Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life
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...more
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 frie ...more
The author is in love with octopuses and cuttlefish and describes them from observation, from laboratory anecdotes and from a scientific point ...more
Unfortunately, he tried to marry it with one of his professional passions, the philosophy of consci ...more
- 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 octopus
It 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 discove ...more
Peter Godfrey-Smith is a philosophy professor who spends his spare time studying cephalopods. In Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness he takes us underwater to explore these magnificent creatures and to ponder the origin of intelligence and consciousness ...more
Intelligence does not need a spine. Hell, to me, this should be rather obvious.
I appreciate how the old scientific prejudice and just plain annoyance with the creatures might have skewed clear thinking about squids. I also understan ...more
Octopuses are a type of mollusk and, like all invertebrates, ...more
"[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. ...more
Other 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 tit ...more
The author’s starting premise is an intriguing one. The complex brains of humans and other mammals are all “variations on a theme” and arise out of differences between quite closely related species. ...more
Basically, a philosopher tries to parse out how and why cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish) developed intelligent minds when they split from all other animals we consider to have intelligent minds (e.g. vertebrates like cats, dogs, parrots, monkeys, humans, etc.) so very, very long ago. These are parallel evolutions; our minds and octopoid (it's a word) minds developed completely independent of each other. How? Why? And what does this say about what a “mind” ...more
I must admit that I came to this with some trepidation given that it's ostensibly about consciousness and by a philosopher. Neither of those things creates an expectation of anything concrete or evidence-based. So ...more
One of those intelligent books which deftly flows between science and philosophy. Godfrey-Smith is a good writer who handles complex ideas with ease. He has researched well and quotes liberally from many scientific and philosophical sources - adding his own compelling interpretations.
But 3 stars rather than 4. I know I am idiosyncratic and inconsistent in my grad ...more
I don't read as much non-fiction as I should (read: none at all) but I ordered it anyway and I'm glad I did! Godfrey-Smith takes you from the beginning of life on Earth to the present, stopping along the way to point out important developments not just in octopus consciousness, but in ...more
Godfrey-Smith addresses this thorny problem by studying the 'other time' intelligence evolved on earth, notably the cephalopods. These animals, which include octopuses and cuddle fish, are intelligent, especially the octopuses. They solve complex cognitive tasks as readily as magpies and monk ...more
For those out there fascinated by the recent 'octopuses are aliens' (paraphased) journal paper, read this, please.
Godfrey-Smith explores how sensory and reacting developed differently in cephalopods versus vertebrates. Postulating how the highly centralized nervous system of vertebrates varies from the more dispersed one in octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish. Once I got into the frame of mind to read this, it went very quickly. This ...more
He tries to tackle cephalopod behavior, evolutionary biology and the evolution of consciousness in mammals, birds and cephalopods. The cephalopod behavior is by far the most interesting. There are some cool anecdotes in here, some from his own experience and some from others. If you read the eBook, don't miss the color photos near the end of the book! (And I don't recommend reading on eink! ...more
If I'm going to read non-fiction, it better make reality interesting.
This just wasn't it. I was so excited for this though. Aaah! Movin' on.
So last year I read The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni (excellent book by the way), and one of the things that stuck with me from that book was the octopus that one of the characters kept as a pet. Geni had described it as such an enigmatic creature that I immediately wanted to read more about them. With that said, this book was extremely detailed and informative, covering a span of topics from the evolutionary history of cephalopods to current research that’s b ...more
A deeply (!) enjoyable look at cephalopod minds, not brains but minds, in parallel to our own mammalian ones. I was absolutely enthralled by the author's discoveries made at a site he calls "Octopolis," a community of octopuses on the seafloor near Sydney, Australia.
One of the most interesting facets of the book to me was its explanation, in terms of existing evolutionary thought, of how and why cephalopods, animals that live a single mating cycle on average, developed the as ...more
This fascinating short book is about octopuses, the development of consciousness in both humans and other animals, why living creatures die, and other interesting topics. A strange mix, you think? Yes, but very well done.
This is not a scientific work. The author is not a scientist, but a philosopher. However, he might also be called a naturalist, one who observes nature closely and reports on it. And he does it well. His writing style is relaxed, almost conversational, and ve ...more
I found the first four chapters fascinating. The narrative starts with single cells, perhaps 700 million years ago, hovering in a water column. Their proximity might be conducive to a sensing of surrounding cells. How did these single cells unite to form multicell ...more
If we want to understand other minds, the minds of cephalopods are the most other of all.
The tagline for Other Minds is: A philosopher dons a wet suit and journeys into the depths of consciousness. And that's exactly what this book is – a philosophical (so, thought experiments rather than empirically sciencey) look at consciousness, and despite the monstrous octopus dominating the cover, cephalopods are so little understood that rather than truly making them the stars of this book, author P ...more
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 ...more