If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one around, does it
make a sound? Well, yes of course. Why does this presumably
silly question keep coming up generation after generation?
Because the question is not so silly. It's actually a good
question and meant to be perplexing. The words ask us to
consider the scientific principals while the meaning behind them
causes us to consider if we are so important, as people, that it
takes having one of us there in order to validate the sound of
the tree. The purpose of the question is philosophical and
scientific. Believe it or not there is an answer to the age old
Let's start with the tree. Does it by itself matter or the
fact that it fell have any significance? Using the normal
methods of measurement the answer may be, no. If a tree falls
in a forest and does not affect anything than not only does it
lack significance, it doesn't exist at all. Again, using our
regular perception, if there is no affect than there is no
presence in the first place. When the tree falls does it stop
producing whatever chemicals it had been? Does it cease to
consume what it had? Did it affect any other plants or animals
on its' way down? Was there someone to witness its' dive either
by sight or sound? Obviously the answer is yes to at least one
of these criteria which means the tree does exist and did indeed
make a sound. Let's increase the argument. We now know that in
order for something to exist it must have an affect on some
other thing. If an object has no influence in all forms
possible on any other object then we can say that it does not
exist. I am not speaking in terms that are confined to our
limited understanding as humans. This is not a material
argument. To demonstrate let's add God to the equation. God is
omnipotent and omnipresent. God is everywhere and also aware of
all things. Therefore, every tree that falls exists and does
make a sound because it has had an influence on another object.
Everything that happens has its' existence validated by the fact
that God is.
Now let's take the argument to its' very limit. God is aware
of everything and knows what does not exist. He now becomes a
being that is affected by these "nonexistent" objects. Their
lack of presence has had an impact on Him. By definition, now
they do exist because they have made an affect on another
object. Therefore, nothing does not exist.
God has proved this to be true. Romans 4:17b says, "-the God
who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as
though they were." Further, 1 Corinthians 1:28 says, "He chose
the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the
things that are not - to nullify the things that are," The most
extraordinary example of God knowing and using the things that
don't exist is found in 1 Samuel 13:14 which says, "But now your
kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his
own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you
have not kept the Lord's command." Saul was loosing his throne
to a man after God's heart, David, who didn't exist until eight
years after Samuel said this. Since God is able to use what
doesn't exist to do his work it is obvious that nothing that
does exist stands a chance of not having an affect or influence
on the universe and the mind of God.
Over the past few years I have encouraged many of my friends to
celebrate life. The closest Saturday to February 8th is my
annual "Life Party" which commemorates my most profound brush
with death. Every year yields a wondrous conversation somewhere
in the evening. While the year through I continue my evaluation
and investigation of life. Over time I have arranged a
multitude of stories and testimonies regarding the influence of
others on our lives both individual and collective.
A newly gathered tale has become one of my favorites. A young
lady decided that as a teacher she had the opportunity to not
just pour facts into her students but also give them insight
into their being. As nothing more than a simple exercise for
her students she began the days class by handing out sheets of
paper. At the top of each sheet was the name of a student in
the class followed by as many blank lines as there were other
students. Each member of the class was to write on a blank line
one positive attribute about the student at the top of the paper
and then pass it down the line until all the blanks were filled
and the students names were followed by affirmations listed by
the rest of the class. Each student then received the sheet
that had their name at the top. It was, to her, a simple way to
help them see positive things in others. Many years later this
teacher received a phone call from a set of parents that once
had a son in her class. They called to let her know how much
she meant to their son and that they wanted to thank her.
Flattered but confused she asked why they had gone to the
trouble of tracking her down for the phone call. Unfortunately,
they had to report that their son had been killed in the Persian
Gulf War. But in his personal belongings found on him when he
died was a list of positive things about himself written by his
old class mates. For years he had cherished this simple
exercise so much that it went with him, in his pocket, around
the world, to combat. This teacher now knows that she stands no
chance of not influencing anyone.
It seems that every year I come into contact with those who
have lost a brother or a sister at a young age. I know that my
brothers should be having these kinds of conversations about me.
I should not be around to tell stories about them.
Nevertheless, I am here and I write this and you are affected by
it. You and I exist. We are not ghosts. We cannot pass our
hands through solid objects with no affect as if we were not
there. We are. There is not a one of us no matter who we are
or what we do, friend, teacher, brother that stands a chance of
not being significant.
Today I dance upon a fallen tree. Knowing that everything is
and nothing does not exist is a great relief. While it's true
that everything is still subject to definition of its'
substance, I know that it is all there to make a life with.
Just as some things that exist must have their substance defined
as fantasy or fact once they are examined, I too get the
opportunity to define my substance. Life is now incapable of
being nothing more than thought, abstract, chaos, finite or
So many of us search for significance while all the time we
have no hope of being involved in anything else. We are an
influence on God, a very significant being. What we do in
defining our substance is simply our choice. It does not change
the fact that we are here, alive.
Oddly enough I now know I am significant enough to not be here.
That is to say, having a knowledge of ones' significance
doesn't raise the level of pressure of being alive. It's a
release from it. If my brothers did have to have conversations
concerning my death then what they knew about me, the extent of
the influence I had on them and the impact I had made for God
and on God would be the definition of my substance. This is
where I would be finally examined. That's a frightening
prospect once I reflect on my life, to that point in time, when I
almost died but, relieving to finally put it in its proper
perspective from now on.
Even to this day, when I tell someone about my experience with
death the typical response is overwhelmingly, "Well, there must
be something else that you're supposed to do." But of course.
I am still significant. No more or less than I was before. God
is aware of me no more and no less than ever. I am here to
continue being of substance. I am here to be what I was before,
multiplied by the experiences I have had since, giving me a
substance ready and willing to be added to.
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