Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith review – the octopus as intelligent alien


This post is by Philip Hoare from Books | The Guardian


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A scuba-diving philosopher of science explores the wonder of cephalopods, smart and playful creatures who live outside the brain-body divideYea, slimy things did crawl with legs / Upon the slimy sea.” Coleridge’s lines evoke those Precambrian depths where sensate life first stirred, and which remain lodged atavistically in our collective imaginations. Perhaps that’s why we look on the octopus as an eldritch other, with its more-than-the usual complement of limbs, bulbous eyes, seeking suckers and keratinous beaks voraciously devouring anything in its slippery path. Peter Godfrey-Smith’s brilliant book entirely overturns those preconceptions. Cephalopods – octopuses, squids and nautiluses – “are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals”, he writes, having developed on a different path from us, “an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behaviour”. This is why they present themselves as a fascinating case study to Godfrey-Smith, who is a ...