Let’s Settle This About the Trees

Emily Gibson and Sophia Kummers, Staff Writers

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

Sound Supporters Should Take a Seat

by Emily Gibson

If no one was there to describe the sound, there is no way to know that there even was a sound. Aside from the fact that we know logically a sound should exist, there is no proof in knowing it is there.

If Sir Isaac Newton hadn’t been hit on the head with an apple, he might have thought there should be a reason for a falling apple but not able to describe why. He experienced gravity firsthand and that is why he was able to articulate it.

Sound is defined by how it is perceived to the hearer. Intensity, duration and characteristics of what it sounds like can be different to each person who hears the sound.

If a tree falls right next to you, most people would agree that they would hear a sound. Say the person had sensitive ears; it would be extremely loud to hear.

Say the person was your grandpa who’s a little hard of hearing. He may only hear a soft thud. Maybe another person was wearing construction headphones, so he didn’t hear anything at all.

It could also be a question of the tree itself. The size of the tree determines how extreme the disturbance is.

There is an endless number of variables to this question. Anything can be substituted in and out, but it still doesn’t answer the question. Rather it answers only a specific variation of the original issue.

Even if there is an assumption that there are other creatures in the forest to hear the noise, it’s still not in the context of the question. The question really is whether a sound is made if no one is around to hear it.

A sound can only be heard by someone who hears it. If animals were put in the forest just to hear the sound in the forest, then a sound can only exist if something or someone was there to hear it.

This previous statement seems redundant and obvious but without someone around to hear a noise, the sound in question, would no longer exist because there is no one there to define it.

Without knowing what the sound is or not being able to describe it, it is impossible to say that the sound is there.  It’s like asking someone to describe something they have never experienced.

Before 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, everyone in Europe would have said that the world was flat. It doesn’t mean that the rest of the world didn’t exist, but it didn’t exist to them.

If Columbus never sailed the blue ocean, if he never ventured out to see the Americas, his discovery would have never been real to people on the other side of that ocean.

Likewise, sound is only real if it is heard, if it is received. It has no use if it’s just a bunch of waves moving around the forest.


Yes, a Sound was Made.

by Sophia Kummers

The question says, “and no one is around to hear it.”  By “no one” people assume we are talking about humans. Even though there are no humans around to hear the sound the tree makes when it falls, there are obviously other animals around since there are tons of animals that live in every forest.

Other animals will be able to hear the tree falling such as birds, squirrels, or deer. If these animals hear something like a tree falling, a sound has obviously been made.

If someone were to put a video camera in the forest and then walk away, completely out of earshot of the forest, and then the tree falls, the camera would indeed capture the sound it made. No one was around to hear the tree fall firsthand, but the camera has a sound recorded which means a sound was produced when it hit the ground.

The term “sound” does not mean something audible detected by an ear. A sound wave itself is produced by a vibration which occurs when the tree hits the ground. A sound wave is sent out, and depending on how big the sound wave is, anyone or anything that is within earshot will hear the sound.

Sound waves are longitudinal waves created by vibrating objects. When the tree falls and hits the ground, it will make a vibration sending out a sound wave. The sound wave can only travel so far, so it won’t make it to a human ear if no one is near the tree. Thus no one will hear it fall, even though a sound has indeed been made.

There are several other questions that can be asked that are very similar to this question regarding the tree. For example, if a blind person cannot see the color blue, does that mean that blue doesn’t exist?

Although the blind person cannot perceive the color blue, anyone who isn’t blind can. The same thing goes for the tree. The people who are not around cannot hear the tree fall but the animals around the tree can, proving that a sound wave was produced and a sound was made.

Take Beethoven for example. He was completely deaf but he could feel the music by the vibrations the piano made. He could not hear the music but obviously other people could. Even though he was deaf, a sound was made because people went to listen to his music and he is one of the greatest composers of all time.

Just because no one is around to hear this tree fall, that doesn’t mean that basic principles of how the world works will no longer exist. If a tree falls and there is a person standing right next to it, a sound will be made. If a tree falls and someone is not standing right next to it, a sound will still be made.