Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Tree falls, Perception, Language

I wrote before about Schrodinger's Cat and the meaninglessness in a pure intellectual sense of talking about the state of external phenomena one is not in a position to perceive. And also the contradiction of Bertrand Russell's line of "There is a house which no one perceives." That written about here. To say with such certainty of something's factual existence is to necessarily do so from a vantage point attained through perception - and so, lacking such perceiving, this statement about an unperceived house's definite existence is a self-contradictory use of language. Just because words combined may make what appears a proper sentence doesn't mean the structure is a legitimate one, i.e. language isn't simply a matter of structure but of course meaning also, and here the meaning is absent. It is a self-contradictory piece of language.

Why I bring this up again here is in relation to one of the famous thoughts, or thought-defeating questions in philosophy . . .  jumping to Wikipedia:
Philosopher George Berkeley, in his work, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), proposes, "But, say you, surely there is nothing easier than for me to imagine trees, for instance, in a park [...] and nobody by to perceive them.[1] [...] "The objects of sense exist only when they are perceived; the trees therefore are in the garden [...] no longer than while there is somebody by to perceive them."[2] 
Albert Einstein is reported to have asked his fellow physicist and friend Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, whether he realistically believed that 'the moon does not exist if nobody is looking at it.' To this Bohr replied that however hard he (Einstein) may try, he would not be able to prove that it does, thus giving the entire riddle the status of a kind of an infallible conjecture—one that cannot be either proved or disproved.
Going back to Berkeley, his mistake is saying the objects cease to exist when unperceived, or that they only exist when perceived. The correct thing to say here is that one cannot say anything about unperceived objects, whether they exist or not, what state they are in, and in fact to speak of 'them' at all is erroneous. One simply has to accept that by depriving oneself of perception, one is not in a position to make statements of true intellectual value. And so the worthlessness of talking about what may or may not be going on in Schrodinger's box, and also the falseness of attempting to say an unperceived object does not exist, as Berkeley does, or that it does exist as Russell imagined he could say. Nothing should be said about an unperceived object if we are being true to language. It's as useless as blind men talking about the nature of a silent film that may or may not be playing on a screen in front of them; all they could say is just empty conjecture.

So to look at the falling tree but more usefully altering it to: Can a tree be said to fall if no one perceives it - rather than bringing in the somewhat diverting and more scientific related issue of sound and hearing. Well if no one is there to perceive its falling, then how do we know it falls so as to ask the question? It's an empty question, attempting to simultaneously occupy the contradictory camps of being in a position to perceive and not be in a position to perceive. So just as above, "Just because words combined may make what appears a proper sentence doesn't mean the structure is a legitimate one, i.e. language isn't simply a matter of structure but of course meaning also, and here the meaning is absent. It is a self-contradictory piece of language."

Just to clarify in case there seems to be a loophole here, and that being the use of 'If' in the posing of the question. The question could be posed another way without this little word: "A tree falls. Noone is there to perceive its falling. So does it fall?" And so again, If no one is there to perceive its falling then it is impermissible to make the statement of its falling; alternatively, how do we know it falls so as to ask the question?

We could see that a tree is lying on the ground and that therefore it evidently fell, in whatever manner, but of course we are back here in the world of perceived objects. In terms of everyday usage, yes of course it is reasonable to deduce the tree fell in the interval between perceptions of it standing and lying on the ground, but that doesn't change the fact that that twilight zone of non-perception, to be true to language as an absolute truth-tool, must simply remain a blank field.

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