The Impossible Question
Surely, you’ve heard someone ask, “If a tree falls in the woods with nobody around, does it make a sound?”
It’s an impossible question. One we’re not even allowed by logic to ask.
If a tree falls in the woods, the impact it makes with the ground generates a pressure wave in the atmosphere, which—not unlike a ripple on the surface of a pond caused by a dropped pebble—expands in all directions at a speed of 767 mph. As it spreads it loses intensity until it eventually dissipates altogether. This happens whether anybody is around or not.
If somebody does happen to be nearby, the pressure wave impinges on their eardrums and an impulse is transmitted through the inner ear connection to the brain, which has the ability not only to differentiate between thousands of other such impulses, but also, because of input from two spaced eardrums, determine the direction of the impulse origin and whether it is in motion or not. The variety of pressure waves we can instantly detect and analyze is amazing, everything from a passing ambulance siren to a country brook to complex music to a whispered endearment.
In other words, and by definition, for a sound to occur, both a pressure generating source and a human receiver are necessary. One cannot exist without the other within this definition, and what we perceive as a sound takes place not in the woods or anywhere else in the world but rather always and only in our interpretive brains.
The impossible sound-in-the-forest question is akin to asking, “If you leave an open book on a table in an empty room, is any reading going on?” Reading requires both a written or printed page and a viewer with the learned ability embedded in the brain to interpret those marks on the page. One cannot exist without the other within the definition of reading. Both page and viewer are required.
And therein lies a crucial tip for us writers. We should always have our readers in mind and work considering their imaginations as well as using our own to its maximum potential in creating engaging stories. Neither readers nor writers can exist outside this necessary partnership.
Next post we’ll think about another such symbiotic relationship as it applies to writing and reading.
p.s. Check out the recent interview author/editor Jaden Terrell kindly did on her CrimeReaders site: http://crimereaders.com/2020/01/06/phil-bowie-killing-ground/