The universe is silent and colorless

I know that these ideas have been floating around out in many minds for some time, but I am always surprised when I start thinking about them. Even though they are completely logical and obvious once pointed out, the fact that our sensory perception is entirely subjective is quite weird.

I was thinking about this today while sitting in the neuro class that I am TAing. We were discussing the auditory system and how it works, when it suddenly hit me again that sound is nothing but vibration (usually of the air). We perceive tones in our brains, but this is just a way for our ears to tell us, “hey, I’m getting a loud frequency of 262 Hz from the left ear.”

Which makes that question- that I always thought of as stupid- much more interesting: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” If “no one” includes any creature that can obtain information from vibrations, then it actually doesn’t make a sound. I usually think of sound as something defined by vibration, but in terms of biology it is defined a bit differently, as an interpretation of that vibration.

The same idea applies to touch, vision, smell, taste, and the rest. When you bite into that delicious juicy steak that makes your brain happy, really all that is happening is that proteins in your taste buds interact with specific chemicals from the meat and then pass this info along to the brain, saying “hey, I found some acetate!” and the like. Your brain then sums these different chemical inputs into a taste perception.

A little weird to think about, huh?

6 thoughts on “The universe is silent and colorless

  1. There’s a saying in the tradition of Vedanta:

    If you can see it,
    touch it,
    taste it,
    smell it,
    imagine it,
    conceptualize it,
    visualize it,

    then, it’s not real.

    1. What is real anyway? Isn’t everything in one way or another? Those things exist to us as humans. If we weren’t, then they wouldn’t be, but we are, and so they are. They are conditioned, thus not the unconditioned ultimate reality, but they are there ready to smack you in the face XD empty and not empty.

  2. Internet is funny. After years, some softbrain from Finland finds your writing and comments on it :).

    Your point of view is interesting and thought-provoking. You are absolutely right, the universe is colorless and silent, but it requires a combination of two presumptions. First you need to presume, that there is a universe existing without an observer. That universe we can only think or imagine, because we are stuck to our senses and equipment that are observable through our senses. That universe is easily imagined as colourless and silent, as those two qualities are qualities of human or other sentient being´s receptor-mind-system. Secondly, you need to presume that colour and sound exist somewhere outside the mind, i.e. in the universe that you observe being outside of yourself.

    There is two ways of approaching this question. One is to use logic and thinking, combine the things that you know and imagine and create a model that is describeable with words. That is what the guys and gals behind eurobraskan-nickname´s link about phenomenology use to approach the question. Another way is to observe all phenomenon and appearances yourself long enough, through your senses, so you start to make sense of the universe, opening through you, by yourself.

    I have sometimes thought that how the hell phenomenologist Marting Heidegger came across such a pivotal questions and answers, if he used only logic and thinking. I don’t understand how that is possible and don’t know anybody who knew the guy well enough to say if he did some kind of practice to be able to observe the being so accurately. He fell short in restricting the being to words and concepts, but that is something you can not avoid, if you want to be able to describe the being to someone, who tries to make sense of it by thought.

    You might enjoy this video*, where physicist David Bohm describes his take on reality and perception. You can self decide whether it has something to do with your question or not. How Bohm did get his insights, I don’t know, other than discussion with people who have done a lot of “observing the universe on their own”. He might have done some practice-action that I am not aware of.

    Universe is an action, not a mere thought. Or to be less strict and make clear my own experience of it, it is both, as universe for a person is what it is for him-/herself. For me there is the universe that is experienced in me, there is an universe opening in every sentient being and there is the universe that is common to us all from what our senses make an universe to each one of us, where we live in.

    Our task is to find out that nothing is either-or. Happy searching for you and thank you for your inspiring writing!

  3. I think the question of the tree falling in a forest and nobody hearing it doesn’t make a sound is stupid! Even if we were all naturally deaf and a tree fell yes, it would make a sound…however the defect would be on tbe deaf of the ears and whether or not the tree itself is the problem because if a tree falls and is subjected to gravity its going to make a sound When Iit hits the ground. By far those of you who think this way; is deaf in the mind and just because you lack doesn’t mean the tree didn’t do as it should. Common sense would suggest that if you fell from off the top of that tree would you in fact make a sound even if u were mute, paralyzed and deaf? Whether or not any living animal is nearby to hear the THUD of your body that is being hurlied down at a high rate of speed then slamming onto a hard still conrete or dirt packed road would yield two distinctive sound the thud and the high pitched saprano voice your mouth would be emitting as you would be screaming for help! But then again if no one is there to hear u scream did u really make a sound at all?

    It’s obvious we can’t understand what a tree may be saying, but at one time one human could understand what any living thing said and that was Adam in an out of the garden of Eden except the snake (after he was expelled from the garden) it could not communicate with Adam or Eve.

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