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

Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness A Philosopher Dons A Wet Suit And Journeys Into The Depths Of ConsciousnessPeter Godfrey Smith Is A Leading Philosopher Of Science He Is Also A Scuba Diver Whose Underwater Videos Of Warring Octopuses Have Attracted Wide Notice In This Book, He Brings His Parallel Careers Together To Tell A Bold New Story Of How Nature Became Aware Of Itself Mammals And Birds Are Widely Seen As The Smartest Creatures On Earth But One Other Branch Of The Tree Of Life Has Also Sprouted Surprising Intelligence The Cephalopods, Consisting Of The Squid, The Cuttlefish, And Above All The Octopus New Research Shows That These Marvelous Creatures Display Remarkable Gifts What Does It Mean That Intelligence On Earth Has Evolved Not Once But Twice And That The Mind Of The Octopus Is Nonetheless So Different From Our Own Combining Science And Philosophy With Firsthand Accounts Of His Cephalopod Encounters, Godfrey Smith Shows How Primitive Organisms Bobbing In The Ocean Began Sending Signals To Each Other And How These Early Forms Of Communication Gave Rise To The Advanced Nervous Systems That Permit Cephalopods To Change Colors And Human Beings To Speak By Tracing The Problem Of Consciousness Back To Its Roots And Comparing The Human Brain To Its Most Alien And Perhaps Most Remarkable Animal Relative, Godfrey Smith S Other Minds Sheds New Light On One Of Our Most Abiding Mysteries

I am currently Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center, CUNY City University of New York , and Professor of History and Philosophy of Science half time at the University of Sydney.I grew up in Sydney, Australia My undergraduate degree is from the University of Sydney, and I have a PhD in philosophy from UC San Diego I taught at Stanford University between 1991 and 2003, a

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  • Hardcover
  • 257 pages
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness
  • Peter Godfrey-Smith
  • English
  • 17 June 2017
  • 9780374227760

10 thoughts on “Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

  1. says:

