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Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  7,467 ratings  ·  978 reviews
A philosopher dons a wet suit and journeys into the depths of consciousness

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
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Paperback, 255 pages
Published March 31st 2018 by WIlliam Collins (first published December 6th 2016)
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Trina Dubya You're looking at the octopus from above. If you could look at that octopus from the side without the octopus moving, the pupils would be horizontal.

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3.85  · 
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 ·  7,467 ratings  ·  978 reviews


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Julie
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
I wanted to like this book -- I really did -- but unfortunately it just didn't do much for me.

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
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Petal X
This book is explanation of our development, the evolution, from single-celled beings to the complex creatures of today. The author says that the chemistry of life is aquatic. That's why we are made of such a large volume of water with a delicate salt-balance ourselves. I knew this, but had never thought of it quite as "the chemistry of life is sea-based".

The author is in love with octopuses and cuttlefish and describes them from observation, from laboratory anecdotes and from a scientific point
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carol.
Octopodes, or "the floppy floppy spider of the sea," (source: ZeFrank) are pretty freaking amazing. Godfrey-Smith agrees, which is how this book came about. As he notes on page 9, "If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of shared history...but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien."

Unfortunately, he tried to marry it with one of his professional passions, the philosophy of consci
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Darwin8u
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
"When you dive into the sea, you are diving into the origin of us all."
- Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds

description

"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
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Warwick
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Despite what might be gleaned from your Star Treks and Dr Whos, the evolution of intelligent life is – as far as I can get my head round it – infinitesimally rare and unlikely. The emergence of cells, the development of eukaryotes, the first multicellular organisms, the start of sexual reproduction, and finally some kind of freak evolutionary drive towards increased intelligence – all these things happened once only, and didn't have to. It's presumably happened somewhere else in the universe (wh ...more
Trish
Gosh, I wasn't crazy about this. Godfrey-Smith is an Australian, Sydney native, teaching at City University in New York. He began studying octopus in 2008 by following them around in scuba gear. He is a philosopher, not a scientist. I did not grasp that when we began. There were some very un-scientific notions presented that struck me as weird
"[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.
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Jason Furman
One of the best books I read this year and not one I had been planning to read. I skimmed a few reviews, which were interesting but did not leave me thinking that I needed to read the full book. But then I started a sample on a whim and was swept away by the carefully observed descriptions of octopuses (and to a lesser degree cuttlefish) and the use of that as a springboard to discuss evolutionary biology and the philosophy of the mind.

Octopuses are a type of mollusk and, like all invertebrates,
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Renata
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, And the Deep Origins of Consciousness

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
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Emma Sea
Thoroughly enjoyable, fantastic writing, a perfect blend of science and thoughtful, personal responses with a philosophical bent. Highly recommended
jeroen
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. I guess the best part for me was the lively enthusiasm, this guy really lives his stories. The attention to detail, the personal approach towards scientific stories -hard to do and well done- and the never ending exhilarating, addictive examples. The only reason it does not get five stars is the ‘other minds’ subject. There is a promise in the beginning that we will dive into another world of consciousness and intelligence with the octopi. The book -for me- does not really deliv ...more
Richard Newton
An interesting insight into the evolution of other forms of intelligent life which have developed completely independently of our own.

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
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Annie
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
10/10 RECOMMEND.

The premise:
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” i
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Michael
Dec 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book after reading a NY Times article by the author, "Octopuses and the Puzzle of Aging". The article was fascinating, and at the bottom was a note mentioning it was adapted from this forthcoming book.

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
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Vivian
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vivian by: Emma Sea
Shelves: 2018-odyssey, gift, theory
Philosophy meets evolutionary biology and very very interesting.

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
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Leo Walsh
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Other Minds" by Peter Godfrey-Smith is an amazing, thought-provoking book that bridges science and philosophy, notably the question: 'What is consciousness? And how do you know when something is sentient?'

