The classic Zen koan “If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” I used to read a lot of Alan Watts and books by various authors about zen buddhism and similar subjects…at this point in my life I prefer not to be influenced in my thinking by reading about “it”…I’ve collected enough “data”…so I just want to do my own thinking and experience my own awareness and insights.
I always held the idea of this koan in mind as a paradox, an unsolvable riddle…that is how I viewed it and I can still see that point of view…but today, it came to mind and it no longer seems paradoxical. Today my answer is , “OF COURSE IT MAKES A SOUND ! ” …the idea that it might fall silently because there is no one there to hear it , seems to me a self-delusion, completely absurd…it says something about how we perceive ourselves as being the center, not only of our own universe, but also projected onto the universe surrounding us…ie the one we live in and are part of and intimately connected to…but to think that the universe we live in depends on us to be what it is …? That’s just plain silly.
@substratum, I don’t know about you, but I am the center of my own universe. Without me to perceive my own existence and the universe around me does any of it really matter? At least to me it wouldn’t. Couldn’t you say the same?
Of course I agree with you in that claiming that something simply does not exist unless we perceive it is a little ridiculous, but perhaps the meaning of the paradox is intended to be taken less literally. If the tree were to make a thunderous crash as it hit the ground, yet there was no one there to hear it, would it really make a difference if the tree were to have hit the ground silently instead?
Perhaps this paradox is analogous to mankind in that we innately seek approval from those around us for our actions, seeking acknowledgment for the noise that we make in the forest. Having someone around to hear the sound of the tree is what ancient conquerors described as glory and honor. If there is no around to see our amazing feats than do they really matter? You can say that they do, but I would say that being the strongest man or woman in the world means nothing unless there is someone to overpower; the same goes for being the smartest or most attractive.
How can you determine reality to be “real” when the self determining it to be “real” is insubstantial???
there is no tree. there is no you, there are no ears to hear
except that we conceive of them & they are
maybe the tree has a self of its own. It is a living thing after all.
But can a tree hear its own bark shredded, peeled back, cracking
when a tree falls what does the tree feel?
it doesnt have a stomach to catch…
I imagine that a tree feels only the slow syrupy sunshine expanding it &
decay dissipating it into the earth
sinking into the soil as into a warm bath
The thing is your atoms and the atoms of the tree are made from the same base matter ejected from a star somewhere
matter is made of energy
were all the same stuff
By all rights when a tree falls anywhere we should all hear it
but we dont
I know people that wouldnt hear it if a tree fell outside their house
let alone the forest
you may think it silly but were all indentured to our own ideas
you create your own perceptions, your own reality
you can choose to live in a world of causality where the rule set of the universe makes it a chore to have free will
or you can live in a world where were all kindred connected by a great quantum heritage
where the universe is bursting with possibilities of which you are and are not a part
wherein you are the tree
& the chainsaw
The important thing is the question
not the answer
its a way to make your mind aware of the possibilities.
Sound is only sound in relation to an ear, or something which perceives sound.
An interesting passage taken from Wikipedia:
Can we assume the unobserved world functions the same as the observed world? – e.g., “does observation affect outcome?”
A similar question does not involve whether or not an unobserved event occurs predictably, like it occurs when it is observed. The anthropic principle suggests that the observer, just in its existence, may impose on the reality observed. However, most people, as well as scientists, assume that the observer doesn’t change whether the tree-fall causes a sound or not, but this is an impossible claim to prove. However, many scientists would argue as follows, “A truly unobserved event is one which realises no effect (imparts no information) on any other (where ‘other’ might be e.g., human, sound-recorder or rock), it therefore can have no legacy in the present (or ongoing) wider physical universe. It may then be recognized that the unobserved event was absolutely identical to an event which did not occur at all.” (this apparent quote has no attribution or reference and none can be found online with reasonable effort). Of course, the fact that the tree is known to have changed state from ‘upright’ to ‘fallen’ implies that the event must be observed to ask the question at all – even if only by the supposed deaf onlooker.
It doesn’t make a sound, it produces air-waves.
Without consciousness to perceive the air wave vibrations, there is no sound.
Just as a red light in a box is not red until you see it, it only gives off photons with a certain wavelength.
The 5 sense let you know the universe is pretty complicated.
