Have you ever encountered the question that asks whether sound ever happens if there is no one to hear it?

I’m sure you have. You probably have your own opinion concerning this question and it probably comes from the fundaments you were educated with. Your knowledge of acoustic science, and your own attributes of observation or philosophical platform. To me, this question overestimates the listeners place within Nature’s context and implies that without a destination, the source is nonexistent.

According to the Physics Hypertextbook -a work in progress- (aptly put) “sound is a longitudinal, mechanical wave”. It can “travel through any medium, but it cannot travel through a vacuum”. Science defines sound as being generated and propagated, and has no need of a purpose or a destination to exist. Sound is the word of Nature. It is intrinsic to it, woven into it with everything else to make a single cloth (Aldo Leopold 1887-1948). Sound as language and discourse of Nature existed long before the capacity to hear (a transducer), and will exist long past the need for it.

We seem to know that sound is generated by motion. No motion, no sound. Science agrees that sound needs a medium to propagate. The most familiar one to us humans is air because it’s the one we live in, but ask a whale how things sound under water, and it will tell you they sound much better and much clearer from much further away. This is because water is much denser than air. Why? Because air is 78% Nitrogen which is a chemical element, therefore atomic, and water is a bond of two elements, which is a molecule. A bigger and heavier particle bunched closer together. When a movement happens, it pushes against the particles next to the object in motion and moves some of them forward in direct proportion to the protocol of the motion (compression). The particles then return to their original place (decompression), and this is a wave. If the motion is of a short duration and weak, the sound won’t last long or propagate far. On the other hand, if the motion is continuous and strong, the sound will last long and propagate far.

Now that we’ve illustrated the mechanics of sound, let’s ask ourselves, how did we develop a receptor that accommodates itself so well to that mechanism? Our sense of audition is formed by four basic stages: 1-External, 2- Middle, 3- Internal, 4- Neural. This is without mentioning all the resonance support provided by the bone surrounding the ear canal and all the other bone chambers of the head. How does this sense relate to the other four senses?  And what does this sense provide to our overall stream of conscious perception?  …And most of all, considering the infinite and eternal complexities of our known universe, considering the much less complex but just as important complexities of our fairly unexplored human reality, and ultimately, considering the technological sophistication of this outrageously cool tool… What is all this for?

Jan Tholenaar is an Audio Video Systems Integrator living and servicing the Dade and Broward areas of Southern Florida. He can be reached through us or you can e-mail him directly at