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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it,

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

yes
126
65%
no
67
35%
 
Total votes: 193

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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Dan_1985 » August 8th, 2016, 11:20 am

I do hope your reply comes after our responses...

First, please define 'objective'. But I will continue, anyway, for the sake of time.
Wanderer101 wrote:Argument A (objective reality) is true the tree falls and makes a sound.
Even if a person were present, the tree would not make a sound, either. The movement of the tree causes the surrounding air to move. Only when this movement is perceived (by a creature capable of doing so) does a sound arise. Sound is a mental experience. But for the sake of your point, it could be maintained that the tree does cause air vibrations.

Nevertheless, if I wave my hand, thus moving the air surrounding my hand, do you hear a sound? Why not? The movements just aren't strong enough to reach the ear.
Wanderer101 wrote:Argument B (the tree falls and makes a sound that no one hears therefore there is no sound) subjective reality.
This makes no sense. How can there be an unmade sound by virtue of not being heard? I suggest you consider the difference between 'sound' and 'vibration'.
Wanderer101 wrote:Argument C. Neither argument is true, neither case is true therefore reality is something else. That something else no matter how strange is ultimately the one single absolute truth.
Define 'absolute truth'. Mustn't truth necessarily exist in relation to something else, and thus be relative (not absolute)? If truth were absolute (not contingent upon perception), we would all be omniscient, yet we are not. The fact that knowledge has contingencies precludes truth from not being contingent upon contact - and if the perception of truth depends upon contact, it is not objective.

The only objective truth is that phenomena lack objectivity, and even phenomena's lacking of objectivity itself lacks objectivity.

***

Objectivity
I suppose by 'objective' we mean 'not contingent upon perceptual/cognitive processes'. As physics and QM have shown (as far as my understanding leads me to believe), what we are able to know depends on what we know and perception may be capable of 'collapsing' indeterminate possibility.

If the tree which we presume to have fallen had already been observed by any being capable of doing so, then the tree has already been 'collapsed' into phenomenal existence; therefore, the tree can fall and do its things and not matter a damn bit: We still wouldn't hear it doing so.

Now, I would like to invoke 'conceptual designation'. What does it mean to call something a 'tree', a 'vibration' of air, or a 'sound'?

Tree
It is obvious to see that the tree lacks any intrinsic reality by means of being a composite structure: It is made of parts. The fact that the tree is made of things other than itself - sunlight, water, and soil - shows that there never was any tree to begin with. If you were still to maintain that there is, in fact, a tree, how do you maintain, exactly, that it came into existence? What need does an objective phenomena have for coming into existence if its basis of existence is a mere conceptual abstraction?

In short, any composition lacks any unitary, essential identity by nature of being a compound of phenomena other than its 'self'. The tree can not depend on itself to come into existence before it has come into existence. Self-production or -dependence is not only never observed nor does it make any rational sense. Therefore, the existence of the 'tree' is contingent upon our saying so.

Contact and Sound
So how is it that a tree is capable of producing a vibration? I must invoke an investigation now into the nature of 'contact' and cause and effect.

It seems to be the case that the tree hits the ground and causes a series of events that lead to our perception of a concurrent sound. But for the fall to be the cause of the produced sound, they can neither be concurrent nor non-concurrent. If the tree falls at the same time as the sound is perceived, they can not be maintained as cause and effect, respectively. If they, on the other hand, are non-concurrent, then they can also not be maintained as being cause and effect. If there are a series of causally related events between the fall and the sound, then the analysis of contact still applies, ad infinitum: A series of contactless interaction does not result in actual contact.

There is no logical premise for a falling tree producing a perceived sound except for the non-analytic acceptance of the mere appearance of the event, which must necessarily be not objective by virtue of being an appearance (which is perceptual).

Vibration
The vibration of air molecules is not a discrete reality in-and-of itself. After all, aren't air molecules always in constant motion? And what is motion without reference to a fixed point of reference? There is no such thing, therefore, as an objective, non-relative state of motion. Why does the movement of the air molecules have any particular significance just because a tree has fallen if not due to the superimposition of the perceiving consciousness capable of doing so?

