If a tree falls in the woods, is there a sound?

Dear Cecil:

If a tree falls in the woods and there is no living creature to hear it, is there a sound?

Cecil replies:

People often ask me my secret. I tell them it’s that I still remember how to open a dictionary. According to the (a) definition in my American Heritage, sound is vibration carried through a suitable medium in a frequency range capable of being heard by the human ear. It doesn’t say the sound actually has to be heard. So according to (a), yes, there’s a sound. The (c) definition says a sound is the sensation generated in the organs of hearing by the aforesaid vibration. So according to (c), no, there isn’t a sound. Not the most definite answer in the world, you may think, but in view of the fact that this is obviously a matter of definition, certainly definitive.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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