    I wanted to like this book I really did but unfortunately it just didn t do much for me.First of all, my background and the book s I studied bio with an emphasis on evolution This book is about the evolution of octopus brains a system only distantly linked to our own An octopus is really the closest thing we have to a truly alien intelligence whereas mammals and birds have similar systems in play We were a match made in heaven I was thrilled for this book and even tried to get a friend to read it with me.Unfortunately that s where the love affair ended The book started interestingly enough with a discussion of life in the Ediacaran Pre Cambrian period This, the author asserts, is when life started being able to sense and we got the first bits of nervous systems Super interesting, though of course largely speculation when looking at these fossils, most squishy things are gone There s also questions as to why the nervous system developed in the first place The author is a little slow in describing the commonly known bits of evolution i.e vertebrates , but I also recognize that And then vertebrates developed as you might expect would be enough for me.This is where the books starts to lose structure The author just begins discussing anecdotes of octopus behavior, but seems to just ramble without a clear goal in mind First he discusses many experiments with octopus and many surprising anceotes from those experiments, but he largely seems to gloss over what those experiments meant or what they told us about octopus behavior or thoughts The author recounts similar tales of wild octopus, again mainly just to demonstrate that they have higher intelligence.There s an interesting bit when the author discusses whether octopus have the same centralized brain as we do, or if it s of a sum of its arms parts However the author never really goes anywhere with this He briefly discusses a maze experiment than proves that this exists, then discusses a few stories that indicates this exists and then nothing For a straight biology book this may have been acceptable, but this is biology and philosophy What does this mean How does that make life different for an octopus Well, there s not any answer to that.About then, the book grinds to a screeching halt as the author ponders consciousness and it s painful While there are some truly interesting experiments mentioned, a lot of it just gets into the navel gazing of questioning what consciousness is This section is nearly unreadable at times.I keep coming back to that metaphor of consciousness as white noise when I m trying to get my head around this topic It is a metaphor very much so It s a metaphot of sound applied to organisms that, at least in most cases, probably could not hear at all I m not sure why the image stays so consistently with me Somehow it seems to point in the right direction, with its evocation of a crackle of the metabolic electricity, and the shape of the story suggested That shape is one in which experience starts in an inchoate buzz, and becomes organized.That paragraph does nearly nothing to advance the book Others are virtually incomprehensible In our own case, looking inside, we find that subjective experience has a close association with perception and control with using what we sense to work out what we do Why should this be Why shouldn t subjective experience be associated with other things Why isn t it brimful of basic bodily rhythms, the division of cells, life itself Some people say it is full of those things than we realize anyway I don t think so, and suspect there s a clue here Subjective experience does not arise from the mere running of the system, but from the modulation of its state, from registering things that matter These need not be external events they might arise internally But they are tracked because they matter and require a response Sentience has some point to it It s not just a bathing in living activity.Yeah that paragraph needs some serious editing A lot of these philosophical bits are nearly unreadable Perhaps I just lack the background, but I can t be the only one This is from the same author who really went over the fact that vertebrate evolution happened in near boring level of clarity just a few chapters earlier.There is a super fascinating section on cuttlefish and squid and how they are able to change colors Then, the shocking revelation that these animals are likely colorblind The author does a wonderful job here, though admittedly our understanding is woefully incomplete The author does a great job here and diagrams are genuinely helpful Then there s another section, this time about the use of language in consciousness and thinking Why was this not with the other section on the human mind Also, why are we discussing this The octopus and cuttlefish completely lack language why is it in this book This is shortly followed on speculation on aging and the octopus s short life span This is adequate, although I found the author s explanations lacking Again, the author went through the evolutionary tree in detail a couple times now iirc , but really can t explain the major theory of aging in any adequate fashion.Shortly following this chapter on aging, there s a chapter on how the octopolis a group or city of octopus formed and then suddenly the book is over on page 204 of 255 When reading I was expecting another chapter to really wrap everything up nicely and give me the overarching picture Nothing Instead the rest of the book is full of notes on what the author was talking about earlier in the book Was there any indication of these endnotes Nope None whatsoever Some are clarifications, others are just sources I read none of them because why would I read a note on something back on page 57 after I finished the book All in all, it s not what I wanted Perhaps it should have been titled Unusual octopus behavior and essays on philosophy and that would have been closer to the truth Only about a third of the books is about octopus and that s really a problem considering how much it s marketed on that I think the author missed an opportunity to really delve into octopus and mollusk evolution, but instead only talked about bilaterally symmetrical evolution and when mollusks and vertebrates split How do you have an organism with blue green blood, jet propulsion, three hearts, and a digestive system that passes through its brain and you fail to discuss the evolution of any of it in favor of discussing the role of language in thought Yeah, it just doesn t make any sense There may have been a slight discussion of the limbs and nerves, but definitely falling short I was also looking for in the way of how octopus responded differently than mammals or birds, but there wasn t much of that either.The book I got just didn t gel with the book I was promised I don t know whether it was over marketed, or the author wanted to say , but lacked data Either way, the end product was a bit of a mess Sorry, but this was not the book for this bio major It really didn t cover much about octopus intelligence or evolution in any way I was hoping it would.With the possible exception of the cuttlefish.I could never be mad at you.

  2. says:

