Monday, August 20, 2018

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by Peter Godfrey-Smith (author), Peter Noble (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, March 2017 (original publication December 2016)

We generally consider mammals and birds to be the smartest creatures on Earth. It's not unreasonable; that includes us and crows.

But an entirely different branch of life on this planet also shows surprising intelligence--the cephalopods, including octopuses, cuttlefish, and squid. Their line and ours (that is, the vertebrates) separated hundreds of million years ago. Even our eyes and theirs evolved separately. Most of them live less than five years. They don't appear to be very social.

Yet they have large and complex central nervous systems. Organized very differently from ours, but large and complex nevertheless. They show many signs of being intelligent, curious, and inventive. But why should an octopus that lives only two years, apparently isn't social beyond breeding once, and broods her eggs but dies when they hatch and certainly doesn't raise them, evolve such a complex nervous system and apparent intelligence? What are those expensive resources for?

Godfrey-Smith gives us a really interesting exploration of this question, including tales of his own and others' direct experiences with cuttlefish and octopuses in their home environments, not just in labs. (Though they do some pretty darned interesting things in labs, too.) His own experiences with a cuttlefish, at the end of its breeding season and thus nearing the end of its life, are fascinating.

There is also a lot of exploration here of what consciousness is, how it evolved, and what it really does--for us, and perhaps for cephalopods.

All in all, an absorbing book, grounded in science, and exploring some fascinating territory and ideas.

Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.