This is a popular philosophical question, ‘If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ Irish idealist philosopher George Berkeley is popularly known for first proposing this question. First off a couple of scenarios before I give my answers:

Watching from a great distance…

Imagine you’re watching a tree being felled by lumberjacks and you’re watching it unfold with your binoculars from a great distance. As the chainsaw makes its terminal cut, the tree leans gradually and finally topples over; TIMBER! So it finally hits the ground, can you hear it? Think now, you’re at a great distance many kilometers away equipped with powerful binoculars (Allo Allo anyone?) witnessing all this.

The Atmosphere

In this philosophical thought experiment, the key element that’s often failed in being mentioned is this: No one mentions the damn atmosphere. Think about it like this, imagine some alien planet that has tree-like plants, these trees live in close proximity to one another just like a forests. These forests however are rooted on a strange planet that lacks an atmosphere, the planet’s surface shares it’s interface with the vacuum of space; no air! So should one of them collapse and crash down colliding with the extraterrestrial terrain. Would that tree make a sound?

Answering the question

If a tree does fall in the woods somewhere and nobody is around to hear it, would this event make a sound? First, the tree is crashing down towards the ground and upon collision generates mechanical pressure waves which cause brief disturbances in the surrounding air. Second, sounds are those pressure waves able to be perceived as auditory phenomena.

In the first scenario, I’m confident in saying that you’ll see the tree crashing down, but hear no crashing sound from it because of the great distance. In the second, there is no medium to propagate any mechanical waves to become sound! So, if you were far enough away, or if you had some sci-fi vacuum shield in front of you. Then you would not hear it! This is because to hear a sound or not all depends on the sound wave’s success in reaching your eardrums. It’s that simple!

I will end this short article with a quote from Johnny Vegas:

‘if the tree fell down and there was no one to see it fall, it should still be upright!’

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