If a tree falls and there’s nobody around… there is an answer

Q: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A: No. Sound is a vibration, transmitted to our senses through the mechanism of the ear, and recognized as sound only to our nerve centers. The falling of the tree or any other disturbance will produce vibrations of the air. If there were no ears to here, there will be no sound.1

Well that was a lot easier than I thought it’d be. And all these years I thought otherwise…

1 Scientific American, Apr 5, 1884, pg 218.

Copyright ryanerickson.com © 2007-2011; This post was released on 13 January 2011 at 18:03R. (Digital Fingerprint: 5e6541bd23rre ( )
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Allen Sheaprd

The answer implies “If we are not aroud – it does not count” -Yet we seek out and vlaue areas of the world we have not been around nor touched! A new place – untouched by human hands is called paradise.

I disagree with the definition and the conclusion. Alot has changed since 1884 🙂


It seems to me that there is a big difference between the scientific answer and the philosophical answer. It is true that sound is created by vibrations striking the ear drum. However, in a more philosophical sense it points to the tendency we all have to feel like things that don’t happen directly to us aren’t “real”. The reality is that, when a tree falls (or there’s a genocide in Darfur, or another suicide bombing in Afghanistan), it happens whether we are aware of it or not and its effects are just as devastating. When it’s your house that the tree is falling on, you know it’s real.

Ryan Erickson

@Mr. GovLoop; Amazing indeed- but I doubt the cars faired too well

@Tara* and Allen; I admit I don’t concur with the answer; however, I found it a rather interesting starting point for a discussion at work (we have a lot of time to kill sometimes).


@Ryan: I agree. It’s a very good starting point for a discussion! And I do think that the 1884 Scientific American answer is correct in a logical science-based way. This question has just taken on much more meaning than the simple scientific question of what actually constitutes sound. But I’ve studied audio production, so the question is interesting to me on both levels! 🙂

Allen Sheaprd


Its an interesting point to start talking on. If something happens, makes a sound but no one is around to hear it – does it matter?

One could re-write it at “If someone posts and no one reads it – is it still an entry?” To which many reply – yes. People have been making grafittie for thousands of years. Romans even had grafittie. People like to post things even if there is no way to be sure it will be read. In your first case heard.

For a brain puzzel – ask “Does concreate hold briks together or apart?”