Archives for category: Science

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around, does it make a sound? While some believe this is an unanswerable koan designed to clear the mind and achieve zen enlightenment, there actually is an answer: no, it does not make a sound. What it would create would be vibrating particles that require a hearing recipient to understand it as “sound.” Consider if there was a bat present at this spontaneous tree felling; it would not produce a sound so much as a sonar “ping.” The bat would translate this event in a much different sense than a human being. Without an interpretive subject, a tree falling in the woods essentially becomes describable only in mathematical terms.


Ask not, did it make a sound? Instead ask, what does having sensory organs at all tell me about my relationship to reality?

Consider an alternative: if a fire hydrant is in a pitch black room, is it still red? Again, the answer is no. Colour requires the reflection of light off of a surface, to be interpreted by the rods and cones in our eyes. If there is no light bouncing into our eyeballs, there is no colour. Presumably there is still the hydrant’s aspect of “red” that would be present while the light is gone, to be reinvigorated when the light returns, but our understanding of it as red is so far removed from its objective aspect that to call it “red” is a misnomer and used only for the sake of comprehensibility. It’s not difficult to imagine a different kind of biological organ that interprets light differently from our human eyes, similar to how a bat would differ from us in interpreting sound waves. The essence of a thing and how it interacts with the world around it outside of how a subject perceives it is thus quite impossible to experience.

This is what Thomas Nagel would refer to as The View from Nowhere. Immanuel Kant would call it the noumenal world. A conceptual world that is unavailable to us based on the fact that our understanding of “worldness” comes entirely from our uniquely human senses. We may be able to understand it in conceptual terms, and science has certainly given us more refined definitions with which we can do so, but its existence in any sense of the word that might have value to us is completely irrelevant to how it objectively “exists.” Music, colour, sensuous touch, and decadent taste; these things have meaning insofar as they are wholly human, oblivious to any other interpretation. Even our scientific tools can only function along the spectrum that our senses allow us to interpret, meaning that the concepts we have of the noumenal world may be far from its totality.

Contemplating a tree falling in the woods should not lead to a conversion to Buddhism, but to philosophical revelation about our relationship to reality.

God forbids certain actions with a bunch of Thou Shalts telling us not to do this, not to commit that, but it’s not like He’s actually stopping us. God is just saying that if we sin, then we’ll spend eternity in hellfire. Which, fine. Maybe people want to avoid that. On the other hand, where I can will myself to sin, I can’t will myself taller. I will never be able to telekinetically move objects with my mind. I can’t sprout wings and soar into the dawning sky. We have this supposed “free” will, but we don’t have a universal capacity to fulfill any fantastical idea we desire?

What this tells me is that God has a greater interest in human beings abiding by the laws of nature than He does His own moral decrees. He puts in all this effort to emphasize the importance of the ethical rules in His divine revelations, yet we as His subjugated creatures don’t even possess the capability of breaking physical laws. We were designed in such a way that we must conform to certain inviolable laws, but none of them are moral. It must be, then, that God cares less about moral rules than he does about physical ones, otherwise He would have created us differently. Morality does not have primacy, physics does, and thus the Bible becomes secondary to science even within the framework of religion.

During the school year when I should be writing papers, catching up on my academic readings, or beginning any number of projects that need to get finished, I am as usual overthinking completely irrelevant and useless pieces of knowledge. In this instance, it has been the Monty Hall problem.

For those that don’t know, the Monty Hall problem is a mathematical brain teaser that proves that up is down, black is white, and chaos is the fundamental nature of the universe. To briefly summarize, there are three doors, and behind one of them is a prize. You pick any door, and without revealing anything, one of the remaining two doors will be opened to unveil the not-prize. You are asked to choose again, and there is now a 2/3 chance the prize will be behind the last, unpicked door. You have a better shot of getting the prize if you switch your answer from the original choice. Like I said, chaos.


From Wikipedia: Maths!

Anyway, this voodoo of probability increases with additional doors. So if you pick between ten doors, and eight of them reveal the not-prize, you have a 9/10 chance of getting the prize if you switch your answer. What if we increase the number of doors to infinite? There are infinite doors, you pick one, and then all but two doors are eliminated: the one you picked, and a second door. Maths say that there is a 100% certainty of the prize being behind the other door. Now, we could use this as a point of contention in the never-ending 0.999… equals 1 debate, or we could just accept that it is literally impossible to not be behind the second door.

What this means in practical terms is that when you are faced with a universe full of opportunity and choices, you will, with mathematical inevitability, make the wrong decision. Thanks Maths!