It is the conceptual mind which conceives of discrete realities where there are, in fact, none. Perception is only possible because phenomena are not discrete realities: They lack self-objectivity.

***

It is upon the basis of the above investigations that a so-called objective view of the entire process can not be maintained. If all of the required components - tree, vibration, sound, and mind - were to exist irrespective of each other (i.e., objectively), neither would happen, at all.

All components of the process we are investigating here are necessarily contingent upon conceptual designation, which must necessarily depend upon a perceiving consciousness. Objectivity is also illogical.
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Quotidian » August 8th, 2016, 8:21 pm

Wanderer101 wrote:My goal for this discussion is not to see who is right or who is wrong. My goal is to see if there is an ultimate truth and then see if we can all agree on what that truth is. Is there one single absolutely correct answer for this question? There are usually 3 possibilities that can be true in any disagreement like this.
Argument A (objective reality) is true the tree falls and makes a sound.
Argument B (the tree falls and makes a sound that no one hears therefore there is no sound) subjective reality.
Argument C. Neither argument is true, neither case is true therefore reality is something else. That something else no matter how strange is ultimately the one single absolute truth.

Hopefully can we agree with those statements. There is only one, true, real and correct reality.
I didn't post to this forum for the last two years and this thread is still going! It's like one of those fires you get in an underground coal mine, just keeps smouldering away!

Anyway, Wanderer, to address your point of whether there is 'only one, true, real and correct reality' - I will take issue with that. But to do so, is obviously a very difficult undertaking, because it is natural to believe that what you're proposing is fundamentally correct, that things are a certain way, and we either know that, or we don't.

The difficulty with that view, obvious though it might seem, is that it is not taking into account the fact that knowledge of anything - trees, forests, propositions, what exists, what doesn't exist - is after all "knowledge of something". And knowledge is something which requires 'a mind which knows'.

Now in the mathematical sciences, this fact is dealt with by speaking only of that which can be made subject to quantitative analysis, i.e., measured in mathematical terms. This goes back to Galileo, and to the application of Newton's laws of motion. That methodology, however, relies on the identification and division of 'primary and secondary' qualities. 'Primary qualities' are, in this methodology, just those qualities which are amenable to mathematical analysis and quantification.

Galileo said that those qualities are the ones which we can accurately predict according to scientific theories. Whereas, it was said, the secondary qualities of things - colour, taste, odour, etc - where inessential and could be accounted for, or ultimately reduced to, the 'primary qualities'.

I think there is a strong tendency since that time, to believe that the primary qualities of things - their mass, location, and so on - are what is fundamentally real irrespective of the presence or absence of any observers. That is in any case the main presumption of scientific realism and materialism.

Now in one sense, that is true - it's not as if things dissappear when not being looked at. But in another sense, it is the mind of the observer that provides the framework within which judgements - even the judgements of 'primary qualities' are made. The mind provides a perspective and a point of view within which judgements about what exists and what doesn't exist are grounded; it provides the units in terms of which those measurements are made. So the idea of 'what exists apart from any observer' is in that sense a conceit. We assume what is real in the absence of any observation, but we don't actually know that.
(Which is the main point of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.)

The problem is that, as you are discussing in your other thread on QM, physics itself has undercut realism. Einstein asked one of his friends once, whilst out on one of his afternoon walks, 'does the moon not continue to exist when you're not looking at it?' It was a rhetorical question - of course, he would say, we know it continues to exist. But I think the reason Einstein asked that question was because of the fact that science itself seemed to be undermining the kind of realist attitude that he naturally assumed about the world. It was a shock to him that his sense of the reality of external objects could be called into question. And that question he asked goes right back to the original question which has been debated on this thread for the last nine years!

