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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising…

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of… (2015)

by Sy Montgomery

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Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
Interesting nonfiction about aquariums and octopuses. The writer does a great job of informing without beating you over the head with it. ( )
  sarahy531 | Aug 16, 2017 |
Well that was fun. I enjoyed that one quite a bit. ( )
  Adilinaria | Aug 10, 2017 |
I became enchanted with octopuses during this book. Never realized how intelligent, sensitive and friendly these animals are. Would love to feel an octopuses arms around mine, alas not to be. Sy Montgomery did an excellent job in imparting the unique and wonderful characteristics of an octopus. I would have liked more information about other species of octopus, perhaps that's for another book or my own internet research. I'm just thrilled I was able to spend time, although vicariously, with Athena, Octavia and Karma as well as with the employees and volunteers of the New England Aquarium. I visited a local aquarium prior to reading The Soul of an Octopus where fortunately there was an octopus and was amazed at its peculiar and remarkable shape. Now I have to go back with the knowledge that the octopus is also extremely smart and clever. I appreciate the knowledge gleaned from this book ( )
  debann6354 | Jul 31, 2017 |
Science writer Sy Montgomery develops a relationship with the New England Aquarium in order to study the intelligence of one of the most mysterious animals on Earth - the octopus. She interacts with several different octopuses at the aquarium, and goes on scuba diving trips to try to find octopuses in the wild. She learns how smart they are, and how they have distinct personalities, and how they relate and compare to the other animals in the aquarium.

There are so many things to think about regarding octopuses. How did they get so smart when they are almost entirely solitary? Do they have one central decision-making brain, or does each arm (filled with far more neurons than their head) act independently? What do they think about humans? Any story about octopuses is also a story about death. Despite their mind-boggling intelligence, even the longest-lived octopuses only live about 5 years. How does losing such an intelligent and charismatic animal affect the people who care for them every day? Before they die, most octopuses go senile. Are they aware of what's happening to them? How would octopuses compare to humans if they had similar lifespans?

As a zoo volunteer myself, I was a little annoyed at the level of access Montgomery was afforded. Not just to the octopus themselves but also to hardworking aquarium employees and octopus experts. The employees and many of the volunteers mentioned in the book work full time and have been at the aquarium for ages, but Montgomery just waltzes in every Wednesday morning to pet the octopus and pick the brain of the experts.

This is a light and readable book mixing science, philosophy, and lovable characters. And the humans are good too. ( )
1 vote norabelle414 | Jul 27, 2017 |
The New York Times has called naturalist Sy Montgomery “equal parts poet and scientist” and the Boston Globe says she’s “part Indiana Jones and part Emily Dickinson.” Maybe, with all those parts, it’s fitting that this 2015 book—National Book Award finalist The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness—is also about a creature with many parts.
If we really understood how wondrous octopuses are, we wouldn’t eat them. (Their remarkable nature, by the way, extends to the genetic level.)
The first thing that’s hard to grasp about octopusus is that almost two-thirds of their neurons are not in their brains, but in their arms. In one early encounter with the octopus Athena, Montgomery says, “Unconstrained by joints, her arms were constantly questing, coiling, stretching, reaching, unfurling, all in different directions at once. Each arm seemed like a separate creature, with a mind of its own. In fact, this is almost literally true.”
She speculates that this “distributed intelligence” enables the octopus to multitask. It reduces the burden on the brain to coordinate all those arms, which can change color and surface texture in an instant, camouflaging themselves from predators or potential prey and indicating mood, from calm to distress to happy red. The arms, she says, “learn, think, decide, and remember—while at the same time processing the flood of taste and touch information pouring in from every inch of skin.”
That the information they receive by touch is remembered is evident from another powerful theme of Montgomery’s book. Octopuses are not just smart—as she demonstrates in describing their many tricks—they have something akin to an emotional life, evidenced by their relationships with the people around them. (No, they’re not just food-seeking.)
They can recognize individual people and other animals because of their extraordinary senses. An octopus’s chemoreceptors can detect another’s “scent” from at least thirty yards away, and research suggests their suckers are a hundred times more sensitive than the chemical receptors on your own tongue.
At Boston’s New England Aquarium where Montgomery interacted with several octopuses over a period of years, one—Octavia—was very friendly. As Octavia’s life was coming to a close, she laid thousands of eggs, which she obsessively guarded night and day. For many months Montgomery and the caretakers had no physical contact with her. When she was weakening fast, they moved her to a simpler environment without her eggs. Freed from that duty, Octavia’s behavior made it clear she remembered her friends, embracing them as before.
Read this book and marvel! ( )
  Vicki_Weisfeld | Jul 12, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 35 (next | show all)
"This book's big reveal may be up front in the title, but that doesn't detract from the delight of discovering just what, exactly, an octopus's soul might look like. ...Anyone captivated by the natural world, from interested middle school readers and up, will be engrossed by this account of a strange - and unexpectedly beautiful - animal."
added by KoobieKitten | editLibrary Journal | June 2015 | Vol. 140 No. 10, Lisa Peet (Jun 1, 2015)

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sy Montgomeryprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dippolito, PaulDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kwan, LaywanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On a rare, warm day in mid-March, when the snow was melting into mud in New Hampshire, I traveled to Boston, where everyone was strolling along the harbor or sitting on benches licking ice cream cones.
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In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus--a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature--and the remarkable connections it makes with humans. Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect," about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures.

Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think? The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds. An investigation of the emotional and physical world of the octopus. [Provided by publisher]
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