The Slow-Cooked Sentence: Words as sustenance.


Rachael Conlin Levy
Does a falling tree scream? Photo courtesy of slimmer_jimmer.

If a woman screams because she had the following things going on this week: grimy windows, sticky floor, a mother-in-law arriving for a two-week visit, piles of laundry from last week’s camp-out, a broken vacuum, a sick toddler, twins turning eight, a cat with an abscess, soccer snack and mold in the bathroom, and no one is around to hear her, does she make a sound?

A possible answer, plus a biology lesson

When the woman screams, a large amount of air passes over the vocal chords, causing them to vibrate. The vibrations cause a compression and expansion of air, creating a sound wave. Sound waves are produced, regardless of what conscious being is there to perceive them. When sound waves hit the ear, they travel down the ear canal, cause three tiny bones to vibrate against the eardrum. The vibrations pass to the small, shell-shaped cochlea filled with liquid. The liquid moves causing hair cells to tremble and shake, triggering an electrical impulse to the brain, which, finally, registers the vibration as sound. That is why we have an auditory cortex in the neocortex of the brain, to interpret the vibrations of a toddler whining or a vacuum breaking. But the short of it is: If there’s no ear to capture the noise, then her scream does not exist as sound, only vibration.

A question over evidence

How do we know said woman is justified in her screaming if no one was around to witness it or even hear it? Can you send a scream via the Internet by chopping it up it into a million tiny pieces and then have it reassemble itself on another’s screen? Would they hear it?

Answer to evidence and a clarification

It’s a philosophical question. Why do you scream? When do you scream? Are you screaming right now? This is an exercise for the mind. The more you use it the stronger it gets. The real question is: If a vibration is cased by a woman screaming and no one can hear or feel it, is it real? The only real answer to any metaphysical question is consciousness. Your conscious thought (the voice in your head asking this question) was the answer to the question all along.

Philosophy is a slippery slope

This is a straightforward question. There is nothing rhetorical, mysterious or metaphysical involved. The question asks whether we would hear the scream of a woman panicking over: grimy windows, a sticky floor, a mother-in-law arriving for a two-week visit, piles of laundry from last week’s camp-out, a broken vacuum, a sick toddler, twins turning eight, a cat with an abscess, soccer snack and mold in the bathroom. And the conclusion is that there would, indeed, be screaming and we would, indeed, hear it. It’s not rocket science.

An engineer answers, anyway

Yes. Sound is mechanical energy and sound will be created when the woman screams. If no one is there to hear it that does not negate the fact that the woman created a sound and the scream bounced off the grimy windows and ricocheted throughout the house.

A simpler answer

If the woman screamed, would a deaf person hear her? No, because the deaf person’s auditory system is broken and wouldn’t pick up the the vibrations that make sound. They may feel the lower vibrations in their body, but not the sound.

A personal point of view answer

No matter what, whether heard or not, the woman would make a sound. This conclusion makes sense because if she had all that stuff going on and someone WAS around to hear her throat-ripping panic, she WOULD make a sound. That “someone” could be the woman, herself, who would definitely hear her own scream.

As an example, picture yourself as a child living with your mom. Your TV is rather loud, and tunes out all other sounds. Your mom is shouting to you from across the room. You can’t hear her, but she is making a sound. Why can’t you hear her? Is it because the TV’s noise overwhelms her shout? Now picture the same thing, except the TV is not on, and you are sitting on the couch, deep in thought. Your mom yells again from upstairs. Though no other noise is made except for hers, you still can’t hear her. Why? Is it because she is too far away? Whatever your excuse for not listening, she’s still screaming at you.

A disputing viewpoint

The scenarios above would make a sound, a lot of sound. Here’s my analogy: If a person blows a dog whistle does it make a sound? Not to a human, but definitely to a dog. And in my opinion, that kid is acting like a dog and should get up off the couch and go help his mother.

It depends on certain factors

Just how overwhelmed is the woman and how loud is she screaming? What is her breaking point? Is it the sick kid, the abscess, the roller rink? Could she scream so loudly that it could be heard half way around the world. Also are we assuming that the vibration in the air is not a scream until it reaches our ear? What is the speed of sound and how long does it take to get half way around the world? Is a snack not a snack until we eat it? Is a child not sick until we take his temperature? Sound exists whether we are around or not (as do mothers-in-law). The real question is whether there’s anyone around to translate the woman’s sound into useful information.

Call in the reinforcements

I think that she does make a sound because if she makes a sound when we are there then why would she not if we were not there? If I stick to her kitchen floor we all hear the sticking sound with maybe small differences. So her scream is not completely in our mind, though she may be going out of her mind. Maybe she should hire a cleaning service or find a therapist.

Is a scream still a scream in an unknown language?

The reason she screams is the same whether she screamed in Japanese while in America. Someone makes that sound and others hear it and understand it, but you don’t, maybe because you don’t know Japanese or maybe it’s because you weren’t there. Either way, you will still know she screamed because in the first scenario someone could tell you about the scream and in the second you could probably decipher her emotion over the grimy windows, a sticky floor, a mother-in-law arriving for a two-week visit, piles of laundry from last week’s camp-out, a broken vacuum, a sick toddler, twins turning eight, a cat with an abscess, soccer snack and mold in the bathroom…

Inspiration for this piece should go to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and’s “If a tree falls …

2 responses to “Q&A”

  1. mamapease says:

    Do you need to borrow our vacuum?

    Can a smile and hug be sent through the computer? The answer: Sure, why not?

    🙂 🙂 XX 🙂 🙂 XX 🙂 🙂 XX

  2. shannon says:

    I hear your scream loud and clear and I am miles away!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe: rss | email | twitter