-- Updated August 9th, 2016, 11:27 am to add the following --
Dan_1985 wrote:All components of the process we are investigating here are necessarily contingent upon conceptual designation, which must necessarily depend upon a perceiving consciousness. Objectivity is also illogical.
Whilst I am very sympathetic to your position, I think we have to be very careful here. 'Objectivity' is important, as far as it goes. If you were appearing in a legal dispute, for example, or having a photograph judged at an exhibition, you would want your judge to be objective. You wouldn't accept it if the judge had some grudge against you, or if one of his relatives was competing against you. Why not? Because then he or she would not be dealing with you objectively.

I think the point Buddhist philosophy makes is that there is no ultimate objectivity, because there is no 'ultimate object'. But Nāgārjuna's philosophy fully accepts the 'two truths', conventional and ultimate; so that even though there are no 'ultimate objects', within the conventional domain, objectivity is both possible and desireable. I don't think Buddhism undercuts science, as such; it simply points out that science doesn't have the last word in all respects.
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Dan_1985 » August 8th, 2016, 11:56 pm

@ Quotidian
Quotidian wrote:Whilst I am very sympathetic to your position, I think we have to be very careful here. 'Objectivity' is important, as far as it goes. If you were appearing in a legal dispute, for example, or having a photograph judged at an exhibition, you would want your judge to be objective. You wouldn't accept it if the judge had some grudge against you, or if one of his relatives was competing against you. Why not? Because then he or she would not be dealing with you objectively.

I think the point Buddhist philosophy makes is that there is no ultimate objectivity, because there is no 'ultimate object'. But Nāgārjuna's philosophy fully accepts the 'two truths', conventional and ultimate; so that even though there are no 'ultimate objects', within the conventional domain, objectivity is both possible and desireable. I don't think Buddhism undercuts science, as such; it simply points out that science doesn't have the last word in all respects.
You are right, of course. I often use the word 'objective' carelessly. I do mean 'ultimate object', not impartial consideration or non-subjectivity.

I think the tree does not make a sound in the conventional nor in the ultimate sense. This is what I was aiming to articulate in my reply, but I prefer your reply more. In the conventional sense, the mind creates the sound. In the ultimate sense, it's all designated by thought and there is no 'actual' sound.
Quotidian wrote:Now in one sense, that is true - it's not as if things dissappear when not being looked at. But in another sense, it is the mind of the observer that provides the framework within which judgements - even the judgements of 'primary qualities' are made. The mind provides a perspective and a point of view within which judgements about what exists and what doesn't exist are grounded; it provides the units in terms of which those measurements are made. So the idea of 'what exists apart from any observer' is in that sense a conceit. We assume what is real in the absence of any observation, but we don't actually know that. (Which is the main point of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.)
It seems that you accept to a certain level, at least, that objects depend on thought or the mind, though you seem to agree that the moon continues to exist when not looked at.

If the qualities of the moon (or tree) are contingent upon the mind which knows, then how can we maintain anything about the world in independence of the mind?

Is it like how in dreams all objects are made of the same dream stuff? So, when we are awake, everything is just made of universe-stuff (energy or whatever) and it is simply the mind that partitions the world into apparent phenomena?

Perhaps it is just a conceit - but what isn't?

Thanks!
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Burning ghost » August 9th, 2016, 12:55 am

I think I said what I wanted to in my last post as response to your question. Also the last couple of posts include some.of my thoughts.

I could go further into this but I'd be going back to Galileo like Quot. has.
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Quotidian » August 9th, 2016, 1:40 am

Dan_1985 wrote:It seems that you accept to a certain level, at least, that objects depend on thought or the mind, though you seem to agree that the moon continues to exist when not looked at.

If the qualities of the moon (or tree) are contingent upon the mind which knows, then how can we maintain anything about the world in independence of the mind?
It's a deep question. As I said before, there are two levels of analysis. On the level of conventional truth, the moon exists, and we exist, independently of each other. That is how we tend to understand everything. But on the level of ultimate reality, we understand that what we know of the moon is dependent on our own sensory perception, which is classified and categorised by us as 'moon' (or whatever object we're looking at). This is because, we're not actually outside of, or apart from, reality itself; our human reality is constituted by our human sensory and intellectual conceptions. That doesn't make the moon less real, but it does mean that there is an important sense in which the objective domain is still 'mind-dependent'. That is why nothing is ultimately or completely objective; in Buddhist terms, subject and object 'co-arise'.

