A Tree Fell and Other Wisdom

A tree fell in the woodsQuick philosophical note. If a tree fell in the woods and no one heard it, did it make a sound? No. When the tree falls, it creates compression waves, not sounds. It is only when something with an ear that can interpret those compression waves that a sound is created. Thus: no listener, no sound.

Oh! You thought it was a philosophic question?! So I guess what you want to know is if reality exists if no one is around to experience it.

Grasshopper: let me answer this question with a story. The great philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was standing in the middle of a flower bed in a public park lost in thought. A constable saw him and yelled out, “Who do you think you are!” Schopenhauer, driven out of his reverie, looked at the constable and said, “If only I knew the answer to that!”

In other words: your guess is as good as mine. Well, maybe not quite as good as mine, because I’ve given this a lot of thought. No, I take that back: giving it a lot of thought doesn’t actually make for a better opinion.

When I was a kid, like most people, it occurred to me that maybe all of what I thought of as reality didn’t really exist. The only thing that existed was me. This is what the Solipsists believe. But over time, I came to see that as a primitive mode of thinking. Until recently, when I started to think that maybe there was more to it than I had thought. Think of it this way: our senses are really just input devices to a kind of virtual reality. What’s more, reality doesn’t make any sense itself. So why not assume that when I die this all goes away. As far as my consciousness goes, it does go away. (Question for people who think heaven exists: do you really think that your consciousness would survive the journey? Note: that’s a rhetorical question; I’m not interested in your answers.)

Here’s the thing, Grasshopper: wisdom is nothing more than the process of becoming comfortable with the paradoxes of existence. You will never answer these questions, but you can get to a point where you can slip into them like you do a warm bath. Ahh, that feels nice!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “A Tree Fell and Other Wisdom

  1. In some ways, my life-long friend and associate, this is one of your best works. Too bad you wrote the same opinion in 7th grade (lacking the citations, of course).

  2. @Will – You could not be more wrong. First, you didn’t know me in the 7th grade. I met you once during the summer before the 8th grade. We started hanging out a month or two into the 8th grade.

    I do mention in the article that I thought about this stuff when I was young. I see it from a different perspective now. Also: this is a cheeky piece.

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