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The Sounds of Life: Karen Bakker, PhD on PYP 542

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What do you get when you combine a reverential attitude toward the natural world with a high-tech approach to problem solving?

You get the story told in Karen Bakker's fabulous new book, The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants.

In it, Dr Bakker writes both sharply and poetically about a world humming, buzzing, whistling, rattling, and singing – in frequencies that the human ear cannot apprehend.

The inexpensive and easy to maintain audio recording devices that have accompanied the digital revolution are now allowing us to listen in to nature as she speaks to herself, and as her creatures speak to one another. Thanks to supercomputers, artificial intelligence algorithms for deep learning, and cadres of professional and amateur researchers, we're learning that many beings communicate with sound, and some of them may even possess – are you sitting down? – language.

That last word is an invitation to a fight at any number of biology conferences; unsurprisingly, human scientists have defined language – and even intelligence – in a completely human-centric way.

But whales communicating their locations over thousands of miles, and teaching their babies to speak; elephants rumbling subsonically into the savannah ground to coordinate mating and share important news; even mother turtles singing their newly hatched babies from the beach into the ocean; these and other examples of nature talking amongst itself, with us totally oblivious, are the norm, not the exception.

The upside of these technologies and the scale at which they're being deployed is understanding, potential kinship, and reconnection to the web of all life.

The downside is more complete domination and ownership, as we come closer to mastering the language of bees and coral reefs to fulfill our needs at the expense of others.

In our conversation, we note that many of the scientists who are taking the time to study bioacoustics and ecoacoustics are women, operating in organic time (“Kairos,” Dr Bakker called it, using the Greek words for leisurely unfolding, as opposed to the unyielding “Chronos,” or clock time) and having the patience and faith to listen for years and decades.

We also point out that many of these “new” discoveries have been known to Indigenous peoples since time out of mind, and that Indigenous leadership of the sciences might produce wiser, more useful, and far more sustainable systems and technologies than we've managed with the modern “command and control” methods of scientific inquiry.


The Sounds of Life, by Karen Bakker

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Well, that's what Peter Bregman and I claim in our provocative book of that title.

What we really mean is, you can help the people around you make behavioral changes in their own best interests. If you think you're powerless to help people change, it's because you've been going about it the wrong way.

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It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website,


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1 comment on “The Sounds of Life: Karen Bakker, PhD on PYP 542

  1. Marian Blum says:

    I listened to this interview on my commute. Couldn’t wait to get home and tell my partner about the coral, the whales, the turtles, and the elephants!! Cutting edge tech is finally demonstrating what indigenous people knew long ago, and sensitive modern folks like your listeners have intuited. Of course the world is teeming with intelligence beyond our imaginings! The question is: what will we do about it? We need a sea change in human consciousness. I know this book, and your podcast, are helping. Thank you, Howie, for another enlightening conversation!

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