If A Tree Falls In The Forest …

January 8, 2009

It’s an old and fine question: If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around, does it make a sound?

After careful consideration, I am going to conclude: No.

Sound is the result of energy colliding with a receptor, right? Our eardrums pick up sound. So do microphones. But if the receptor isn’t there, the sonic energy just dissipates. Did you hear that tree fall in the forest 50 miles away just now? No? Why not? Oh, because you weren’t close enough to hear it. Can you hear your neighbours argue about dinner? No? Why not? Because their house is too far away. Wait, you can? Get a better apartment.

If nobody’s there to hear it, there is no sound. I rest my case.

This is helping me choose my new career path. Right now, it’s a tossup between theoretical physicist and actor, playing Arab bad guy No. 5 on 24.



  1. It just goes to show that existence is perception, thus entirely defeating the “Do We Exist?” argument.

  2. Once again you and I are on the same wavelength. The tree makes a pressure wave, yet with no ear to convert said wave to sound, there is but silence. Oh, and the sound of one hand clapping is a very subtle whoosh. Next week we discuss how high is up.(hint, it has to do with the depth of your particular planet’s gravity well.) 😉

  3. This is the sort of thing we spend hours talking about during the show at work, opinions varied – one of my co-workers is a former sound op. and pointed out that when the tree hits the ground the sound waves will cause vibration in the earth which would mean all the critters minding their own business under ground would sense the vibrations and since most of those would be critters that are deaf…

    It’s a fun thing to chat about :):)

  4. “If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is around, does it make a sound?”

    Celestialteapot has a point there, assuming that this forest is located in our own Biosphere, then there must be some animal or being around with the necessary receptive organs or paw sensitivity. Thus the question in case could only be possible on some imaginative planet or an isolated laboratory.

    But What I think the dilemma is here is the phrasing of the question . It implies the tree makes a sound . But you’re reasoning as I understood it is as follows:

    1. Tree falling down creates energy (waves)
    2. Receptive organ converts energy to ‘sound’

    Can we designate the energy created by the tree falling down as ‘sound’ or does it only become sound upon hitting the eardrum . That’s where Adm.Marius puts in a pretty immutable argument.

    Also , does anyone know how this conflate with Quantum Physics? ( of which my understanding is negligible)
    Do sound-waves become unstable when we do not perceive them?

    Bwt Kumar “Existence is perception” , would you say our reasoning or rationale is part of perception? We can perceive things , but do we trust all of it as reality.If you saw a ghost at night , would you ‘reason’ and conclude it must’ve been an illusion or don’t use your ‘reason ‘ at all and say it just IS?

  5. eeek, my apologies for the glaring grammatical errors .
    It’s 1:27 AM!

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