    This book is explanation of our development, the evolution, from single celled beings to the complex creatures of today The author says that the chemistry of life is aquatic That s why we are made of such a large volume of water with a delicate salt balance ourselves I knew this, but had never thought of it quite as the chemistry of life is sea based.The author is in love with octopuses and cuttlefish and describes them from observation, from laboratory anecdotes and from a scientific point of view The most amazing thing, which I have witnessed myself but did not understand until I read this book, is that squid can be very friendly to people Their skin, which is like a computer monitor with a million pixels that can light up in a millisecond in many colours and patterns, can also see It is not understood how It is also thought that molluscs are colourblind which wouldn t make any sense So I prefer to interpret that, as does the author, the mechanism for perceiving colour in molluscs has not yet been discovered.Years ago, I was snorkelling around a very small reef and I saw a little squid, it stayed still in the water and was rapidly changing colour So I stopped to look at it Then it was joined by another, then another until there were about 7 of them of varying sizes from about the size of your hand up to forearm sized all in a row and all rapidly cycling colours and patterns, waves and clouds and spots and electric stripes I called out to my bf to come and see but come slowly not to scare them I didn t think they would stay He swam over and by then there were about 11 squids and it was apparent to both of us that they were staring at me They were as curious and interested in me as I was in them and they didn t go away for quite a few minutes They were no shy than I was and as I had called my ex, so they had called each other to come and see me.Until I read this book I hadn t known that squid could be very friendly to people and were curious and interested in them, and I had indeed been right, they were checking me out in exactly the same as I was them.And therein lies the nugget at the heart of the book The development of consciousness Which we know nothing much about, in ourselves included We do not know how we process thoughts We know that we have a short term memory much as a computer for present tasks, that we have interior dialogues both conscious and unconscious and for some the only way to still the inner voices is by meditation We know that all of this is evolutionary, consciousness did not start with us, but what is it, and how do we pin it down Wonderful book, just for the explanation of development from single celled creatures to ourselves, and for showing how evolution, how the mutation of cells is an everyday process, nothing special, just some mutations are useful and stick, and others either cause harm or just go nowhere The writing is a bonus It s scientific, tells stories, draws from the vocabulary of artists and above all else communicates the great enthusiasm the author has for his subject to the reader.10 stars The book ended too soon.

  3. says:

    Octopodes, or the floppy floppy spider of the sea, source ZeFrank are pretty freaking amazing Godfrey Smith agrees, which is how this book came about As he notes on page 9, If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of shared historybut because evolution built minds twice over This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien Unfortunately, he tried to marry it with one of his professional passions, the philosophy of consciousness, and that s where this falls quite short The beginning chapters have a quick explanation of the evolutionary tree, and then start tracing the origin of life and neurons through a brief look at the fossil record This is supposed to impress upon us how different we are from octopodes, but if you didn t already know that, I don t know how you would have selected this book So that was weird to me Each chapter has a teaser opener of a real life octopus situation, then goes into theory.Julie has a very solid, thorough analysis on what went wrong, and why, and I strongly suggest it if you are wondering whether or not this is for you I am occasionally in the mood for philosophy, but grow quickly tired of discussions of perception of pain, consciousness, and possible perception of self To me, consciousness and pain quickly boils down to experience I see something witness and try to escape potential pain pain therefore it experiences it enough that it deserves consideration, does it not Does it actually matter if it conceives of itself as an individual Whatever That isn t the point the point is that these conversations quickly grow tiresome to me because it seems the ultimate in superiority complexes, all the ironic coming from a race that can t manage to not to destroy its own environment And now I m off track again Anyways, here s what s interesting octopodes can recognize people They also tend to squirt water at things they don t like There s numerous anecdotes of them specifically targeting a person they don t like with a jet of water, or all new visitors to the lab the Ediacaran period had peaceful creatures that were basically like bathmats that crawled around munching and seemed to not have sophisticated sense organs or protective armament I have no idea what this has to do with octopodes, but it s a super fun visual image I picture a herd of bathmats grazing on my lawn cuttlefish are also cool, and may actually be color blind, although they have the astonishing ability to blend with their environment there s a secret octopus garden on the east coast of Australia Or in a Beatle s song Which is awesome.There s some neat colorplate photos in here, as well as some black and white drawings and illustrations in an attempt to help the reader with visuals ie., evolutionary tree, the fossil record The end chapter where he talks about studies at Octopolis are genuinely interesting, and I would have read much about what s coming out of there Actually, now that I m listening to it again, watching ZeFrank is a quicker, and fun, and references many of the same octopus facts that were in this book.

