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

If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around to hear it does it make a sound?
Grace Lupton from Kent (age 5-14)

If a tree falls down in a forest and noone is there to hear it does it make a sound?
Ross from West Midlands (age 5-14)

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3 Responses

  1. Everything that vibrates the air creates the potential for sound, regardless of what conscious being is there to perceive it in the first place. If there is nothing to perceive it occurring, then it could not exist. Sound is a subjective interaction with matter. All sound is, is vibrations through a medium, without humans to perceive it, those vibrations that we call sound, when the tree fell, would make vibrations, but “sound” as we know it, couldn’t exist, since no conscious being was there to interpret those vibrations.

  2. Dear Grace,

    This is an extremely good question and one which philosophers have argued about for many years. My own take on it follows. Others may well disagree but that is what makes this question such fun!!!

    When the tree falls it creates vibrations in the air. Sound, on the other hand is how our brains interpret air vibrations that strike our ear drums. I therefore argue that until the falling tree’s vibrations are interpreted by a human brain there is no sound!!!!!!!

    Hope this adds to your stock of different answers – keep up the questioning.

    Best wishes,

    Brendan.

  3. I’d say the answer is yes. I’d argue that sound is the vibration of air (induced by the tree falling). The above 2 correspondents are arguing that we shouldn’t really call it “sound” until it interacts with a human. I guess that is a fair enough viewpoint, but I think we’re then just arguing about words and not science.
    Fundamentally – does the physical phenomenon (which we perceive as sound) occur whether or not there are any observers? I think the answer to that is yes, and I don’t think there are many people would would argue with that (OK – let’s hear from you then – I realize that this is a big historical question and there will no doubt be much else that has been said on this)

    You might also like to think about what happens if there is no one around to hear the sound, but instead you leave a tape recorder (sorry, I’m getting old – mp3 recorder?) running to record any “sound”.

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