Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Additional Points About The Tree Falling In The Woods

The question-slash-riddle, "If a tree falls alone in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?", has been conclusively answered.  I provided that conclusive answer.  I did so late last month.

However, to the points that I made at the time in support of my answer, I have the following to add:

  • Human beings cannot hear dog whistles, but dogs can.  Also, when a dog whistle is blown, I think we regard what it causes nearby dogs to hear as "sound".  So, if I blow a dog whistle in the woods (or anywhere else, I suppose) and no dog is close enough to me to hear the whistle, does the whistle make a sound?  (Remember, I would not hear it make a sound whether a dog happens to be present or not.)  If not, would the whistle have made a sound if a dog had been present?
  • If one were to look through a telescope at a dying star millions of light-years away from Earth, that star probably would not have existed in a very long time; the light that the observer could now see would have left that dying star millions of years ago.  Depending on when the star finally did "die" (assuming that it did), it is possible that no human being ever saw the star prior to the time of its demise.  Would we say (for that reason) that the star did not have an appearance at all during its lifespan, insisting that nothing has any such property as an "appearance" until and unless light (from the visible part of the spectrum) has traveled from it to the eyes of a person who possesses the sense of sight and who then perceives that "appearance"?  If so, would we say that the star (which we will have just denied had an appearance while it was still in existence) now does have an appearance, even though the star no longer even exists?

In the time since I previously posted on this topic, I have also decided to acknowledge a fact that may have had something to do with the question/riddle's reputation for being impossible to conclusively answer.  That key fact is that the question/riddle was not originally posed in the English language.  I do not know in precisely which language it was initially posed, much less the state of that language at the time when it was posed or what the words used in expressing the question/riddle (whatever those words were) would have meant to users of that language at that point in history.  However, I do know that two corresponding words from two different languages do not necessarily have precisely the same meaning in all of the ways in which they can be used, in every conceivable context.  (Even within a single language, the very same word may vary in its meaning between two different points in time.  I do not think that it has escaped anyone's notice that major changes in a word's meaning can take place over time -- the change that has taken place in the meaning of the word "gay" is probably one of the most widely-known examples of this -- but subtle changes can more easily go unnoticed, which can confuse people when they attempt to read anything that was written a long enough time ago.  For example, in the present-day use of the English language, the word "either" would mean one out of two (and only two) given alternatives, but when the United States Constitution was written, the word "either" could be used even when there were more than two given alternatives.)  Without knowing more about the original language and wording of the question/riddle, I cannot rule out the possibility that the original wording in the original language of the question/riddle would have been more difficult to answer than the modern English rendering of it is.

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