  4. says:

    When you dive into the sea, you are diving into the origin of us all Peter Godfrey Smith, Other Minds Mischief and craft are plainly seen to be characteristics of this creature Claudius Aelianus, 3rd Century A.D., writing about the octopusIt is always fascinating reading a biology book that seems to resemble a physics book, or an economics book that borrows heavily from psychology Cross pollination and flexibility to squeeze into other academic boxes always pleases me So, when I discovered a book that looks at the philosophy of cognition by examining the brains and evolution of cephalopods primarily octopuses and cuttlefish I was excited One reason is my love for octopuses while almost accidental goes back nearly ten years For most of the time I ve had an Audible account, my avatar has been an octopus Friends buy me Cthulhu masks and plush dolls I m still not sure what one does long term with a Cthulhu doll How long can you appropriately cuddle with an Elder God doll before it becomes creepy Anyway, Godfrey Smith uses the development of the cephalopod brain as a way to highlight our own brain s development and also as a way to explore different ways cognition may appear in other life forms The unique neural patterns structure in octopuses makes the way they see the world significantly different than the way we see the world despite our separately evolved, but similar eyes As Godfrey Smith also points out an octopus is probably the closest we will come to examining another mind If we want to understand other minds, the minds of cephalopods are the most other of all p10 As YouTube shows, part of the appeal of octopuses is how they, for an animal so different from us it is closer to a slug than us biologically seems to flirt with behaviors that are both close to us playful, clever, petty and also completely foreign They seem to exits in a weird uncanny valley that attracts and repels us How can we not be fascinated by something that seems to have almost dropped her from another planet, but acts a bit like a feline Octopuses, and their brains, reminds me of the famous Montaigne quote about his cat When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing With Me Indeed When we are watching octopuses on YouTube, they seem to be equally fascinated with us It is strange and lovely, and opens up a lot of questions about what it means to be alive, to think, to have a subjective experience Peter Godfrey Smith moves well along this path and asks most of the big questions I would want asked Many answers, however, seem largely unanswerable But like a philosopher is want, he still asks.Next up in cephalopod reading Vampyroteuthis Infernalis A Treatise, with a Report by the Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste

  5. says:

    Despite what might be gleaned from your Star Treks and Dr Whos, the evolution of intelligent life is as far as I can get my head round it infinitesimally rare and unlikely The emergence of cells, the development of eukaryotes, the first multicellular organisms, the start of sexual reproduction, and finally some kind of freak evolutionary drive towards increased intelligence all these things happened once only, and didn t have to It s presumably happened somewhere else in the universe which is a sizeable place , but I wouldn t be surprised to learn that we re the only example in the 200 billion solar systems of this galaxy.People interested in such things have spent a lot of time trying to put concrete numbers to the odds of these things happening That last step the development of intelligence seems among the most unlikely, but one of the implications of this utterly fascinating book is that perhaps it isn t so unique after all Enter by jet propulsion the octopus.Invertebrates are not generally known for their brainpower But octopuses and, to a degree, all cephalopods are an exception In terms of sheer neurons, they are well up there with many of the mammals they have neural connections than cats, for example As Godfrey Smith puts it, they are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals.That does not mean that the way they think is comparable to us, though, or to your pet Persian Although a few of an octopus s neurons are gathered into a walnut sized CPU of sorts, most of them are dispersed throughout their body each of their eight arms can, in a very real sense, think and act independently.Godfrey Smith, though often wearing a marine biologist hat, is a philosopher by training, and he spends a lot of time here addressing the question of what it might feel like to be an octopus, without a centralised self in the way that we understand it I thought I would find these sections irritatingly speculative which is my reaction to most philosophers, if I m honest , but in fact they were so grounded in scientific data, and just so interesting, that I was than happy to go along for the ride.Ultimately, though, the differences are perhaps less significant than the similarities The most recent common ancestor of humans and octopuses lived upwards of five hundred million years ago, and was probably some kind of very simple worm like thing without any neural network to speak of That means that natural selection has, completely independently, developed complex intelligence of some kind twice Cephalopods and smart vertebrates are independent experiments in the evolution of the mind, Godfrey Smith summarises The implications are genuinely awe inspiring And looking at an octopus is, in all likelihood, as close to meeting an alien intelligence as we ll ever get.