(Have a look at a book called The Central Philosophy of Buddhism by T R V Murti. It compares Kant, Hegel, Berkeley and other Western idealists, with Buddhism. This book is criticized by some on account of it being too 'Kantian' but I found it extremely helpful in finding my way into Buddhist philosophy.)
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Empiricist-Bruno » August 10th, 2016, 10:22 am

Logic_ill,

I wish to inform you that I disagree with you with respect to your statement about a recorder having picked up the sounds of the falling tree: I do not agree to say that a recorder hears anything. In my opinion, what a recorder does is to create bones with sounds.(The recorder memorizes the sounds but for a machine, this memorization does not involve any sense of hearing.) During the replay, the recorder produces sound using the bone it made while the tree fell but these newly produced sounds are still contingent to someone being there to hear them. To say that the recorder hear the sounds is to project human or living being attributes onto the recorder.

Yes, I agree that the recorder's bone stands as evidence that a sound could have been made by the falling tree had someone been there to hear it when it fell.

The bone that the mind creates when it hears the tree falling is not sound; what is sound is the passage of this bone into the cognitive awareness of someone.
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Quotidian » August 11th, 2016, 3:42 am

@empiricist-bruno

Bones?
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Belinda » August 11th, 2016, 5:45 am

Quotidian wrote:@empiricist-bruno

Bones?
Come on Quotidian ! It's a good enough metaphor for an electronic recording of physical events.

I'll spell it out if you like. :P
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Quotidian » August 11th, 2016, 5:46 pm

Curious expression, that's all.
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Empiricist-Bruno » August 18th, 2016, 5:18 pm

Hi Forum,

I just finished reading the 59 pages now. How interesting. (Berkley is my favorite philosopher.) Now I feel I know Kanty things better. Thanks you all. I now know what I cannot know much better. :)

I now want to share some of my thoughts as I updated myself reading this thread:

1) Who actually makes the noise? I mean, if I were the beaver that cut the tree, I would want credit for the sound! (We heard the beaver and not the tree.) I feel this is important. No where does it say the tree fell on its own, so how can it be held responsible for the sound it makes or doesn't make? If there is any sound, it would have to be that of nature and in this case the tree would be nature's means.

2) When the tree fell, did it make sound deliberately or inadvertently? Is sound that one makes inadvertently sound of one's own? Okay, the tree did deliberately raised the mass that created the sound, but still, you don't blame a drum stick for making a noise do you? I feel that in order to make sound, you have to want to make sounds otherwise, you are just making noise. Okay, I admit this may just be a fancy word play. Who knows what nature is doing?

3) Why would the world have to be before us? Is there any evidence that it isn't behind us? Or at both locations at the same time, like a negative and a positive of a photo?

4) About sound waves: if they exist without being sound, how can we hear them? If the answer is that they trigger sound, then why aren't they called rather trigger waves? And can't these alleged wave also trigger vibrations? Ho no! They are vibrating to begin with, right? I find this somewhat surreal.

5) About sound/hearing being the two faces of the same coin. I don't know. Some people just seem to hear what they want...

6) What about deaf people, when they think, does this thinking make a sound? Although everything is silent in their world, surely they can still hear themselves quietly thinking (lucky them in a way). Isn't that the only sound they are cognizant about? This ties in to my point 3: if language can start off from within our biological self (or mind, or life, or inside) shouldn't that count as sound? If it does, then how do we know that upon hearing a tree falling, we aren't hearing any "real' tree but rather we are hearing our biological inner voice feeling something that exists within us, the tree falling? No unknowable sound waves outside of us are needed in this scenario.

7) Lots of things that were said in this thread really make no sense to me, and so I don't expect that what I say here will make much sense to everyone, for sure.

