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Sun Jun 6, 2021, 11:58 AM

Thinking Like an Octopus

JUNE 4, 2021


Still from “My Octopus Teacher.” (Netflix)

Just over five years ago, Inky the octopus became a folk hero because of his escape from a New Zealand aquarium. After squeezing through a narrow chink in his tank, he crawled across the floor and found an opening to a 164-foot-long drainpipe that led to the ocean. As much as I enjoyed the film based on Stephen King’s “The Shawshank Redemption”, which climaxes in Tim Robbin’s daring prison break, I only wish that a gifted animation team like the one that made “How to Train Your Dragon” could tell Inky’s story.

At the time, I made a mental note to myself to learn about octopuses. From the time that I read about Inky, interest in the creatures has increased dramatically with this year’s Oscar for documentary going to “My Octopus Teacher.” Nearly everybody who spends time looking at octopus YouTube videos, or going further and reading books about them, will be struck by both their intelligence and inscrutability.

This article will discuss Sy Montgomery’s best-selling “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness” and Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness.” It will also review “My Octopus Teacher.” Despite the inclusion of the word “consciousness” in both titles, there are vast differences between the two. Montgomery’s focus is on the interplay between humans and the octopus taking place in aquariums just like the kind that Inky fled, while Godfrey-Smith applies neuroscience and Darwinism to a creature that seemingly defies what these disciplines hold as sacrosanct. In either book, you’ll discover that both authors have the kind of love for the octopus that other authors had for the chimpanzee or the wolf. I, of course, am referring to Jane Goodall and Farley Mowat respectively.

When I was young, there was not much love for the octopus, especially in Hollywood films. In the screen version of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” Kirk Douglas battles an octopus (or perhaps a squid) that is trying to overwhelm and destroy Captain Nemo’s “Nautilus,” a submarine that is on a mission to ram and sink munitions-carrying ships. As it happens, Nemo’s vessel is named after another cephalopod. The nautilus, which Godfrey-Smith analyzes in great detail, has both tentacles like the octopus and a shell. Hundreds of millions of years ago, a similar creature found that abandoning the shell would allow it to adapt better to its underwater surroundings even though it lost some of its protection. As an invertebrate, the octopus compensated for the loss by developing a brain that can compete with other “smart” animals such as the dog or the parrot. However, the octopus reached this level of intelligence 270 million years ago while the other animals in its league got brainer many millions of years later. In fact, the octopus became the smartest kids on the block during the Cambrian Age that preceded the Mesozoic Age’s dinosaurs. Talk about being ahead of the curve!

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Reply Thinking Like an Octopus (Original post)
Judi Lynn Jun 6 OP
stopdiggin Jun 6 #1
SCantiGOP Jun 6 #2
JudyM Jun 6 #3

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Sun Jun 6, 2021, 12:42 PM

1. thanks. fascinating. alien species!

Some insects and spiders engage in very complex behavior, especially social behavior, but they still have small nervous systems. That’s how things go in this branch—except for the cephalopods. These are a subgroup within the mollusks, so they are related to clams and snails, but they evolved large nervous systems, and the ability to behave in ways very different from other invertebrates. They did this on an entirely separate evolutionary path from ours.

Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals. Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lies so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over.

This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Sun Jun 6, 2021, 01:14 PM

2. Great article and link


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Response to SCantiGOP (Reply #2)

Sun Jun 6, 2021, 01:58 PM

3. +1

Even has a political slant at the end, with a dig at Tucker Carlson and the ignorant egoic destruction of the planet.

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