Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy Montgomery (author, narrator)

Highbridge, May 2015

Sy Montgomery is a naturalist who has done quite a bit of field research, but this is about time spent observing and interacting with octopuses, mostly in aquariums.

This isn't a book about the biology of these sea creatures, but about their consciousness and intelligence. Not long ago, no one with scientific training would have said that octopuses, invertebrates with comparatively short life spans. If you're interested in the biology of octopuses, this isn't the book for you. Montgomery makes passing references to her field research from time to time, but that's all they are--passing references.

This is a book about trying to understand how octopuses see the world, themselves, and us. She spends time, mostly at the New England Aquarium, observing and interesting with a series of octopuses--Athena, Octavia, Kali, and Karma. They each have different personalities, and interact differently with the people they meet, including Montgomery and the aquarium staff.

As she interacts with the individual octopuses over the years, Montgomery tries to develop a better understanding of how the octopuses see the world. It's clear that they recognize individual humans, respond differently to them, and remember events. Yet octopus brains are organized very differently than ours, and a good deal of information processing goes on in their arms. They taste with their whole skin, and this is where they get a great deal of their information about the world around them. How does this affect how they view the world?

Montgomery also recounts her training to become a diver so she can experience, if not the world as the octopuses see it, at least the world they live in, and some expeditions to study octopuses in the wild.

It's a fascinating, enjoyable book.

I borrowed this audiobook via Scribd.

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