Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness” is a great read for it’s philosophical discussion on consciousness, and highlighting of cephalopods for their intelligence and behaviors.
Book Description :
“Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods. The squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus are the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter?
In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being – how nature became aware of itself. Godfrey-Smith tracks the mind’s fitful development from unruly clumps of seaborne cells to the first nervous systems and on to the cephalopods and their independent acquisition of intellectual gifts. Drawing on the latest scientific research and his own scuba-diving adventures, Godfrey-Smith probes the many mysteries that surround the cephalopods’ lineage. By tracking the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind – and on our own.”
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for its examination of how consciousness may have first come to be, and how it relates not just to us but to other species who may have achieved the same awareness. It also goes on to study cephalopod behavior and intelligence, as well as some of their unique tools for camouflage and body language. With the exception a a few squid species such as cuttlefish and other squid, octopuses are not very social. Howvere, Godfrey-Smith and a colleague of his have found a place where for some odd reason, they are always interacting with each other. They dubbed this area ‘Octopolis’, and have recorded footage of some of the behaviors that occur at the site. Mating, fighting, touching, and chasing have been seen. There is only one other area like this mentioned, and strangely, these are the only known sites where octopuses live together and interact this way.
One interaction between human and octopus was discussed that I found interesting myself. It involved a smaller species of octopus reaching out to touch a diver’s offered hand, then trying to lead the diver back to its den. Clearly, this animal knew that it could hardly eat the diver, but I do think it’s possible that it may have wanted to investigate the human more in the privacy of its home.
As most biologists know, intelligence is a heavy energy investment for any organism, and those organisms tend to live longer lives. It is this fact coupled with cephalopods’ short lifespans that flies in the face of this general rule. Cuttlefish, some of the most brilliantly color-changing masters in the animal kingdom, only live for about two years. The giant pacific octopus may live to about 6 if lucky. Generally, these animals breed once or twice in their lives, and then die. It definitely makes me wonder what they could become given enough time if they did have longer lives. Would they reach greater intelligence? What might they do with it?
There is so much more to absorb from this book that I can’t possibly express. As a lover of biology, and as someone who grew up near the ocean, this story of cephalopods is a definite winner in my collection. I recommend it to any lover of strange, and beautiful creatures. Check it out from the library, or buy it!
One more book left to finish on my list: Coyote America by Dan Flores. Stay tuned. 🙂