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If a tree falls in the forest

Haji 2003

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and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I think it most likely does, but I think the issue misses the point about the significance of that tree to our existence.

There are lots of things happening in the universe that we cannot observe when they happen, but they are important for our understanding of natural history when we reach a point in our own development when we can observe their effects.

So millions of years ago there were trees that were falling that we could not hear or observe, but we see their effects today when we dig and drill for hydrocarbons and we can reconstruct their ecosystem in such a manner that it provides us with a scientific understanding of why we are where we are today together with clues as to where we may be heading.

At the level of the individual plant, then, we may never have been able to hear or see what happened to it. But the important aspect of its life, what it left behind has been useful for us.

In the case of frozen mammoths, the evolution life and death of an entire species may have been of value to us in the form of the handful of specimens that have been observed. Had the millions of other mammoths not lived (whose sounds we'd obviously never hear) we would not have been able to acquire those specimens that serendipitously died in a manner that preserved them and learn more about them.

The same point applies to the stars and the universe. Many of them have existed for billions of years, it seems, for the exclusive benefit of us being able to see them at this point in time, when their light could reach us.

 



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