If A Tree Falls On A Distant Planet…Does It Make A Sound?

Are there any unobserved events in the universe, let alone on Earth, or an actual universe at all?

We have all heard the question about an unobserved tree falling in the woods, and whether or not it makes a sound. Naive realists have set up camp firmly in the “of course it does” territory, while those with imaginations, curiosity and genuine skepticism are not quite so sure.

And yet there is a problem with this question that goes unacknowledged. Are only human ears a determining factor? What about the thousands of creatures in the woods? The rabbits, deer, squirrels, birds, insects? Do they not have valid perceptions? And what of the trees themselves? Do they not have some self-awareness and ability to perceive events within their environment? Even materialist science is starting to highly question that notion.

So a better question might be – Can a phenomena occur without an observer?

And also – Is there anywhere there is not an observer?

If even the most simple single and multi-cellular entities have some rudimentary awareness of their self and their environment, then we have observed observers in even the most unthinkable places on Earth.

This line of thinking appeals to me because there is one question which philosophical Idealism has been unsatisfying in answering, which is whether or not there could be aliens from outer space, or even an outer space at all.

From an Idealist perspective, it is possible that the entire universe is just an infinite canvas from which the minds which share our Earth experience may expand, which is to say that it doesn’t really exist in the hard and absolute way that naive realists believe, but is being constructed through interactive processes of observation. From this angle it becomes hard to imagine any alien beings, as they would have to emerge merely from the Earth experience consciousness, and not literally come from a literal out there.

However if the entire universe is just teeming with minds, little placeholders, then the experience of a universe could extend far beyond human minds and consciousness. It could, in fact, suggest a new kind of realism in which things exists as they are beyond human minds, but not beyond minds in general, since minds occupy the entire universe in much the same way they do a forest of allegedly falling trees.

The deepest philosophical questions, like the hard problem of consciousness and the split between dualism and monism or materialism and idealism, are all asked in a highly anthropocentric context. Because we do not recognize the possibility of non-human minds being as potent, effective or complex as our own – we ignore the deepest questions in a way that recognizes those other minds as also being valid considerations.

Perhaps this consensual illusion that we think of as reality is only minutely affected by human minds. This symphony of existence may have tones, frequencies and layers that we cannot even hear. Perhaps our perceived environmental crises is a manifestation of our current discordant contributions to that symphony, bad notes being struck by our failure to recognize the complex mental entities stretching infinitely through forests and the universe alike.

In other words, maybe humans are just way too into ourselves. Not that there is anything wrong with self-love, but love also comes from the ability to accept and recognize the other, and love that sees only itself cannot be long sustained. In light of that, are our tendencies towards cynicism, despair and nihilism really that out of place? And if they fall where there is no one there to hear them – can you dance to it?

Follow up article: If A Deaf Person Screams In The Vacuum of Space Does It Make A Sound?



4 thoughts on “If A Tree Falls On A Distant Planet…Does It Make A Sound?

    1. There is no way to verify that it does, therefore there is no reason to work from an a priori assumption that it does.


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