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
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Brian
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: grbpp, on-kindle
(3.5) some good stuff about octopus and cuttlefish (wee!) behavior but a lot of fluff / repetition as well.

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!
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Clare
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OVERALL AVERAGE RATING: 3.8

Content: 4/5
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
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Richard Derus
Rating: 3.5* of five

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
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Betsy
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[29 September 2018]
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
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Aloke
Apr 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I for one welcome our new octopus overlords!" is probably not a phrase you'll hear anytime soon. But this book does make a strong case that the octopus and the cuttlefish (Godfrey-Smith definitely has a crush on cuttlefish) are quite intelligent. And because we parted ways evolutionarily quite a long time back, he says, we can study them to understand our own path to consciousness. It sounds like the science is far from settled but he sketches out a few different theories that seem plausible an ...more
Paul
The mind is a complex entity, we have only scratched the surface in comprehending how it works and what it is capable of. The neural networks that make up the brain are capable of absorbing vast sums of information and making sense of them fast. The intelligence that we have, and can see in other mammals and birds, in particular, other primates, cetaceans, and corvids. There is another set of animals that seem to have also benefited from a large brain and complex neural networks and that is the ...more
ashley c
Godfrey-Smith marries his passion for octopi and other cephalopods and his expertise and work on the philosophy of consciousness in this short and readable book. It's interesting how every reader, according to the reviews I read, tackles this book from a different angle. Some are here for the cool colour-changing squid and embodied intelligence of the octopus. Some are here for the discussion of evolution. Some are here for the philosophy. I can't speak for everyone else, but for someone who's i ...more
Ian
Jul 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I decided to give this a go after seeing a glowing recommendation for it in an online article. I suppose those sorts of reviews are a double-edged sword. They get you to read the book, but on the other hand the reader can start with overly high expectations, which is what happened to me in this case.

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.
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Steven Peck
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic look at one of Earth's alien creatures. The book was strong on the evolution of consciousness and cephalopods. The author whose work I am familiar with from philosophy of science stuck to the science and did not speculate much beyond. I sort of wish he had. I think a more speculative chapter would have been fascinating given the author's background--especially on the origin of, say, qualia. The author's experiences with this group of animals was especially interesting and it was nice ...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
This was a marvelous book, I enjoyed every page, regreted that it was going so fast and I learned so much from it in such an enjoyable fashion!

The title and subtitle very accurately lay out it's contents: It explores the mental worlds of Octopus and other Cephalopods, their intelligence, how they might think, what the internal and external worlds of an animal so different to us might look like.

I read a lot of marine books, anything to do with Cephalopod's in particular I seek out, this book is o
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Krista
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
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 Pet
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Adam  McPhee
Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals. Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lies so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.

I
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Ms.pegasus
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in biology or evolution
Recommended to Ms.pegasus by: review in THE ECONOMIST
The author's primary goal is examining how evolutionary biology might contribute to our understanding of consciousness. This examination combines scientific observation with philosophical theorizing, and it is not always easy to follow.

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
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Amirography
I have to say that the title made a false impression on me that this book was about a whole subject of animal cognition. So I was a bit disappointed to see that it was mainly about octopuses and cephelopods. Though the focus was on them, the philosophical discussions it offered was novel and arguably universal. So I was eventually satisfied.
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
I don’t read a great deal of popular science and I don’t know very much of the detail of evolution or the biology of octopuses, so I feel pretty ill qualified to judge this book. I picked it up because I fancied reading something about animal sentience and this as the first thing that popped up. It proved to be a fascinating mix of ‘stuff of about cephalopods’ and philosophical musings that suited me quite nicely. It’s probably not particularly satisfying for anyone who knows much about the phil ...more
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I am currently Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center, CUNY (City University of New York), and Professor of History and Philosophy of Science (half-time) at the University of Sydney.

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
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“Mischief and craft are plainly seen to be characteristics of this creature. —Claudius Aelianus, third century A.D., writing about the octopus” 5 likes
“Cephalopods are an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals. Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lies so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over.” 5 likes
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