If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" Philosopher George Berkeley asked this question while he was looking for answers to the notion that perception creates our reality. "Sound" is used to describe a physical phenomenon, an audible wave of pressure; but it is also an experience, the result of physical signals delivered by sense organs such as ears, which are synthesized in the brain as a form of perception. Berkeley's theory says, "Yes," it would make a sound even if no one were there to hear it because God hears everything.
Berkeley was a bishop. He was a religious man and an empiricist philosopher although he was a brilliant critic of his predecessors like René Descartes, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. However, there is a modern physics version of the question he asked: "Is the moon there when nobody's looking?" Albert Einstein asked this question to the quantum physicist Niehl Bohr, and Bohr said, "It's not there when nobody is looking." According to Bohr, when we don't look at the moon all that exists is a probability density. When we make an observation on the position of any thing, we force the universe to take a stand and the thing pops into existence at a certain place, according to quantum mechanics. The question is about perception and discusses existence outside of human perception. Can we assume that unobserved things function the same as the observed?
I sometimes find myself thinking about this absorbing philosophical question. Are things really there or are not, when we don't observe them? For instance, if a crime took place and the people involved are dead, did it still happen or did it not? If someone was killed in some place, let's say, in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and if there was no one to see it or hear it, were they still killed? Well, you know, if there was not a recording of the horrific murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own people, the Saudi authorities most probably would have continued to insist that he was not killed inside.
And if someone was tortured, raped, dismembered or killed through starvation in Syria, Yemen, Libya, or any other location over the world, and there was no one to see, hear or report it, did it still happen or not? If there was a massacre, for example in Myanmar, Kashmir, Gaza or Africa, and there were no survivors or witnesses, did it still happen? There are millions of people who were forced to flee from their homes all around the world, if they died in an unknown place, are they dead? We only hear or see the statistics of people killed, wounded, tortured, raped or lost in conflicts, but we don't know their names or their stories. A few are lucky and their stories are heard when reporters risk their lives to tell us what really happened. But what about the others, the majority?
We don't know how Berkeley would answer this question if he was alive in this age or how the conversation between Einstein and Bohr would be shaped if we asked them about these humanitarian crises. Still, I suggest that they all would say that the victims were tortured, raped, dismembered and starved; the massacre existed since there was at least one person who saw and heard what happened: The executor.
Some 70 world leaders came together in Paris on Sunday to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice that ended World War I, and they honored the 16 millions combatants and millions of civilians who died in the bloody war. The world has mostly never heard the tragic stories of those who stopped breathing other than the timelines, statistics and turning points that we read in history books, but Nov. 11, 1918, the day the guns fell silent across the Western Front, was barely an end to conflicts.
The instability created in Europe by World War I set the stage for the next international conflict, World War II, a more devastating one, which broke out just two decades later. It is estimated that 45-60 million people were killed from 1939 to 1945. However, the casualties during these international conflicts cannot be limited to the time periods of the two world wars. The number of people who were tortured, raped, wounded or became refugees was huge, while the number of people who suffered during pre-war conflicts is beyond estimation.
On Sunday in Paris, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, the leaders of France and Germany, that fought against each other in the two world wars, were holding hands as the representatives of the French-German alliance of the new world. However, their photos did not look as if the alliance was a promising one for the future. Instead, it was like a joint struggle of two centrist leaders defending liberalism against the rising far-right in Europe.
Last month, Merkel announced she would not seek another term as chancellor after heavy losses to populists in regional elections in Germany, while Macron is losing his popularity dramatically against Marine Le Pen's remodeled National Front this month.
The open borders policy of the EU in 2015 with regards to the migrant crisis sparked strong outrage among far-right groups in Europe, and it is still growing. Nazi symbols are banned in Europe, but many protesters have been photographed openly making the Nazi salute during riots. From Italy and Austria to Hungary and Poland, ethno-nationalism and populism are spreading like a cancer in Europe where the two world wars had broken out. The ones who lead those fascistic protests are beyond saving, they are deaf; but the rest who are following the trend can be regained. All we have to do is encourage sympathy toward the victims in current conflict zones. All they need is to hear the sound of the falling trees, to make them perceive the existing brutalities on the other side of the world in an unfiltered way. They just need the naked truth. That's the only way to avoid growing polarization and prevent another international conflict. That's the only way to save our forest, the future.