8) I think that the essence of the division on this question has to do with hatred of other people's farthing: If the smell is created by the mind of the person that breaths contaminated air then it looks like it is that person which is guilty of having produced an horrible smell, which is a totally inconceivable reality to some: it is not their fault and so the smell must be in the gas of the other, just as the sound must come from the tree. It's a matter of having a reasonable or simple inner world order. If I hold my hand above a candle light, it has to be the (outside, real) flame that burns and hurts my hand. The idea that the fire would come from within one's self to do the same thing is just too unbelievable. They think, "would anything coming from myself to hurt me? No, that can't be." This is the answer that some people desperately want to hold on to, because it fits in their scheme of things: evil comes from outside, good from inside and philosophies must acknowledge this, their first principle. I'm not among those, even if I still believe to exist within their minds too.

9) I didn't really like the idea that sounds are experienced. I feel that they just pass, as in we pass. We are the sounds. We are not experiencing ourselves; we just are.

Finally, I'm going to give Quotidian more detail on my use of the word "bone"

I'm using the metaphor to try and help people understand a few things:
1) a)The recorder's sound is obviously not that of the tree falling: It is factually the sound of the energy of the electric engine that powers the recorder but:
b) it still does appear to sound like a tree falling. In this respect the recording is a drugged sound, a drug enabling you to have a delusion.
2) I used the word bone because in the rock record of natural history, bones are turned into fossils and we make these fossils speak to us and so this process is more in line with what is actually occurring when you hear the recorder than the belief that the recorder gives you the sound that was produced back then, when the tree fell. The fossils aren't the dinosaurs and the tape not the sound of the past. This is the point I tried to drive in with this analogy. And by the way, I don't consider the rock record a drug because it isn't meant to fool us and isn't using the machine's power to inform us.
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Quotidian » August 19th, 2016, 8:25 pm

Empiricist Bruno wrote:Lots of things that were said in this thread really make no sense to me, and so I don't expect that what I say here will make much sense to everyone, for sure.
The question that the OP raises is not one that requires an analysis of the nature of sound, or even of the nature of cognition. It's a question about the nature of reality. What the question is asking is - is reality something that exists independent of observation?

Now it seems like a trick question, to which the obvious answers is: of course! For instance, we know the Earth existed for billions of years before there were any life-forms on it, let alone h. sapiens, which has only come along in the immediate past (in geological terms).

So that argument is that the earth existed prior to human existence. even if a concept of the earth did not. And that seems perfectly sensible.

But here is where this can be challenged. 'Prior to' is a human concept. Why? Because, by what is the sequence of events ordered so that some events are past, and some events are yet to come? And in terms of what units of measurement is time estimated? I think that this has to imply a perspective that occupies a point in the sequence of events. Time consists of change, and the change can only be given in terms of the relationships of events. What provides the continuity that makes the connection between all of the moments into a sequence, comprising past, present and future, if not the mind? I don't think that 'time', in this analysis, exists independently of the observing mind: it is what the mind brings to experience, so as to order it in such a way that it is intelligible; which is one of the main points of Kant's philosophy:
[Kant once remarked] 'If I take away the thinking subject, the whole material world must vanish, as this world is nothing but the phenomenal appearance in the sensibility of our own subject, and is a species of this subject's representations.' … [An] objection would run: 'Everyone knows that the earth, and therefore the universe, existed for a long time before there were any living beings, and therefore any perceiving subjects. But according to what Kant has just been quoted as saying, that is impossible.'

Schopenhauer's defence of Kant on this score was twofold. First, the objector has not understood to the very bottom the Kantian demonstration that time is one of the forms of our sensibility. The earth, say, as it was before there was life, is a field of empirical enquiry in which we have come to know a great deal; its reality is no more being denied than is the reality of perceived objects in the same room. The point is, the whole of the empirical world in space and time is the creation of our understanding, which apprehends all the objects of empirical knowledge within it as being in some part of that space and at some part of that time: and this is as true of 'the earth before there was life' as it is of the pen I am now holding a few inches in front of my face and seeing slightly out of focus as it moves across the paper.
Bryan Magee, Schopenhauer's Philosophy p 107

