[Ads-l] "If a tree falls..."

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Aug 22 13:26:15 EDT 2020

1866 _Columbia Democrat and Star of the North_  (Bloomsburg, Pa.) (Apr.
11)) :  ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS...Philosophy tells us if a tree should
fall in the forest, where there was no ear to hear, there would be no sound.

If this is old stuff, too bad. Don't read it.

It's surprising that a correspondent should ask the question without an
earlier occurrence being found.



On Mon, May 16, 2005 at 10:26 PM Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at yahoo.com>

> The date is probably of no interest, but in case it is :  I first heard
> the conundrum (and it was presented as such) posed by my ninth-grade
> science teacher, Mr. Rathman, in late 1962 or (most likely) early '63.
> Mr. Rathman's visage strongly resembled that of Joe Kubert's Sgt. Rock as
> drawn for DC Comics. He would interrupt class each day for a minute or two
> as a twelfth-grade lab assistant delivered a quart container of buttermilk,
> which he instantly chugalugged.  Why ? Nobody asked.
> Another of his sayings which has stuck in my mind is, "Half of everything
> we think we know is wrong.  BUT WHICH HALF ?"
> JL
> *Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>>* wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Fred Shapiro
> Subject: Re: "If a tree falls..."
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Wed, 11 May 2005, Duane Campbell wrote:
> > > Can anyone help me determine the origin of the philosophical conundrum
> "If
> > > a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?"
> > >
> > > Fred Shapiro
> >
> > I am frankly surprised to see such a question from an esteemed language
> > professional. It is not a philosophical conundrum at all. It is a
> semantic
> > question intended to play on the man in the street's ignorance of how
> > language works. There are two answers, and both are simple. If by "sound"
> > you mean the waves set off by the tree falling, the answer is "yes." If
> you
> > mean "sound" as the interpretation of those waves by the appropriate
> part of
> > the brain, the answer is "no."
> This is probably not worth responding to, but let me set out the following
> explanation:
> If there were no "external" world to serve as cause of our sensations,
> where would our sensations and our ideas about the world come from? It
> is God who must provide them, Berkeley argues. "To be is to be
> perceived," he insists, but everything that exists must therefore be
> perceived, all the time, by God. (It was regarding Berkeley's philosophy
> that some wit formulated the old gambit, "If a tree falls in the
> forest...")
> Kathleen M. Higgins and Robert C. Solomon, A Short History of
> Philosophy (1996)
> Finally, let me note that I am pleased if I am "esteemed," but I am
> certainly not a "language professional."
> Fred Shapiro
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Fred R. Shapiro Editor
> Associate Librarian for Collections and YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
> Access and Lecturer in Legal Research Yale University Press,
> Yale Law School forthcoming
> e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu http://quotationdictionary.com
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
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