Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness Info

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Named a Top Ten Science Book of Fall 2016 by Publishers
Weekly

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.


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