Beware…There’s Hubris in this Question

“If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?”

This is a very old question, comes in several forms and people go into all sorts of philosophical arguments on the subject while there are branch ‘ofs’ explaining the processes which cause sound and how the Human senses process these.

There’s the warning word ‘Human’

Y’see we, in our indoctrinated and quiet, paradoxically modest arrogance, assume that the only important point to this question is whether a Human hears the action or not. We in our perceived positioning upon this planet have taught ourselves to believe only our perceptions truly matter. We may in our patronising or caring ways acknowledge that our creatures have senses and feelings but at the end of the day, only our perceptions count on the higher level, ie our level.

Yet when you place this question in the context the entirety of all Life upon this world then the question becomes a small piece of introversion and of no consequence to any dweller in any arboreal landscape.

Of course the falling tree makes a noise, every animal within the area will hear that sound and will react as its nature, perception, physical well-being, skills and experience will enable it to. As far as I know every other form of life will respond. And thus the sound will have a relevance. Maybe a creature down the food chain will be alerted to a surprise sound.

Maybe a tree dweller will appreciate this means a change in the dwelling spaces and availability. Just two in a myriad of possibilities. Thus you can be certain when that tree falls over the whole neighbourhood will know about it. Yes there was a sound.

Now some folk might say I am getting environmentalist panties in a bunch and the whole thing is allegorical anyway as it relates to the Human Condition only. To which I say, The Human Condition is only conditional depending on the rest of the planet. Ask anyone in the path of a hurricane as to whether if they were not there would there be a sound and they would give you a rather salty reply about asking such a damn fool question.

We cannot by intellect, philosophical arguments, pleas to rhetoric or applications of logic separate ourselves from the workings of this planet; Ip So Facto; Quid Pro Quo (and any other Latin phrase you care to use in and out of context but only wish to employ to impress or distract.).

Thus the tree falls and there is a noise whether there were any humans around is quite irrelevant to the fact, everyone else in the vicinity heard the event in one form or another and couldn’t care less whether a human was within sensory range or not.

So, the danger is to Us, Humanity assuming our Supremacy in the Overall Scheme of ‘Things’. In this case, there is only ‘Sound’ if a Human can testify to it. Instead of realising we are but part of the entire Life Cycle of this world, we have set ourselves up as Sole Arbiters of the Validity of Events. We have decided the world is ours to preside over. (Now if only we can do something about those inconvenient Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Extreme Metrological Events, Wildfires, Tsunamis etc which do tend to spoil this view).

If we continue on our profligate path, we fail to evolve beyond simple consumption then we will go the way of many life forms before us, and take down a number of others with us. Yet Life will go on, in one form or another. Trees or their equivalents will fall and the sound of their falling will be noticed and recorded by other creatures.

And that question will have vanished, along with its originators.

Beware this question, therefore, as shown, it is loaded with dangerous assumptions, turn your minds away from these vanities.


This question of falling trees and sounds always niggled me but I could never quite formulate the exact detail of my annoyance much less put it into words. It was only when I recently listened to this book :

Other Minds: The Octopus and The Evolution of Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith

That the words I had been searching for began to fall into place. The author is a philosopher with an practical and deep interest in marine life thus approaches the subject from the perspective of two disciplines. This is a work which gives a very interesting view of Life in general and our place.


6 thoughts on “Beware…There’s Hubris in this Question

  1. Roger, well done, sir. Hubris, arrogance, self-centeredness. We are headed to create a planet that is more hostile to humans. The scariest part of the movie and book “Interstellar” is the very first part which showed why humans had to leave Earth. We could no longer grow crops. We should think about that as we do not enough to combat climate change or environmental degradation and vote people out of office whose campaigns are funded by people who want to continue to pollute with impunity. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Keith.
      The lessons of Earth’s history shows that whereas Life continues how it does so depends on the adaptability of the myriad of forms.
      The majority of changes being caused by the planets dynamics and not the actions of one species. You have to look back to the Great Oxidation Event
      To find evidence for that.
      And yet here we are Humanity arguably an extinction event, with the intelligence and perception to realise the damage we are doing.
      It can be argued our failure to grasp this is our own failure to adapt and thus Extinction beckons.
      For those of a more religious frame of mind, there are the accounts in Genesis of The Garden of Eden or the Flood as allegorical warnings.
      Denial can be put down to Arrogance or Fear of facing up to the possibilities of the forces at work on this planet which dwarf the largest of our nuclear weaponry.


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