Other Minds

Other Minds

The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
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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, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify individual human keepers, raid neighboring tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? What does it mean that evolution built minds not once but at least twice? The octopus is 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. As Godfrey-Smith stresses, it is a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared. Tracking the mind's fitful development, Godfrey-Smith shows how unruly clumps of seaborne cells began living together and became capable of sensing, acting, and signaling. As these primitive organisms became more entangled with others, they grew more complicated. The first nervous systems evolved, probably in ancient relatives of jellyfish; later on, the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous mollusks, abandoned their shells and rose above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so. Taking an independent route, mammals and birds later began their own evolutionary journeys.

But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? Drawing on the latest scientific research and his own scuba-diving adventures, Godfrey-Smith probes the many mysteries that surround the lineage. How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually "think for themselves"? What happens when some octopuses abandon their hermit-like ways and congregate, as they do in a unique location off the coast of Australia?

By tracing 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.

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780374227760
0374227764
Branch Call Number: 612.8 GOD
Characteristics: x, 255 pages : illustrations (chiefly colour)

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staineai
Oct 24, 2017

Very interesting read! I wish he got a little bit more philosophical but otherwise it was an interesting overview of evolution and the basic mechanics of the mind.

k
kajeh
Sep 24, 2017

What is consciousness? Do animals have it? Given the title of the book and the fact that it is written by a philosopher you might expect some answers, or at least a lively philosophical discussion. Never happens. Hume is mentioned once, maybe twice. Descartes once, I think. Freud not at all. Most of the time I got the impression he was in a hurry to get back into his scuba gear and hang out with octopuses. Which is fine. If that's the kind of book you're looking for, this is it. He did a great job explaining octopus and cuttlefish behaviour. And he certainly convinced me they are really really smart. Intelligence, however, is not the same as consciousness and it seems he was uninterested or unaware of the distinction. So at the end of the day, having read the book, I am still no nearer an answer to a question that has intrigued me for years: Are animals conscious? 1 out of 5 on that score. As a book about animal behaviour, 4 out of 5. .

AL_ANNA Jul 28, 2017

Intelligence and consciousness evolved more than once on this planet. Cephalopods are evolution's only experiment in big brains outside of the vertebrates. They have self awareness with a distributed mind, which opens new horizons in our search for life in the universe. The underwater pictures of Octopolis are amazing.

SFPL_danielay Jul 27, 2017

An absolutely fascinating exploration of consciousness . Starting with the observation of complex octopus behavior, the author, a philosopher of science, explores what consciousness means and how it could have evolved not only once but several times in evolutionary history. If you are looking for a book about octopus behavior and their interactions with humans, this book might not completely satisfy you but if you are willing to follow Godfrey-Smith on his journey into the ocean and back in time, you are in for a treat.

JCLAmyF Feb 08, 2017

Absolutely fascinating look into the evolution of consciousness and self-awareness! What does it feel like to be a cuttlefish? How about an octopus? For that matter, what the heck does it feel like to be a human? Philosophy meets science meets fascinating creatures.

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