Hanging on the wall at The Floridian (home of the world's best Cuban) down in Treasure Island is the sign in the above picture. It is a funny sign, a take off on the famous "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound"? The former is designed to make people snicker at its cuteness. In fact it is one of my favorites. I love that sign. The latter is, in fact, a serious philosophical question. One wouldn't think so, however, would one?
Out of all the philosophical questions or schools of thought we could have spent time on today, why did I choose this one? Well, the above sign of course, but also to let you know that simple sounding questions sometimes have difficult answers.
My first response (and perhaps yours, too) would be to say, why yes, of course, you idiot, it's simple physics. A tree falls, it makes a sound. That response would be too simple. Actually, today, we aren't going to look at the physics of it but rather the other nuances, which, in our case, means making it more complicated than it has to be, since, after all, isn't that the way of philosophy?
So let's look at this philosophically. I think it makes a sound because sound waves are going to emanate from the fall. Vibrations, if you will. However, and here is where it starts to get tricky. I am assuming that everyone receives those vibrations in the same manner I do, which would be in the form of a crash. However, maybe you don't receive those vibrations quite like that, maybe you hear those waves like a motorcycle being revved up. In that case I hear a tree falling but you hear a cycle going by. In my case if a tree falls int eh forest and I am there to hear it, it makes a noise, but you will not have the same experience as me. Right for me, but not for you, therefore one cannot make a proclamation about the tree falling.
There was a philosopher named Hume who was one of the dullest reads ever. I couldn't stand him because his writing so so darn dry. And yes, there are some who write with great expression and excitement. Hume, however, didn't. He would say about this argument at whereas in most cases the tree makes noise whether or not we are around, we cannot always assume that, just because our experience tell us so. An example would be, say you have bird feeder (Pat, this is for you) and every morning when you wake up there are birds out there feeding. Every single day each day. You will begin to think that that is the norm, but one day you come out and there are no birds. You have established that the norm or rule is that those birds will be at your feeder. Any number of things can happen to make it not so that one day and now you think that a rule has been broken. There was no rule to start with. The birds simply mad it a habit, and then one day they didn't. There were no fast rules, but you assumed there was. Now let's apply that logic to our falling tree. We assume due to physics and our own logic and maybe experience, that each and every tree that falls will make a sound. But that is our assumption, perhaps one time it won't, due to various conditions.
So if a tree falls in the forested no one is there to hear it, we can't know for sure if it makes a sound. Logically we say it should, but unless someone is there we can't be positive. You assume it will, but, hey, you aren't there. maybe this is the one time, like Pat's birds, that it doesn't.
But wait, and this is one of the fun things about philosophy. Many issues are like layers of an onion, just keep peeling. Like Dr. LaMore said many times, "keep going." There was a school of thought called Idealism. It says that everything that exists is just our perception. Things are just clumps (my word) of ideas and thoughts. God coordinates these clumps, or perceptions, so we all think alike. God, therefore, makes us all hear falling trees in the forest, giving us the impression, if not the actual fact. And guess what, there is another school of thought that says the tree doesn't really exist, but I'm not going into that. Mull all that over your morning coffee and cinnamon roll.
While I was investigating this
The real answer, of course, is what you believe. For me, I take it on faith that trees exist in a forest whether or not someone is there to see them. I also believe that if a tree falls it will make noise. I don't have to be there to see it fall or hear it crash. I am clearly siding on my sensory perception that I have learned from walking in forests, watching TV and reading.
For the final word, I present who I think is the greatest 20th century philosopher, Gary Larsen. He wrote the Far Side comics for years and remains my favorite for laugh out-loud humor. He weighs in on today's subject nicely.