If a tree falls in the woods, in a universe devoid of consciousness, does the tree exist?

In my last post I discussed the idea that differences in sports supplements’ effectiveness is knowable, but no one is going to run the investigation. Such an investigation would unveil one as better than another. But, as the experiment is never going to run (because it’s impractically difficult and no one will know if it’s in their interest to know the answer) is one better than another? If a fact is never discovered, is it true? Or, as the conversation was raised with me, if something is never observed does it even exist?

My partner asked me this and I can’t understand the question. I don’t particularly care for your answer yet. First, I want to understand the question. I cannot figure out why this question is profound. If a thing cannot be observed nor mathematically defined, why might one question the truth of its existence? I don’t want to confuse this question with the question of whether its existence is knowable or known, I understand that. What I don’t get is the profundity my partner sees in being able to consider “unknowable” and “non-existence” as synonyms. (And neither can she articulate it to a point I understand.)

The question seems to assume the impossibility of a universe devoid of intelligence. I know such a universe would only be hypothetical to us, but if the multiverse were real is a universe of only rocks identical to a universe that doesn’t exist? Is being void of brains to not exist?

Educate me, oh mighty reader!


6 thoughts on “If a tree falls in the woods, in a universe devoid of consciousness, does the tree exist?”

  1. Without a self-reflective consciousness (however consciousness is defined), it wouldn’t matter what the universe is or what’s in it. There is anything such as existence because there is such a consciousness that knows what ‘existence’ is.

    1. Is that it? Because that strikes me as being a confusion between “unknowable” and “non-existent”. Why is there this dependence of existence on understanding?

  2. Aren’t we becoming a wee bit self-important now? Nothing exists until we say it does? Then why are things “waiting to be discovered?” Are we trying to “discover” truth or establish truth? Is the truth “out there?” Let me say this: “Meaning and truth? If we are present we find them. If not, they are moot.” In other words, they are our own creations. They have little to nothing to do with physical reality.

    1. That’s how the question sounded to me, but my partner studied philosophy so I assumed this was a well-known position that I simply can’t get my head around. I’ve heard analogous arguments from religious people, saying that the universe needs an eternal consistent observer to exist, but that doesn’t make sense either (although it’s basically the same statement…).
      I used to walk my partner’s dog through a wooded area in the middle of a golf course most days. That wooded area looked basically the same every day. Yes, the leaves may fall or a tree might have come down or there may have been a small landslip, but it looked basically the same. If my partner’s question–the one in this post; the question of whether things only exist after they can be understood–is a significant question, then there is no reason the wooded area would seem so consistent.
      Also, if this question is significant, how do ever discover anything? In 2012 we discovered the Yeti Crab, but how? In 2011 (according to this model) it didn’t exist. In fact, the model would stipulate that it didn’t exist, and then we saw the thing that didn’t exist, an act which simultaneously created it.
      It seems like a confusion between things and ideas. But, it also leads to relativism. Some people do (claim to) understand God, therefore God exists (to them). I really really don’t get it.

  3. Did they mean to ask the question of if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear does it make a sound? Not that this makes a difference to the question you were asked but just asks what is the role played by perception/ consciousness in describing the universe. I don’t know if am making sense

    1. I’m not sure. I really didn’t understand the question or conversation that followed. I was hoping my description would be enough to jog a readers mind and they could come at it from a different angle. How my partner came at it was inaccessible to me.

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