And something similar even comes up in physics:
The problem of including the observer in our description of physical reality arises most insistently when it comes to the subject of quantum cosmology - the application of quantum mechanics to the universe as a whole - because, by definition, 'the universe' must include any observers. Andrei Linde has given a deep reason for why observers enter into quantum cosmology in a fundamental way. It has to do with the nature of time. The passage of time is not absolute; it always involves a change of one physical system relative to another, for example, how many times the hands of the clock go around relative to the rotation of the Earth. When it comes to the Universe as a whole, time looses its meaning, for there is nothing else relative to which the universe may be said to change. This 'vanishing' of time for the entire universe becomes very explicit in quantum cosmology, where the time variable simply drops out of the quantum description. It may readily be restored by considering the Universe to be separated into two subsystems: an observer with a clock, and the rest of the Universe. So the observer plays an absolutely crucial role in this respect. Linde expresses it graphically: 'thus we see that without introducing an observer, we have a dead universe, which does not evolve in time', and, 'we are together, the Universe and us. The moment you say the Universe exists without any observers, I cannot make any sense out of that. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of everything that ignores consciousness...in the absence of observers, our universe is dead'.


Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe Just Right for Life, p 271

I know this is a very difficult point. Seeing it requires something like a 'gestalt shift' - a change in perspective. But I think that is what this question is about.
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Iapetus » August 20th, 2016, 4:49 am

Reply to Quotidian:

I have been reluctant to enter this conversation because I have not read all the posts and I have assumed that all that could be said has been said.

You, however, have prompted my interest because you seem to be one of the few who has been able to see through the wood to the trees:

The question that the OP raises is not one that requires an analysis of the nature of sound, or even of the nature of cognition. It's a question about the nature of reality. What the question is asking is - is reality something that exists independent of observation?



I agree absolutely. I think that most of the conversation about sound, and even of much of the physics, entirely misses the point.

But here is where this can be challenged. 'Prior to' is a human concept. Why? Because, by what is the sequence of events ordered so that some events are past, and some events are yet to come? And in terms of what units of measurement is time estimated? I think that this has to imply a perspective that occupies a point in the sequence of events. Time consists of change, and the change can only be given in terms of the relationships of events. What provides the continuity that makes the connection between all of the moments into a sequence, comprising past, present and future, if not the mind?



Your interpretation is astute and I think it should provide the grounding for further discussion.

There are a whole load of things I would like to add but I shall try to keep it to a minimum for the time being. In terms of the ‘events’ which you mention, I think it may help to think of them as claims to something happening because it is the ‘reality’ of these things which concerns us and we need to examine the degree to which they are ‘real’.

If I am in the forest and I see and hear the tree fall, then my senses confirm that an event has taken place. The whole thing may be an illusion but that is a line which, in this context, I am not interested in taking, though it is certainly not irrelevant. It may well be the first tree I have ever seen falling, though I know that trees fall all the time. Or, rather, I believe. I believe because I choose to accept the claims of others who have done likewise. I weigh up evidence, which may include the assumption that, if my claim is justified, then so must theirs be. But that is an assumption which is difficult to verify. I might say that I have evidence of trees falling and I could point to trunks on the ground, rotted wood and so on. Even fossils. But my assumptions are based on generalisations and probabilities. There is a lot of recent work on perception which indicates that the brain fills in data, based on previous experience, to complete an observation. In other words, we often see what we expect to see and this often makes us unreliable witnesses. Our observation may well be regarded as a claim to a certain description but verification may be extremely difficult.

In such circumstances, then it is certainly the nature of the reality or otherwise of the event which we should be examining.

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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Quotidian » August 20th, 2016, 6:55 am

Iapetus wrote:There is a lot of recent work on perception which indicates that the brain fills in data, based on previous experience, to complete an observation. In other words, we often see what we expect to see and this often makes us unreliable witnesses. Our observation may well be regarded as a claim to a certain description but verification may be extremely difficult.
Right - that is the key point. And I think that was very much anticipated by Kant. But I don't think it makes us unreliable witnesses; I think the point of Kant's work is that our knowledge might be empirically sound, repeatable, and reliable - but it is not absolute. We know things 'as they appear to us', in other words, what we know is dependent on our faculties, on the categories of the understanding, and so on. But bear in mind, Kant always declared that he was 'empirical realist, transcendental idealist'.

