How complex does animal communication get? How much information is encoded in dog barks, the clicks of sperm whales, or the chirps of small birds?

In this conversation I speak with Irene Pepperberg, who is an expert on animal communication and cognition, best known for her work with African grey parrots. We discuss the remarkable abilities of her birds, from large vocabularies and complex verbal understanding, to counting and puzzle solving, to even competing with young children on certain cognitive tests.

We also touch on deeper questions about how animals might see the world, the link between intelligence and personhood, the morals and ethics of doing science with highly intelligent animals, as well as the morals and ethics that animals themselves might have.

►For more information about Irene’s work, or if you would like to support her research:

0:00 – Introduction
0:59 – Why study bird cognition & communication?
7:17 – Is birdsong learned?
10:57 – What is special about language?
13:46 – How is training done?
18:16 – Can birds count?
28:38 – How complex is bird cognition?
42:07 – How do birds see the world
44:50 – Birds and language
49:02 – Remarkable experiments
1:03:20 – Intelligence and personhood
1:11:50 – Animal morals and ethics
1:22:04 – Animal rights activists and the lab
1:23:52 – communicating with aliens
1:26:28 – Selectively breading hyper intelligent animals
1:29:50 – If you could ask an animal anything?

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