but there is no evidence that it happened, then did it happen?

Well, yes. Duh. Just because I am not aware of something does not mean it doesn't exist.

Unmasked, this "paradox" boils down to a fly-in-the-face challenge to the axiom of Existence. If it happened, it happened. Period. Primacy of Existence.

No?

- ico

You miss the point. The question, taken to task by a philosopher, would be whether sounds are dispositions. Is a sound a relational quality? Can you define sound by only its primary, physical manifestation? Or do you need to include in it our sensation? It's not saying nothing happened, but if a sound happened. And contrary to what others say, it isn't just a matter of semantics either. It's a matter of metaphysics and perception.

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I translate: If something happens, but there is no evidence that it happened, then did it happen?

This is meaningless question, it second part negates the first. If there is no evidence, than how do you know that something happens? By Holy Spirit?

Edited by Leonid
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I was just thinking about this, I agree that sound is usually defined as some thing that emits sound waves and the perception of it by some apparatus. But the question isn't does someone or thing hear the sound but does it make a sound, i.e., does a falling tree create sound waves that could be detected by a hearing apparatus. The answer is clear that it must create such waves in the same way that a star creates light waves whether anyone or thing will ever perceive them at any point in time.

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I was just thinking about this, I agree that sound is usually defined as some thing that emits sound waves and the perception of it by some apparatus. But the question isn't does someone or thing hear the sound but does it make a sound, i.e., does a falling tree create sound waves that could be detected by a hearing apparatus. The answer is clear that it must create such waves in the same way that a star creates light waves whether anyone or thing will ever perceive them at any point in time.

But then your just picking one side of the sematics issue. The fact that the sound waves are created means the falling tree made a sound. The other side being, a sound is not a sound unless it is percieved or recorded for later perception. The question is meant to bring up questions such as, how do we know things behave the same way when no one is looking? Or, in other words more philosophical attempts to drive a wedge between perception and reality, severing any chance at objectivity or certainty at the root.

Edit: The way I look at it is this: A concept refers to its referents and all their characteristics, one of the characteristics of a tree is that if it falls it makes a sound. In other words, this debate stems from the "reasoning" that Peikoff blasts in "The Analytic Synthetic Dichotomy".

Edited by JayR
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Edit: The way I look at it is this: A concept refers to its referents and all their characteristics, one of the characteristics of a tree is that if it falls it makes a sound.

Yeah I was looking at it in terms of semantics but in the context of your above quote, I guess. That's the context that's usually dropped when people debate whether things behave the same when they aren't observed. I was using that context when I related sound waves to light waves.

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If a tree falls in the forest without any consequence to any conscious being, then who cares?

Really: that is the answer! If there is NO EVIDENCE, then any claims about the friggin' tree are arbitrary, so stop wasting time with them.

Having said that, toodles! -- I need to go visit my Lunar friends now, they are having a problem with trees falling soundlessly again ...

- ico

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But the question isn't does someone or thing hear the sound but does it make a sound, i.e., does a falling tree create sound waves that could be detected by a hearing apparatus.

I think it is essential to make a (conceptual) distinction between "sound waves" and "sound", with "sound" necessarily involving the reception of the "sound waves". I think that is what distinguishes one of the concepts from the other.

The answer is clear that it must create such waves in the same way that a star creates light waves whether anyone or thing will ever perceive them at any point in time.

I think the parallel analogy would be, "Do light waves emanating from a star make an image by reflecting light off of a surface if no one is around to see it?"

My argument involves not simply a definitional distinction, but a conceptual distinction.

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My other problem is this:

This is not a case of either/or, it's a matter of one or both. No matter if anyone is around or not to perceive "sound", the other definition of "sound" STILL applies. The presence of the receptor doesn't negate the other definition of "sound".

So, in the asking of this question, why does the deliberate omission of the other applicable definition make sense? In either context, definition "c" is still valid.

Edited by Brian S.
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So, in the asking of this question, why does the deliberate omission of the other applicable definition make sense? In either context, definition "c" is still valid.

Youre not ommiting the other definitions. If you were youd be commiting to one side of the false dichotomy. What you are doing is looking at reality instead of the words we use to describe it. Perhaps 300 years ago it would be ok to say that it doesnt make a sound, but concepts are open ended and we can explain sound in a more fundamental way now. Its waves through a medium. This is just my take on it, I may be wrong.

If an Objectivist posts in a forum, does he make sense?

Not necessarily.

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I think all this discussion about sound vs. sound waves misses the point. That type of discussion is what happens when rational people who accept the certainty of knowledge take this question seriously, but those aren't the type of people who generally perpetuate this question. People who are overly interested in this question tend to use it to make a point about skepticism. The root of the matter is: are we absolutely, 100% sure that the world is still there when we close our eyes? Are we sure that causality still holds when we're not there to check? You can easily tell this if you discuss this question with a person who thinks it is of fundamental importance. Let's just agree for the sake of this particular post that by sound we mean sound waves. After the question is asked, the average person's knee-jerk reaction is, "Yes, of course." If that is the response, then the question poser will usually continue to the next question: "But how do you know?"

This question isn't so prevalent in popular culture because people are concerned about what the concept "sound" refers to. It's asked because people use it as a vehicle to promote skepticism. The idea behind the exercise is that if the question poser keeps pushing, most people will 'concede' that, well, we have no real way to directly know, for certain, that the tree made a sound. If you hear it on the street, chances are it's someone's attempt to promote skepticism, and should be responded to as such.

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"...it's asked because people use it as a vehicle to promote skepticism." (Dante)

Well rounded off. If you added "Primacy of Consciousness" to skepticism, that'd be my experience.

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Again, you translate wrong. That's not what the question is supposed to make you think. That isn't what it is leading to. This is not a difficult point to wrap your head around.

You well formulated what it isn't but never indicated what it is. I think that this kind of questions creates bad PR for philosophy as a meaningless word game.

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This question isn't so prevalent in popular culture because people are concerned about what the concept "sound" refers to. It's asked because people use it as a vehicle to promote skepticism.

I think that is why some rational people choose to take the question "seriously" and give the skeptic a rational answer. I'm not personally concerned with what popular culture is concerned with when i address the question.

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If a tree falls in the forest without any consequence to any conscious being, then who cares?

Really: that is the answer! If there is NO EVIDENCE, then any claims about the friggin' tree are arbitrary, so stop wasting time with them.

Having said that, toodles! -- I need to go visit my Lunar friends now, they are having a problem with trees falling soundlessly again ...

- ico

If taken at face value this is the answer this question deserves. If the real meaning behind it is an appeal to skepticism like Dante pointed out then there is a point in discussing it at the present time while many or most people in the world would be lured into their, "But how do you really know?" trap. In that case then there's nothing wrong with discussing it on an Objectivist philosophy forum in an attempt to have a rational answer to the question. In other words, it's a thought experiment for an important philosophical principal, not about a concrete question nobody actually cares about.

Whether the correct answer is yes because it creates sound waves or no because nothing is around to hear them, I'm not a 100%. But that is a totally different way of approaching this question then the skeptical version of "we can never know for certain".

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