Consider the peacock. Its plumage is legendary—those shimmering, iridescent colors, and those eerie, enchanting eyespots. But what often goes less appreciated (at least by us humans) is that this chromatic extravaganza is also a sonic extravaganza. The peacock’s display operates in infrasound, an acoustic dimension that we simply can’t hear without assistance. Which raises a question: If we’re oblivious to the full vibrancy of the peacock’s display, what other sounds might we be missing out on?
My guest today is Dr. Karen Bakker. Karen is Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia and author of the new book, The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology is Bringing us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants. In the book, Karen dives into rich realms of sound that, for one reason or another, humans have tended to ignore.
In this conversation, Karen and I discuss the twin fields of “bioacoustics” and “ecoacoustics.” We talk about “deep listening” and “digital listening”, “infrasound” and “ultrasound.” We discuss why sound is such a ubiquitous signaling medium across the tree of life. We consider the fact that scientific discoveries about sound have often been resisted. We touch on debates about whether animal communication systems constitute languages, and discuss new efforts to decode those systems using AI. We also talk about turtles, bats, plants, coral, bees, and—yes—peacocks.
If you enjoy our conversation, I strongly recommend Karen’s book. It’s really bursting with insight, science, and stories—all presented with unusual clarity.
Another year of Many Minds is drawing to a close and we’re about to go on a brief holiday hiatus. But first a little end-of-year ask: What topics or thinkers would you like to see us feature in 2023? If you have any ideas, we’d love to hear them. You can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alright friends, I hope you enjoy the holidays. And I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Karen Bakker.