Schrodingers tree

Have you ever been presented with this philosophical question?


Philosophy would take us on a quest to show the absurdity of reality, and ultimately the answer to the question becomes “if there is no one around, there’s no tree to fall over.” Watch this quick video for an explanation;

Scientifically, we can assume that trees exist, even if each individual tree hasn’t been observed by a human. I can see trees when I walk through the woods. And I can see satellite photos of vast forests full of trees, so I know they exist even when I’m not looking at each tree directly. Trees exist, grow, reproduce, seeds germinate, etc. and it all takes place without me observing them. If their existence required an observer, then;

Thanks to NASA for confirming trees exist
  1. there would be no trees anywhere on this planet that people don’t already inhabit
  2. there would be no evidence of past trees (like seed banks in the soil, fossils, etc.)

So it’s safe to say that we can reliably assume that since there is evidence of both trees in places that people aren’t, and evidence of past trees, that trees actually exist whether or not they are perceived.

It’s also safe to assume that the physics of atoms smacking into other atoms and making sound travel through the atmosphere also remains a truth, whether a human is there to hear it not. It’s safe to assume this because when it’s replicated, the atom-smacking caused by a falling tree makes sound over and over again every time it’s being observed. If you consider two observers at the same time, one of which can hear, and one that can’t hear — as an example one scientist who is diligently recording data, and the other one who falls sound asleep during the experiment (what kind of monster would fall asleep during an experiment?!) — one will hear the tree falling, but the other won’t. The sound is still made even if each individual observer doesn’t necessarily hear it.


So physics tells us that indeed sound must still continue to be made, but where things get interesting is when quantum physics is considered. Do you remember Schrodinger’s cat?67a

In that thought experiment the cat could either be alive or dead, and kitty remains in that quantum state until the observer interacts with the system — by actually opening the box to observe.

Likewise, until it’s observed, the tree must exist in every possible quantum state — both fallen and not fallen — simultaneously. The outcome of the tree — whether it falls, or doesn’t — depends on your observation. It gets even more complex if you consider the multiverse theory, in which the tree actually falls in one reality, and it doesn’t fall in another. But I digress.

Interestingly, there are many answers to that question, depending on philosophy, physics, and quantum physics (maybe even multiverse quantum physics laws we don’t know about in this universe). Funny that the answer is a matter of perspective.if-a-tree-cw0w2u

5 thoughts on “Schrodingers tree

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  1. I can remember plenty of times (growing up, even into my teenage years) that things didn’t exist until I interacted with them. I’m guessing not “all” things, just the life changing things.

    Does the world stop existing when I fall asleep at night?
    What is real?


    1. Indeed, what is real? Maybe this is all a dream…
      I remember in one of my undergrad philosophy courses we talked about not being able to know what someone else experiences the world. Do we perceive the same colours even, or have we learned to call our different perception of colour on that leaf as “green” though variation in rods:cones in our eyes, or pathways in our brains, may actually perceive a colour differently?
      It boggles the mind

      Liked by 1 person

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