It is a familiar riddle, if a tree falls in the forest…. 

Not too long ago I was earwitness to exactly this phenomenon. A fierce wind, the tree could no longer stand up, its core was rotten. Over time it had slowly leaned over and now reached a tipping point. It started with short cracking events until at one point the tree fell with a loud crack and a swoosh of the branches hitting the ground, sweeping the nearby vegetation on its way down. 

The question is an old philosophical one, the sound of the falling tree considered an object of perception, without ears in earshot picking up the mechanical (sound) waves, does the sound exist? An existential problem, basically asking if reality exist outside our perception of it. I am not trying to answer that question, I am interested in the perceptual potential of the space in which we are immersed.

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My training as an archaeologist/anthropologist involved a lot of tech of the Earth observing kind. Interested in different perspectives, the view from space is an exiting one, way beyond the ordinary. It was pretty mind-blowing to understand what these sensors aboard the orbiting satellites ‘see’ and collect: reflectance (values) of electro magnetic waves, and how we can use these data to calculate and visualize the changing appearance of our home planet, In some cases, in dry areas, it even let us ‘see’ below the surface. It made me aware that ‘seeing’ is not simple, but complex and multidimensional and related and intertwined with other kinds of wave energy that can be perceived by us and other sensing beings. In a way, learning to process and interpret satellite imagery and other spatial data, extended my natural sensing abilities technologically, but also philosophically. What more is out there that I don’t pick up. 

How about the song of the wings, the dancing fireflies under a starlit sky, and other such subtle and rarely experienced events in our modern lives. Are we losing these perceptual objects? Still there but unperceivable because of sensory pollution? Or worse, transformed into something else entirely? Signal interference that actually changes a message into something unintelligible, and therefore no longer existing as intended. 

It is a new riddle for our times. 

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I cannot decide. It is exciting to have all these technological tools at your fingertips to experience the world in multiple new and different ways. At the same time I search for places that are devoid of technological impact to tap into the natural potential. I count myself lucky to be able to perceive and appreciate these perceptual wonders at opposite sides of the spectrum so to speak and beginning to grasp the complexity of our wavy world. I am not sure which one excites me more: sitting at a computer viewing the whole world on my screen, or dwelling in vast landscape, suddenly becoming aware of the singing feathers. But it dawns on me that these different ways of experiencing the world may not be compatible in the long run and that we have to make some choices. For instance, using our phone actually disturbs the navigation skills of bees in the vicinity.

 A question for our future…