@substratum, I think what this story is trying to say is that there is no sound without a listener. Think about it, if nothing in the universe could see, does light exist? Everything is connected in this way. Without a listener, there is only vibrations in the air, and no ‘sound’. It then gets interesting when you think about what might exist that we don’t have the senses or instruments to perceive. For example the electromagnetic spectrum is infinitely large. We can detect visible light with our eyes, but it is completely impossible to imagine what it would be like to actually see gamma rays (rather than a translated image of gamma rays into visible light). We don’t have the senses to see gamma rays, so what it would look like to us is impossible to imagine, and doesn’t exist.
@substratum, It is funny this thread, I was looking up Volcanic eruptions not long ago, and scientists found out that a volcano erupted in 1809 that no one was aware of, but it combined with another volcano at the time created one of the coldest decades in recorded history.
Still to this day, they don’t know where that volcano is. I thought it was cool to show that things happen even though we are completely unaware of it, and the effects can ripple across the world to touch us in strange ways.
Atoms react differently under observation… therefore, who knows!
Although, I’m gonna go more for what @ijesuschrist, says. Humans perceive sound vibrations a certain way. Other animals perceive them a different way. If there is no-one there to perceive them… they’re just vibrations.
@substratum, What I can’t help but to think, in aid of your argument, is that if a tree falls in the forest, but it supposedly doesn’t make a sound because no one is there to hear it, then how does the tree even get to supposedly exist? If the sound of the tree falling doesn’t exist because no one is there to perceive it, then by that same logic the tree wouldn’t even exist because no one is there to perceive it.
I honestly don’t agree with it either, I can’t get my mind convinced that it wouldn’t make a sound. Perhaps I’m not enlightened –perhaps one day I’ll reach an answer, but it’s probably all opinion anyway, and each person has their own view.
Reality is no rendered into existence without something to percieve it.
Although technically the tree could be capable of observing aswell as other forms of life in the surrounding area.
So I guess it would technically exist.
It’d be more appropriate if it was in reference to non organic matter, which would then require a universal observer.
or [email protected], I don’t think “this story” is trying to say anything, it is simply asking the “student” to think.///If there were no light, we wouldn’t even exist. Obviously, the existence of light precedes our own existence…so it can’t depend on our ability to see it in order to “come into being”. The idea that “there is no sound without a listener” is only semantically valid, but I’m not talking about semantics. “Vibrations in the air” are the only physically real aspect of what sound is before we sense it with our “hearing”. ..even if the word “sound” requires a listener, the reality of what sound is in the physical universe does not need you or me or anyone to exist and Be real.
@substratum, I haven’t read the responses in the thread yet, so I’ll come back to the topic at hand later, but I did want to mention this: you write that you used to read a lot of Alan Watts (et al.), but now prefer to not read such works about IT anymore because you have enough data. I used to hold a similar view.
I’ve had a mostly love, slightly hate relationship with Alan Watts. His lectures were responsible for one of my first conscious awakenings, so I would repeat them either dogmatically or privately hate them (given that there was a discord between his teaching and my experience, i.e., my suffering was at an all-time high). Regardless, I thought I understood the man’s writing as truth or (occasionally) falsity. I would alternate in gravitating towards his writing or repelling it. This has happened with many spiritual readings I’ve gone through.
After some more experiences, I’ve found what he and all the others have spoken of directly and no longer have to believe (or disbelieve) their words. I simply have faith in them because I have experienced IT or, maybe more accurately, IT has experienced me.
Don’t dogmatically follow readings, but not reading isn’t going to bring you any closer to IT. Of course, you don’t HAVE to read either.
@plidan, Well if you witness a tree falling, than the air waves will move about and not only reveal themselves to us through the sound we perceive, as observers, but the air waves will also maybe rustle up a few leaves on a nearby tree.
So I’m asking you, only out of curiosity, if a tree falls in a forest not being witnessed, are the leaves on nearby trees, which are also susceptible to air waves, not considered observers? If a recorder is considered an observer, not having a consciousness of any type, then wouldn’t the leaves of a nearby tree be an observer as well? For they will be rustled away by the air waves of the tragedy of their brother tree falling to the ground.
I realize that it could have other effects on the environment as well but I stuck with the leaves of a neighbor tree only do to simplify things.
I have never experienced a point of non existence, and I have never been at the point where I could say my existence/perception began, as in that the moment before I had no perception.
For all I know I could have always existed, and the concept of the timeline of my life is merely an illusion.
@plidan, Your definition of existence is based on perception.
However, without anything to perceive there is no difference if everything exists or nothing exists. Therefore saying that nothing exists without perception is only half the reality.