It has often been discussed, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Let’s modify the question: “If a tree falls in your forest while you are near it, does it make a sound?”
Now the philosophical scenario seems to change, as if observation and reality are linked. But think about all the scenarios in which the second statement is the same as the first.
You can be present to hear it but not able to hear it. Deafness, proximity, dampening effects, size of the tree, distraction. Distraction is the most interesting. For example, it often occurs that a person is told that someone has been calling their name repeatedly, but the person did not hear it. Remember the distraction scenario.
Think about the forest as our solar system, our galaxy, or our universe. Think of sounds as the evidences of planets, suns, phenomenon, possibilities, realities. We are standing amid the trees, we are present to hear the sounds within our forest. Does it make a sound then, if we do not perceive the sound?
We have tools. We use our knowledge of the electromagnetic spectrum, enhancements from sophisticated and cutting edge machines and software, elaborate inventions designed to hear the tiniest ripples in space and on Earth. We are smart. We understand how to use mathematics, physics, astronomy, chemistry, archaeology and so on to perform calculations, permutations and predictions. These pursuits are very disciplined, rigorous and technically performed by expert minds and verified by the same. Experiments have been performed, theories have been tested and verified, and knowledge of the universe has been unfolding to us like a lotus flower.
The real answer to the question, “If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?” is – No. Not if you cannot perceive the forest itself. That is the crux of our reality. Trees are cascading all around us, probably affecting us, potentially killing us, but without knowledge of those trees we are as prepared for reality as the ant that is decimated by a footfall.
We look, but our gaze is not constant. We gather snippets of time, comparing them to other fragments, as if we could piece together the universal puzzle using pieces the size of dust mites.
Take the example of asteroids and the potential of meteors to impact Earth. We can look at tiny fragments of the sky using dozens of telescopes scattered around the world and in space. We can make predictions based on the mapping of asteroids and construct algorithms to assess possibilities of collisions and other events. We look at such a small portion of the asteroid belt on any given day that an unseen event can occur. The proximity of the asteroid belt allows for unpredictable or unseen changes to affect us quickly and with little warning. We are distracted by the immense task of looking everywhere at once. We cannot see it all in real-time so we rely on what has been seen and what can be concluded from the past observations.
Science fiction writers have enjoyed the Extinction Level Event (ELE) scenario wherein a newly discovered threat gives the inhabitants of Earth a short span of days before imminent unrecoverable disaster.
The enthusiasm of discovery is its own distraction. As Scientists (a funny term that rolls hundreds of specialties into a blob of almost magical potential) discover more, they learn that they know less. Or what was known becomes flawed, incomplete, irrelevant, or worse – just incorrect. There is no warm fuzzy feeling from being told by Scientists that dark matter + dark energy constitutes 95% of the universe for which we have no knowledge.
Perhaps another tree fell and we do not know where or when or why or the consequences of the fall.