Tree Philosophy

I'm taking Honors Philosophy here at Henderson State University, and thought my homework for tonight might actually be interesting enough to post. I really have no credibility or relevant knowledge on the topic, but here is my argument. Oh, and my photos too! If you're not crazy about my writing, at least you'll have those.


If a tree falls in the forest and there is nothing there to hear it, does it make a sound? To resolve this, we must first define and set up the problem in a manner that can be evaluated with minimal grounds for falsification.

Split Tree

Tree - a large, wooden body of a plant, we’ll make ours a nice big one, 200ft tall.

Fall – crash from being once-stable. Transformation of potential standing energy to kinetic plummeting energy. Falls must have a crashes, they are not infinitely long.

Forest – group of the defined trees, all peacefully storing potential falling energy.

Nothing – no people, no animals, no microphones, no anything that can hear.

Hear – act of witnessing sound waves.

Sound – wave of energy created typically when something crashes into something.


Now that these definitions are clear and non-falsifiable, the argument can be created. Sound is created when something crashes into something. Hearing is witnessing these sound waves.

Under normal conditions, sound would be made by something (or someone capable of hearing) would be the subject crashing the two objects together, such as a marching band bass drum player hitting a mallet against a drum head. This is a perfect scenario with there being a subject to not only create but also witness the sound waves being emitted. They created them, they witnessed them. Let’s place this drummer on a football stadium, with 10,000 people witnessing this act. The drummer crashes the stick against the drum head, sound waves are emitted, he witnesses it, and the 10,000 people sitting there witness it. The drum stick moved toward the head, it hit the head, sound was created, sound was witnessed. Let’s remove them 10,000 people, and place the drummer by himself in this stadium. The act is repeated. The stick crashed into the head, sound came out, he witnessed it, it happened.

What cannot be confused is the definition of sound and hearing. Both words are used in the problem, “nothing is there to hear it, does it make a sound”. The complications of the question come in that “nothing is there to hear it”.

Let’s have our bass drum player set his drum down face-up and evacuate the stadium. With the stadium empty of it’s 10,000 people and one drummer, there are no witnesses to what is occurring, whether it is a bass drum being struck or a lightning bolt hitting the 50-yard line, no one will see anything, whether anything happens or not. The key here is to gather that just because 10,000 people didn’t see a lightning bolt hit the 50-yard line, there is still going to be a gigantic hole for someone to clean up later. With everyone out, let’s send our drummer up to 35,000ft and have him drop his mallet out of the back of an airplane. With the utmost precision, his mallet falls to the stadium below, striking his bass drum (which he left face-up) and emitting sound waves for the empty, witness-less stadium. Our drummer would be disappointed that no one witnessed this act of immaculate precision, but the act nevertheless did occur, and is a moment in history. No one was there to witness the sound, but from 35,000ft our drummer saw his mallet hit and knows it was a success.

Using our stadium drummer scenario, let’s match it to the trees in the forest. In this setup, “a tree falls in the forest,” our tree crashes into the ground. The forest is empty of witnesses, just like our empty stadium. Our drum mallet becomes a tree (ironically the reversal of it’s history) and our bass drum head becomes the forest ground. The tree falls, just like the mallet dropping from the airplane, and strikes the ground, just like the bass drum in the stadium. Because the tree crashed into the ground, by definition, sound waves were emitted. No person was there to witness these sound waves, but if our drummer happened to be flying overhead at the time, he would have witnessed, visually, the act, and could testify that it did indeed happen, just like his mallet drop on the stadium.

The tree fell, sound was emitted, whether there were witnesses there to “hear” it or not, the act did happen. Nothing has to hear sound for it to exist, just like nothing has to watch a lightning bolt hit the ground for it to make a giant mess. If a tree falls in the forest and there is nothing there to hear it, it makes a sound.

Fallen Mossy Tree

I apologize for any inaccuracies. The rules of the assignment said we couldn't consult any sources. So, this is no internet reading, friend asking, or library time here. Sorry if it's elementary or inaccurate because of it, but this is what I had by myself.