The upshot for me is this: that knowledge has an irreducibly subjective aspect. That doesn't mean it's 'only subjective' or 'purely a matter of perspective', as many post-modernists seem to have derived from Kant; the invariants of physical laws, for instance, are invariant for all observers. But at the same time, this understanding tends to undermine the sanguine view of scientific realism, that the world simply 'is as it is' and that we can peruse it as outsiders, as if it is totally apart from us. Knowledge is conditioned and limited, even if it is sound and reliable within its domain of application.
'For there are many here among us who think that life is but a joke' ~ Dylan

Iapetus
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Iapetus » August 20th, 2016, 11:16 am

Reply to Quotidian:

But I don't think it makes us unreliable witnesses.



I think it does; that is the point.

I think the point of Kant's work is that our knowledge might be empirically sound, repeatable, and reliable - but it is not absolute.



Kant was a man of his time with many enlightened ideas and quite a few repulsive ones. I am more interested in the ideas than in the man.

I agree entirely that our knowledge is not absolute and is not likely ever to be so, even in principle. We may seek to ensure as far as is possible that our knowledge is sound, repeatable and reliable but there are always limits to that search. The soundness, reliability and repeatability are always relative and imperfect and we need to base our interpretations of the universe on that awareness.

We know things 'as they appear to us', in other words, what we know is dependent on our faculties, on the categories of the understanding, and so on.



Yes. But we also evaluate our own faculties by comparison with those of others. These comparisons are always confronted by limitations of language and expression. Any understanding with others must, necessarily, be a compromise based on broadly agreed rules.

The upshot for me is this: that knowledge has an irreducibly subjective aspect.



Agreed.

That doesn't mean it's 'only subjective' or 'purely a matter of perspective', as many post-modernists seem to have derived from Kant; the invariants of physical laws, for instance, are invariant for all observers.



I may not have grasped what you mean in that last part. It seems to me that invariance is vary far from being demonstrated. I have already mentioned Einstein. There there is the uncertainty principle, Schrödinger’s cat and so on. At the most fundamental levels we are capable of studying, uncertainty and probability may well be built-in principles. ‘Particles’ must be interpreted as wave probabilities.

In any case, variance is also built into the scientific world according to how laws are interpreted. Newton’s interpretation of gravity seemed to work extremely well for a couple of hundred years until Einstein predicted variance from Newton according to his own theory. We cannot be certain that ‘laws’ are fixed and unchanging. They may be remarkably robust and capable of withstanding all the tests which we can currently apply but it does not follow that they are incapable of variance.

But at the same time, this understanding tends to undermine the sanguine view of scientific realism, that the world simply 'is as it is' and that we can peruse it as outsiders, as if it is totally apart from us. Knowledge is conditioned and limited, even if it is sound and reliable within its domain of application.



I am OK with this as long as I can stick ‘relatively’ before ‘sound and reliable’.

-- Updated 20 Aug 2016, 16:31 to add the following --

In the light of all I have said, i can offer my response to the original question; If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? My most honest answer must be, 'probably'. I can see no way in which it could be 'yes' or 'no'.

Nick_A
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Re: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear

Post by Nick_A » August 20th, 2016, 12:09 pm

TurtleSpeaks wrote:This one just pisses me off.

Of course it does.

That's not even counting the possibility of going there afterward and detecting changes in the environment.

Opinions?
This question loses a vital part in relation to the perception of reality. As it is, it doesn't really mtter. However if the question is changed slightly it can include the question of meaning.

If a man is in the middle of a forest and decides to express his opinion loudly but there is no woman around for miles to hear him, is he still wrong?

Now the question concerns more than sound but also includes its relevance.
Man would like to be an egoist and cannot. This is the most striking characteristic of his wretchedness and the source of his greatness." Simone Weil....Gravity and Grace

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