  6. says:

    Gosh, I wasn t crazy about this Godfrey Smith is an Australian, Sydney native, teaching at City University in New York He began studying octopus in 2008 by following them around in scuba gear He is a philosopher, not a scientist I did not grasp that when we began There were some very un scientific notions presented that struck me as weird Cephalopods and baboons are both partial cases, unfinished, in a sense, though one should not think of evolution as goal directed I should think not There was some other strange stuff about a gentleman who became aphasic occasionally but still had to express himself, which he did by pointing Godfrey Smith thought the man s aphasia proved the man no longer had the capacity for languagedespite the man being mentally aware and was pointing to things Just seems a notion the author is floating that doesn t really bear scrutiny.Look, the man had some terrific times observing squid, giant cuttlefish, and octopus and has some terrific stories and even some photos to tell about them the way they morph shape, texture, and color and look interested to be around humans We learn that the cephalopods live about two years, which does seem exceptionally short, though Godfrey Smith goes off on another philosophical tangent about why such a big brained animal would live so short a time when the dopes of the animal kingdom live comparatively forever.Not the right questions for me.

  7. says:

    One of the best books I read this year and not one I had been planning to read I skimmed a few reviews, which were interesting but did not leave me thinking that I needed to read the full book But then I started a sample on a whim and was swept away by the carefully observed descriptions of octopuses and to a lesser degree cuttlefish and the use of that as a springboard to discuss evolutionary biology and the philosophy of the mind.Octopuses are a type of mollusk and, like all invertebrates, branched off from the stream of animals that led to humans enormously long ago and well before the evolution of central nervous systems, eyes, or much else of any sophistication But now octopuses have large collections of neurons, rivaling mammals, but they are evolved largely independently of ours And they have important differences, for example most of their neurons are distributed in their arms rather than collected together in their brain This leads Peter Godfrey Smith to speculate about what this says about intelligence and whether we should think of body parts as having their own autonomous intelligences in the form of reflexes or even higher order thought in octopuses Some of the interesting speculations are about how humans benefited from the feedback loop between our sensing of our own actions e.g., we can hear ourselves talk while octopuses and cuttlefish can make impressive color displays but are themselves colorblind so they do not see their own displays nor do they use them to communicate with others.Towards the end the book turns poignant as Godfrey Smith relates how this highly curious and interactive animal, the closest thing to an alien we have on earth, only lives for about two years much less than anything else its size and intellectual sophistication This leads into both the evolutionary biology of aging and its link to reproduction and ultimately an homage to the ocean and conservation that is less original than much of the book but powerful for how much he learned about the human mind from swimming on the bottom of the ocean.

  8. says:

