Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life” as Want to Read:
Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  11,586 ratings  ·  1,417 reviews

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

Paperback, 255 pages
Published March 31st 2018 by WIlliam Collins (first published December 6th 2016)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Other Minds, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Jade Cephalopods (Archeteuthis and Sepia included) have the most related optics to humans. Their pupils will change shape, based on light, environment, and…moreCephalopods (Archeteuthis and Sepia included) have the most related optics to humans. Their pupils will change shape, based on light, environment, and emotions. (Sorry, my short lived Phd. project was in correlating sign language with Sepia colour communication). If these beings lived longer than two to three years, they would take over the planet. Between stimulus response and cognitive reasoning, they are far superior to apes. If you are further interested, check out the WHOI archives on octopus and cuttlefish studies ....(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  11,586 ratings  ·  1,417 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life
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
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
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
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


"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
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
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenna by: ashley c
Cephalopods are among my favourite animal species. They are amazing and yet so much of them remains mysterious. I was thrilled to learn of this book when a friend recently reviewed it. On the TBR list it went!

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
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Strangely enough, this book -- which could have turned into a free-for-all metaphysics/philosophy speculation-fest -- actually turned out to be a relatively careful, thoughtful science book that poses, but does not attempt to prove, that octopods may be the real deal.

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
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,
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.
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
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.
Emma Sea
Thoroughly enjoyable, fantastic writing, a perfect blend of science and thoughtful, personal responses with a philosophical bent. Highly recommended
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
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science

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”
This is a really well planned out book, which tried to explain in thorough detail, but in ways the general public can understand a wide array of scientific research - primarily evolutionary biology, but also aspects of behavioural science - signaling, communication and a whole bunch of other things that factor into the evolution of octopus and (giant) cuttlefish - which form the largest part of this book. In passing it also deals with comparable animals (including humans), such as bees, pigeons, ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I came to this via the afterword of the brilliant SF book Children of Ruin which deals with humans and their allies coming across a space-faring(!) civilization of uplifted octopuses. That book leans heavily on this one; enough so that I recommend that to readers of this and vice versa.

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
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
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
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
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vivian by: Emma Sea
Shelves: 2018-odyssey, theory, gift
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
Feb 20, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-kindle, grbpp
(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!
Nisha Menon
Jun 05, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is so badly written and has barely any coherent points to make.

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.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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
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
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
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
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
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 P
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness
  • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World
  • The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World
  • The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary
  • Octopus: The Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate
  • Animal Societies: How Co-Operation Conquered the Natural World
  • Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures
  • Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects
  • The Brain: Everything You Need To Know
  • The Genius of Birds
  • The Order of Time
  • Squid Empire: The Rise and Fall of the Cephalopods
  • I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants
  • Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution
  • Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
  • En såkalt drittjobb
  • How Not to Network a Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet
See similar books…
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

News & Interviews

Are you having a difficult time reading these days? If so, you're not alone. Since the pandemic began, I've found it harder to concentrate on...
68 likes · 31 comments
“When you dive into the sea, you are diving into the origin of us all.” 11 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.” 8 likes
More quotes…