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What don't we know?

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102381.  Thu Oct 12, 2006 7:05 am Reply with quote

But if no-one in the world/universe had ears/the capacity to hear, would things still make sound? How would we know?

102384.  Thu Oct 12, 2006 7:14 am Reply with quote

The same way that we know that there are things like the wind, radiation and atoms. We infer their existence through other methods (the wind when it blows the leaves on the tree; radiation when we hear the sound made by a geiger counter)

102472.  Thu Oct 12, 2006 10:48 am Reply with quote

Yes but we can feel the effects of those - you know the wind is there because it blows in your face. You know radiation is there because...well, it depends on the radiation, but if we're talking nuclear, say, then you'd get cancer and all that. And it makes the clicky noises on a Geiger Counter thingy.
But if no-one could hear, and no-one ever had been able to, how would we know sound exists? The very concept of it would surely be an alien one to us, just as vision would be if we were (and always had been) blind. I wonder what the world is like for those people born blind/deaf, who've therefore had no input as to what these things are. We tend to think in pictures, but how would a blind person "visualise" stuff in their head? As a series of sounds and tactile sensations? And you wouldn't be able to describe sound/vision to a deaf/blind person, because if they've never experienced such things, they have nothing in their minds with which to compare the things you're trying to describe to them.
Or something.
Hrrm, well, I know what I mean anyway...

Long Haired Hippy
102496.  Thu Oct 12, 2006 11:17 am Reply with quote

One of the fundamental axioms of science is that the universe is consistent in it's behaviour but like an unruly but deceitful child it cannot be proven whether or not the world exhibits totally different behaviour under observation compared to when it's being ignored.

Quantum theory suggests that all quantum events are indeterminate until observed. Clearly what hold true on the microscopic level can be scaled up to apply to the macroscopic level. Schrodinger's Cat exists in a quantum superposition of states until observed.

This might lead you to conclude that science has itself confirmed that it can only tell you about the observed universe and anything goes when we're not looking. ;-)

In other words, if there's nobody there to hear it then who says that the tree fell? It might have just decided to have a lie down after an exhausting aerobics lesson with the pink elephants. ;-)

102499.  Thu Oct 12, 2006 11:24 am Reply with quote

It might have just decided to have a lie down after an exhausting aerobics lesson with the pink elephants. ;-)

But, that's just a

Quantum theory



(BTW, Ameena, if a sound is loud enough I imagine it produces a shockwave effect which can be felt...can anyone verify or squish that idea?)

102507.  Thu Oct 12, 2006 11:38 am Reply with quote

Tas wrote:

(BTW, Ameena, if a sound is loud enough I imagine it produces a shockwave effect which can be felt...can anyone verify or squish that idea?)

True, but the sound would be audible (provided it's within audible frequencies to whatever listener is under consideration) further away than the shockwave would be felt, so it is unlikely to be relevant in fact.

Verification and squishery, methinks.

102668.  Thu Oct 12, 2006 8:44 pm Reply with quote

I suppose if it was a very loud or very deep sound, it'd cause a vibration a human could feel. But if it was neither of these, and was just a "normal" noise like, say, some leaves rustling in the wind, or the footsteps of someone walking nearby...

279939.  Mon Feb 18, 2008 3:05 pm Reply with quote

But if no-one could hear, and no-one ever had been able to, how would we know sound exists?

Someone said it earlier, sound is the vibration of molecules - even if you can't hear the sound, you can still feel it. Have a read about Evelyn Glennie........

Curious Danny
280192.  Tue Feb 19, 2008 5:14 am Reply with quote

The whole thing about the tree falling in the woods is interesting. Reminds me of a part of the book "Fluke". The main character is a dog and tries to ask directions from a frog (it is all about reincarnation).
He describes roads, cars, people but the frog isn't the least bit interested. He has never seen these things so to him they might as well not exist.
To try to demonstrate this point, imagine what is going on somewhere beyond the horizon. A place you know exists suddenly becomes very abstract.

280777.  Tue Feb 19, 2008 5:00 pm Reply with quote

If a Stealth Bomber crashes in the woods and there's nobody around to hear it, does it make a noise?

281225.  Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:36 am Reply with quote

But in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, we have known unknowns and unknown unknowns.

We've been looking at known unknowns, but can anyone stretch their imagination to think of any unknown unknowns which future theorists might look at?

281232.  Wed Feb 20, 2008 8:41 am Reply with quote


Peregrine Arkwright
281868.  Thu Feb 21, 2008 10:35 am Reply with quote


We have sound, we have radiation but we also have pildwen. However human beings are not equipped with any sensory organ to detect pildwen. Nor have we yet found any scientific method of demonstrating its presence, nor mathematical formula to deduce it. Does pildwen therefore exist - or not - and more to the point, can it exist?

And does this tell us anything about the questions above?

Peregrine Arkwright

PS : I may have got its name wrong

281876.  Thu Feb 21, 2008 10:50 am Reply with quote

I thought the "proper" nihlist answer to
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
was "does it matter?" does it make the bus come any quicker if you "find" an answer to this at a bus stop?

758350.  Sun Nov 07, 2010 5:25 am Reply with quote

I too have always disliked this question, at least phrased in this way as it disguises a more fundamental question. We [i]do[/i] know what sound and light are and these things do not need to make reference to an observer (The guy on QI who said otherwise is simply wrong about this). Light i.e. photons are the quanta of the electromagnetic field and this field and it's effects on other objects exist independently of human life, similarly sound (as Stephen says to a physicist) refers not to our perception but to the vibration of a medium (it also has a field quantum, the phonon) and this will also exist independently of human observation. For instance, the comment was made that light cannot be seen when propagating perpendicularly to the eye and this is true as to see something the photons need to enter your eye. This can be done with a laser beam, if you look at a laser beam in vacuum, you cannot see it, however if you put some gas in, some light from the beam will be scattered from the gas and you will see it. According to the logic they were using without the gas, I cannot see the beam and it does not exist!

In light (haha .. pun) of this, the question ultimately boils down to questioning the uniformity of nature. Do I believe that the scientific laws we observe to be true hold when nobody is directly measuring them? The assumption of this is a fundamental axiom of science and ultimately it is something you 'cannot' test. Ultimately we continue to fit new observations into usable frameworks and leave arguments about semantics to philosophers. ;)


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