Frequently Asked Questions

These are some of the most frequently asked questions that I can think of. Except for the first one. Nobody's actually asked that one yet, but if this website had a lot of viewers, I imagine it'd get asked every now and then. If you have a question you want answered, you can submit a question by sending me an e-mail. My current address is hc(at)qrivy(dot)net. If I really like it (or if I really hate it), I may add it to the FAQ.

The Questions

Why can't I view the videos on your sticks page?

You might need to download the latest DivX codec. Try I'm not about to do technical support for you, so that's all the help you get.

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around, does it make a sound?

Depends on your definition of "sound." My copy of THE AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLEGE dic-tion-ar-y contains many definitions of "sound." For example, definition 1c, "The sensation stimulated in the organs of hearing by such vibrations in the air or other medium," yields a resounding "no", because it requires that sounds exist within the ear. On the other hand, definition 1b, "Transmitted vibrations [through an elastic material] of any frequency..." results in the answer "yes," for any motion through an elastic medium will cause such vibrations, according to the standardly accepted laws of physics. Now some amateur quantum physicists may try to argue that according to the laws of quantum physics, an event will exist in a state of quantum flux until observed, but this is due to a flawed interpretation of the Copenhagen model of quantum mechanics. In order for an event to be "observed," it need not be observed in the traditional sense by a "sentient" being. It merely needs to have some sort of interaction with the outside world, either immediately or in retrospect (i.e. a sophisticated instrument could tell if the air had been disturbed at a certain point in the past and this possibility counts as an interaction). There is still the point that I am (and I am well aware of this fact) taking for granted the validity of modern physics. This is a different argument entirely. If one wishes to challenge the validity of well-substantiated research on scientific grounds, one should give up, but if one desires to counter on philosophical grounds, I will agree with him/her, for, at heart, I am an agnostic. In this final case, the question is unanswerable; it should be unasked; in short, the answer is "mu."

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

The literal answer to this question is quite simple. Dinosaurs and other reptiles and bird-ancestors were laying eggs long before anything resembling a chicken was born. Of course, immediately one is tempted to revise the question to "Which came first: the chicken or the chicken egg?" However, this question breeds the same sort of confusion. By "chicken egg," do you mean an egg that hatches into a chicken, or an egg laid by a chicken? If the latter is true, then the answer must be the chicken because any chicken egg must be laid by a chicken. If the former is what you intended, then according to Darwinian evolution, the answer would be the egg. A long time ago, there were animals that were very much like chickens, but not quite chickens according to modern taxonomic nomenclature. It doesn't matter where you define the cut-off point between chicken and non-chicken, but at some point, random mutations will generate the zygote for what you would call a chicken. Before this embryo becomes a chicken, it must gestate in an egg first, and this egg would be a chicken egg, even though it wouldn't have been laid by a chicken. Of course, I would hold that the distinctions between species loses much of its usefulness when applied to subjects with the trans-special scope of evolution. When frozen in time, the distinctions between species can be fairly well-defined, but when you have an ancestral chain that changes gradually over the millenia, there will always be intermediate organisms that are on the fuzzy line between chicken and non-chicken. When this is taken into consideration, the question becomes moot.

What is the sound of one hand clapping?

Any twelve-year-old can answer this one for you. They'll raise their hand into the air and smack their fingers against their palm. It's a soft noise, but it is a sound. I once read a Zen koan expressing a similar sentiment. I will try to reproduce it in spirit, if not letter, here.

A Zen master asked a monk: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" The monk slapped him. At that moment, the master became enlightened.

While these responses might seem to miss the point, I think they make an even stronger point than the original question. The purpose of the original question was to trigger a response of "mu" in the person being asked. The reason why the question didn't seem to have an answer was because the assumed premise of the question was faulty. Clapping is an action that requires two seperate objects coming together suddenly to produce a sound on contact. The asking of the riddle causes one to question the never-stated premises, and thus demonstrate how important it is to question that which has not been expressly stated. The most dangerous beliefs are those we do not realize we believe. But to me, the alternate responses to the riddle provide an even greater message. Once the riddle became well-known, it began to accumulate its own silent premises. It was always assumed that the question had no answer. Until some twelve-year old who didn't know that there wasn't supposed to be an answer tried to answer it, and succeeded. The message here is doubly strong; even when you think you've questioned everything, you haven't. It's impossible to check every possibility, for there are always possibilities that you haven't considered. It's difficult to think outside of the box when you don't even realize that there is a box and that it has an outside. Like the old adage says: the last thing a fish knows is water.