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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Aug 22 15:59:26 EDT 2020


Jonathan Lighter  wrote:
> A little earlier:
>
> 1853  _Green Mountain Freeman_  (Montpelier, Vt.) (June 23) 4:  "If a tree
> falls, and no one hears it, does it make a noise?" The above question was
> announced in the _Rondout Courier_,  for discussion, last evening, in the
> debating wing of the Lyceum of that village.  Three disputants were named
> on each side.
>
> Credited to the _Poughkeepsie American_.
>
> That's entertainment!

Excellent finds, JL.

Way back in 2005 (before I was a member of this list), Fred Shapiro
posted an inquiry on this topic.
http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2005-May/049340.html

Stephen Goranson mentioned the pertinence of Bishop Berkeley's "A
Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge" (1710) which
did discuss the imagination, perception, and the existence of a trees.
http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2005-May/049341.html

Benjamin Zimmer noted that Berkeley "didn't say anything about the
sound of falling trees". Ben listed some citations beginning with June
1883.
http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2005-May/049346.html

The Yale Book of Quotation has an entry which refers to the philosophy
of George Berkeley and presents the June 1883 citation and later
citations.

Wikipedia has an entry which refers to Berkeley's 1710 treatise and
lists the June 1883 citation together with later citations.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_a_tree_falls_in_a_forest

Here is a later citation in 1872.

[ref] 1872 October 4, The Benton Harbor Palladium, Answers to
Correspondents, Quote Page 4, Column 3, Benton Harbor, Michigan.
(Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
". . . Also. If a tree should fall fifty miles from an human ear,
would any sound be produced?" This is a question on which much has
been said, and while we will give our opinion, and if disputed will
support it as best we can, we would be pleased to hear from others and
their argument pro and con.
[End excerpt]

Here is another later citation in 1876.

[ref] 1876 August 25, The Pioche Daily Record, (Untitled Article),
Quote Page 2, Column 1, Pioche, Nevada. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Some of the questions were rather unique, requiring more practical
judgment than technical education for a correct answer. For instance:
"If a tree should fall in a forest, would it produce any noise,
supposing there were no ear there to hear it?" That question, though
it looks simple enough, admits of a variety of argument.
[End excerpt]

Garson

> On Sat, Aug 22, 2020 at 2:59 PM Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> wrote:
>
> > > On Aug 22, 2020, at 1:26 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> > wrote:
> > >
> > > 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.
> > >
> > > JL
> >
> > I always associated this with Bishop Berkeley (1685 – 1753), but perhaps
> > it’s just based loosely on his philosophy.  The version I’m used to poses
> > the question of whether a tree makes a sound in those circumstances, rather
> > than providing a negative answer.  And the city in California (where I had
> > my first teaching job) was named for him, so he must have been asking good
> > questions. Of course the year I taught at Berkeley, if the tree didn’t make
> > a sound it’s probably because everyone was stoned and/or had the Grateful
> > Dead  turned up too loud.
> >
> > LH
> >
> >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > On Mon, May 16, 2005 at 10:26 PM Jonathan Lighter <
> > wuxxmupp2000 at yahoo.com>
> > > wrote:
> > >
> > >> 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
> > >>
> > --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > >>
> > >> ------------------------------
> > >> Do you Yahoo!?
> > >> Yahoo! Mail - Find what you need with new enhanced search. Learn more.
> > >> <http://us.rd.yahoo.com/evt=29917/*http://info.mail.yahoo.com/mail_250>
> > >>
> > >>
> > >
> > > --
> > > "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the
> > truth."
> > >
> > > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >
>
>
> --
> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
>
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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