I originally published this blog Thursday, August 7, 2008. It has received popular reader support both here and at Scribd. I republish it today because of its popularity, but also because it answers a very common question with an unusual epitemological position: that the answer has nothing to do with the definition of either "sound" or of "noise."
We have all heard the question "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound or a noise?" We have heard it ten, hundreds, or thousands or more times.What does that question have to do with the description of Metaphysical Naturalism (MN) as "A belief concerning the supernatural, sacred, or divine, and the practices and institutions associated with such belief"? [See this blog dated 09.05.2008]
MN, concerned with defining such things, and with the denial of what is non-existent, and with replacing belief in the supernatural or the lack thereof with a certainty about the natural cosmology of the universe and existence itself, has an interest in addressing "The Tree in the Forest."
Every answer I have ever read misses the essential point, which is not about "sound or sound waves being heard or not heard," nor about whether sound is different from noise. Those are the excuses of metaphysicians who will not, or cannot, face the real question, or who have no idea that another question more real exists.
The question is: Does existence exist independently of consciousness? When seen in this context, it does not matter if "sound" or "noise" is used as the definition of what happens when the tree falls; it matters whether you think things happen whether or not a consciousness is there to perceive that it happens.
The belief that reality requires a consciousness is gaining in prevalence. It has been a staple of some eastern philosophies for thousands of years. Some western philosophers have advanced the idea. Many young students facing philosophy for the first time have serious existential questions about their own existence. That makes a shameful indictment of how far our "intellectual" standards have plunged since Renaissance scholars brought Jefferson and America's other Founders to an understanding of men's unalienable individual sovereignty. Those modern men and women who doubt their own existence have fallen backward in time 500 years, and can have no conception about their unalienable sovereignty, except what they are lucky enough to glean from between the lines of their teachers words, teachers who tell them their "rights" include all those things which must be provided by other men when they themselves fail to provide it--like health care.
(Deregulation of the health-care industry and extended patent lengths on pharmacuticals would considerably alter the high cost of care and drugs. But that is better left for another blog or two or three.)
To believe that consciousness gives reality to reality, e.g., that "perception is reality," is fallacious logic called the Primacy of Consciousness. (The Primacy of Perception is also a fallacy. ["...perception [as] the causal product of atomic sensations," again e.g., "perception is reality." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Merleau-Ponty
The Primacy of Existence states that existence exists. http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/primacyofexistence.html
Existence exists. Period. There can be no requirement for the conscious perception of a "thing" to make that "thing" real. In this case the thing is whether or not a noise or a sound is generated.
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