Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, And The Deep Origins Of Consciousness

Hardcover | December 6, 2016

byPeter Godfrey-Smith

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Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify individual human keepers, raid neighboring tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? What does it mean that evolution built minds not once but at least twice? The octopus is the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter?

In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being-how nature became aware of itself. As Godfrey-Smith stresses, it is a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared. Tracking the mind's fitful development, Godfrey-Smith shows how unruly clumps of seaborne cells began living together and became capable of sensing, acting, and signaling. As these primitive organisms became more entangled with others, they grew more complicated. The first nervous systems evolved, probably in ancient relatives of jellyfish; later on, the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous mollusks, abandoned their shells and rose above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so. Taking an independent route, mammals and birds later began their own evolutionary journeys.

But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? Drawing on the latest scientific research and his own scuba-diving adventures, Godfrey-Smith probes the many mysteries that surround the lineage. How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually "think for themselves"? What happens when some octopuses abandon their hermit-like ways and congregate, as they do in a unique location off the coast of Australia?

By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind-and on our own.

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From the Publisher

Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify indi...

Peter Godfrey-Smith is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. He is the author of four books, including Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science and Darwinian Populations an...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:December 6, 2016Publisher:Farrar, Straus And GirouxLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0374227764

ISBN - 13:9780374227760

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One of the Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2016 and a Top Ten Science Book of Fall 2016, Publishers Weekly"Deftly blending philosophy and evolutionary biology . . . Godfrey-Smith couples his philosophical and scientific approach with ample and fascinating anecdotes as well as striking photography from his numerous scuba dives off the Australian coast. He makes the case that cephalopods demonstrate a type of intelligence that is largely 'alien' to our understanding of the concept but is no less worthy of wonder . . . [Other Minds is] thoroughly enjoyable and informative." -Publishers Weekly"I love this book, its masterful blend of natural history, philosophy, and wonder. Other Minds takes us on an extraordinary deep dive, not only beneath the waves, for a revelatory and intimate view of the mysterious and highly intelligent octopus, but also through the eons, to look at the nature of the mind and how it came about. It's a captivating story, and Godfrey-Smith brings it alive in vivid, elegant prose. His ardent and humane passion for the octopus is present on every page. A must-read for anyone interested in what it's like to be an octopus or in the evolution of the mind-ours and the very other, but equally sentient, minds of the cephalopods." -Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds "One of the greatest puzzles of organic life is how and why certain animals became aware of themselves. Peter Godfrey-Smith uses the octopus as a portal to enter nonhuman consciousness, doing so with great sensitivity and first-hand knowledge." -Frans de Waal, author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?"Exciting, dramatic, vivid, revelatory, this book is full of jaw-dropping ideas and thrilling possibilities. In beautiful, clear, evocative writing, diver-philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith will transform your understanding of the nature of life, the course of evolution, and the development of the mind-ours and others'. Other Minds will delight and challenge every naturalist, every diver, every person who has ever wondered about the nature of other creatures' experience. In other words, everyone should read this book-and come away with a more complex and compassionate relationship to the other animals with whom we share both Earth and sea." -Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, a National Book Award finalist"To investigate these astonishing animals with such empathy and rigor is achievement enough. To do so while casting light on the birth and nature of consciousness, as Godfrey-Smith does here, is captivating." -China Miéville, author of The City & The City and Kraken"Godfrey-Smith delivers a revealing exploration of one-no, two!-of evolution's most critical turns, and one remarkable creature's trail-blazing, eight-armed foray into a mental life." -Jonathan Balcombe, author of What a Fish Knows"One of our species's worst qualities is our insistence on an exclusive pathway to consciousness. Fortunately Peter Godfrey-Smith has given us a roadmap to a whole new territory of thinking. Other Minds is a gracious and generous exploration of this different land, one that will make you rethink the entire notion of sentience." -Paul Greenberg, New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish and American Catch