    Other Minds The Octopus, the Sea, And the Deep Origins of ConsciousnessOther Minds is one of the most remarkable books I have read ever There is much I loved about this book, much that fascinated, intrigued, puzzled, flummoxed, and thoroughly delighted me in this wonderful treasure, but none of that would have happened without the extraordinary writing by Peter Godfrey Smith So I may have been drawn into the book by the title and my fascination for the octopus, but the other half of the title was equally compelling the deep origins of consciousness Where does our consciousness come from How do we distinguish between mind and action And, of course, how do our animal cousins experience it I think we ve all observed what we feel is consciousness in our mammal friends and certain birds but in the lizards in my yard In the fish etc in sea And, really, who hasn t wished they could deeply communicate with a beloved pet or some nearby critter Smith regales us with delightful, startling, endearing stories of the cephalopods of the sea, primarily the octopus and the cuttle fish in the waters around Australia He is a marvelous story teller, a passionate diver, and in those chapters you are hardly aware of reading NF because his narrative voice is so warm, curious, observant, and illuminating Heck, I didn t even know what a cuttle fish was a few years ago and now I m thinking they are the cutest, most talented little critters to grace the sea OK after dolphins Godrey Smith describes his experiences swimming with cuttlefish, especially the giant ones He writes A cuttlefish looks like a giant octopus attached to a hovercraft It has a back shaped a bit like a turtle shell, a prominent head, and eight arms coming straight out of the head This animal is three feet long with a skin that can appear just about any color at all and can change in seconds, sometimes much faster than a second In the case of large cuttlefish, the entire body is a screen on which patterns are played Not just a series snapshots, but moving shapes, like stripes and clouds These seem to be immensely expressive animals, animals with a lot to say IF SO, WHAT IS BEING SAID AND TO WHOM And WHY HOW DOES IT HELP THEIR SURVIVAL Godfrey Smith peppers the book perhaps rather salts generously with frequent questions, both his own and those of fellow scientists, to engage his readers in continual reflection on the topics being explored I loved this feature of his writing, it kept my mind actively engaged and gave me the feeling of being a part of this scientific process of open inquiry The author moves back and forth with a conversational voice that completely pulls the reader into the examination of his philosophical quest I felt like I was enrolled in a graduate seminar, small and intimate, with a relaxed and warmly conversant professor who knew it really is all about the voyage And he charmed me with his descriptions of diving experiences like the octopus leading him by the hand in Octopolis, that surprising community of octopuses where we can vicariously delight in their occasional power struggles of who is king of the mountain now imagine that scenario with two eight armed creatures How can you not love the creative spirit of this philosopher scientist who names the cuttle fish after artists like Matisse and Kandinsky based upon their colorful displays The author includes both colored photos of the octopus and cuttlefish as well as simplified diagrams to help readers with less of a science background readers like me grasp some of his complex explanations I found these to be very helpful and was able to bounce back and forth between the written words and the diagrams to build a deeper understanding of new knowledge He is a patient and able guide and I found myself laughing often at his humorous asides after a particularly complex explanation For example, one of my favorite chapters was A History of Animals Godfrey Smith presents a variety of theories on how scientists formed two views of the evolution of the nervous system Possibilities abound One nervous system develops on top, and tracks light, but not as a guide to action Instead it uses light to control bodily rhythms and regulate hormones Another nervous system evolves to control movement, initially just the movement of the mouth And at some stage, the two systems begin to move within the body, coming into new relationships with each other What an amazing image in a long evolutionary process, a motion controlling brain marches up through your head to meet there some light sensitive organs, which become eyes Now really, that just made me want to jump up and cheer If you have a high tolerance for questions and uncertainty and are willing to go along on a ride of reflecting on possibilities, this book is for you Godfrey Smith ends this book quietly and gently reminding us that the effects of human actions from the past two hundred years are far hazardous and complex than even the most knowledgeable of experts has imagined them to be Just this week I read an article on the high levels of toxins that have drifted down into the deepest areas of the Marianas Trench We have too long held the belief that the rescources of the sea are endless, that the seas are so vast they can withstand all that we put into them but we are learning that is not so The mind evolved in the sea Water made it possible All the early stages took place in the water the origin of life, the birth of animals, the evolution of nervous systems and brains, and the appearance of the complex bodies that make brains worth having.diversity and our alien cousins the octopus and cuttle fish I highly recommend this engaging and thought provoking book to all who are curious about the spectacular variety of life in our world and how we are all connected by such an insignificant percentage of DNA Splendid

  9. says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable, fantastic writing, a perfect blend of science and thoughtful, personal responses with a philosophical bent Highly recommended

  10. says:

    Loved this book I guess the best part for me was the lively enthusiasm, this guy really lives his stories The attention to detail, the personal approach towards scientific stories hard to do and well done and the never ending exhilarating, addictive examples The only reason it does not get five stars is the other minds subject There is a promise in the beginning that we will dive into another world of consciousness and intelligence with the octopi The book for me does not really deliver on that promise.

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