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Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (2016)

by Peter Godfrey-Smith

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1,1914112,564 (3.74)36
"Peter 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." -- Goodreads.com summary.… (more)
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» See also 36 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
This had some interesting ideas although I felt that it could've done with being edited down quite substantially - I would've preferred something a lot punchier and struggled to maintain my interest through some sections. But clearly it worked for many other readers here, so maybe it's just that I lack their appetite for detail. My other main reservation is that when describing his encounters with the octopus, I felt that the author frequently anthropomorphised it - projecting human consciousness onto it when there did not appear to be much evidence to support his interpretation of what was going on in the octopus' mind. ( )
  Paul_Samael | Jan 23, 2021 |
Although written simply, this book could be considered esoteric. First, of course, who is interested in the "deep origins of consciousness"? Not enough of us, for sure. Second, the author explores different creatures, both sea- and land-animals, in such detail that at times it seems too much.

Yet without the level of detail, and honestly it is not that deep, Godfrey-Smith wouldn't have been able to make sense. We need to understand why such extraordinary brain power is found in a creature who lives, on average, only two years. We need to see how different types of brains evolve and possibly why.

For years, scientists proceeded on the assumption that vertebrates contained the animals with the greatest brainpower. And that brains functioned generally in a similar way and were structured similarly. But the octopus and its relatives did not develop this way and seem to have very different purposes and physical characteristics.

For me, the book validates my thinking, that there is no perfect way to compare animals, and particularly when examining many-celled animals we cannot easily say one is "smarter" than another. Or feels more. Or is more "valuable". There is no hierarchy. We are all different and deserve to be respected for who we are.

Beyond these conclusions, which are mine, not the author's, from this book we learn so much that is fascinating about octopi, squid, cuttlefish, and other cepholapods that we are obliged to consider what we humans are doing to destroy the ocean. ( )
2 vote slojudy | Sep 8, 2020 |
Very interesting, give it a go ( )
  Neal_Anderson | Sep 7, 2020 |
Accessible and interesting. Took me back to my earlier interests in embodied cognition and the philosophy of mind and biology. ( )
  albertgoldfain | Aug 21, 2020 |
This was fascinating. It was philosophically interesting, and I learned many cool facts about cuttlefish and octopuses. It touches on psychology, physiology, biology, and evolution. I was inspired to ask questions about topics which I'd yet to think deeply upon.

A couple of warnings:

1) If you are disturbed by depictions of animals being harmed, there is a brief section in here that speaks about experiments performed on animals. Some may find this upsetting to read, but it is a very tiny portion.

2) If you only have a Kindle Paperwhite or original Kindle, be aware that this contains some lovely color photos (in the middle in the dead-tree, at the back in the digital). I simply pulled up the photos on a Kindle app on my phone, but this should be a factor to consider when deciding which format you want.

I received a complimentary copy of this book via a Goodreads giveaway. Many thanks to all involved in providing me with this opportunity. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Aug 7, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
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The demand for continuity has, over large tracts of science, proved itself to possess true prophetic power. We ought therefore ourselves sincerely to try every possible mode of conceiving the dawn of consciousness so that it may not appear equivalent to the irruption into the universe of a new nature, nonexistent until then.
—William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890
The drama of creation, according to the Hawaiian account, is divided into a series of stages … At first the lowly zoophytes and corals come into being, and these are followed by worms and shellfish, each type being declared to conquer and destroy its predecessor, a struggle for existence in which the strongest survive. Parallel with this evolution of animal forms, plant life
begins on land and in the sea—at first with the algae, followed by seaweeds and rushes. As type follows type, the accumulating slime of their decay raises the land above the waters, in which, as spectator of all, swims the octopus, the lone survivor from an earlier world.
—Roland Dixon, Oceanic Mythology, 1916
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For all those who work to protect the oceans
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On a spring morning in 2009, Matthew Lawrence dropped the anchor of his small boat at a random spot in the middle of a blue ocean bay on the east coast of Australia, and jumped over the side. He swam down on scuba to where the anchor lay, picked it up, and waited. The breeze on the surface nudged the boat, which started to drift, and Matt, holding the anchor, followed.
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"Peter 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." -- Goodreads.com summary.

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