I Know the Sound of One Hand Clapping!

Not only that, I can do it too–clap one hand that is.

I read the 1983 column and researched the koan interpretation of “one hand clapping.” There sure was a lot of verbal explanation required of physical gestures! That’s what you get for being coy about what you mean.

One unsatisfactory answer was the sound of a slap. Silence is another unsatisfactory one, a half clap another

A better answer is that the sound of one hand clapping is the same as two hands clapping. Are only two hands clapping or are both of them clapping when two hands are clapping, I ask you?

The puzzle here is one of apparent impossibility-if you assume that two hands are necessary for clapping. What after all is the definition of clapping? I propose ‘two more or less flat surfaces flatly whacking each other, thereby producing a sound.’

Can the action of one unassisted hand fit that definition? Well, mine can! Your hands just may not be flexible enough. I clap the surfaces of my fingers against my palm. I use only the parts of one hand to do this, so it appears to be the action of one hand upon itself.

You can wave your hand in the air, thrust it forward as in the Zen koan, or smack it against something other than the hand itself, but there will be no sound of two surfaces smacking each other, i.e. a ‘clap.’

And, I can make quite a smack using just one hand. After that little demo, I show them what the sound of two hands clapping is by clapping each of my two hands against itself simultaneously.

So, I have solved the age-old problem to the satisfaction of any impartial observer–or would that be hearer? If you don’t agree, I’m sorry, you’re just not impartial, that’s all there is to it!

So, I want credit. I want headlines! “Lone philosopher solves age-old question” something like that.

Pokey

Correction: “but there will be no sound of two surfaces OF ONE HAND smacking each other.”

http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_049 is the link to the column of Secil in question.

That’s fine and all, but what you haven’t realized is…

… there is no hand.

Simpsons did it!

Comedian Shelley Berman ruefully confessed that he had heard the sound of one hand clapping.

Is it the hand doing the clapping or is the clapping moving the hand? How do you separate one from the other?

I thought the sound was ‘cl’

(I have to thank Terry Pratchett for that one)

Now don’t go all religious on me. You probably refer to either Parmenides doctrine or to the Christian one of “The things which are are not made of the things which do appear,” but in fact of eternal things.

Anyway, there are other difficulties. Define hand. Where does the hand leave off and the arm begin? Or again, is this an answer to the question of “What is the SOUND of one hand clapping?” If producing that sound is possible, which must be admitted since I am an intelligent truth-teller, the sound is just vibrations in air and not the act, which has inarguably produced them to the great amusement of the assembled audience.

But again, is sound a physical phenomenon or a perceptual one? If a deaf, one-handed man claps in the forest, is there a sound of clapping?

(Hijack: I love that the Google ads have interpreted “hand” to “digital music”…)

Clap your hands. Remember that sound, and divide by two.

For the Buddhists among you, divide by mu.

For the Hindus, if doesn’t work, kill yourself and try again. Repeat as needed.

I believe that Bart Simpson came up with this answer to the Zen koan a few years ago.