This is a classic thought experiment from Philosophy 101, intended to kick off a flurry of questions about the relationship between observation and reality. For science-minded folk who have no patience for such drivel, the short answer is this – sound is defined as “vibrations that travel through the air to another medium and can be heard when they reach the ear of a person or animal.” In the absence of the aforementioned ear, there is no “sound”, QED. For those not familiar with scientist lingo, “QED” is Latin for “I win.”
Up until recently, there have been two options in this falling tree kerfuffle; you can descend into a never-ending maelstrom of neural fog, passing through existentialism, nihilism and the ultimate collapse of certainty, identity and truth, OR you can be content with being labeled a smart ass and move on. Thanks to researchers at the Australian National University, there is now a third option.
Building on Wheeler’s classic double-slit experiment with photons, Professor Andrew Truscott and the ANU team were able to do something similar with helium atoms. Since atoms have mass and are the fundamental building blocks of everything, this work instantly had some real cred. Dr. Truscott’s conclusion is that reality does not exist unless you are measuring it, at least in the world of quantum physics. For those not familiar with scientist lingo, “quantum physics” is what scientists resort to when regular physics isn’t working out for them.
For those who are familiar with scientist lingo, a full technical explanation can be found in Dr. Truscott’s paper in the journal Nature Physics. For those who choose the smart ass option, this is pure genius.