When I was in college, shortly after I declared philosophy as my major, I came home for winter break. At Christmas, I was talking to my uncle. I told him I was a philosophy major, and his reaction was, “That’s the tree in the forest thing, right?” I chuckled and said yes. The funny thing is, in all of the philosophy classes I’ve taken and all of the philosophy papers and books I’ve read, not one person has ever brought the tree in the forest up. It’s one of the most famous philosophical questions for non-philosophers, but philosophers don’t seem to care at all.
The question of whether it makes a noise is, I think, supposed to be unanswerable. If the tree falls with no witnesses, there’s no way to know if it makes a noise or not. It’s supposed to make you think, not be answered. But it never struck me as unanswerable. It’s obvious, to me, that it does not make a noise. Essentially, I think that vibrations and noise are not the same thing. In order for vibrations to become a sound, they need to be heard. They need to interact with a listener. No witnesses means no noise.
I don’t know why this episode has been rattling around in my head lately. But it’s made me think. Is this topic, the tree in the forest, worth a whole essay. It could be kind of fun to write, but is anyone going to read it? If a writer writes a piece and there’s no one around to read it. . .