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

Peter Godfrey-Smith. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-22776-0
Deftly blending philosophy and evolutionary biology, Godfrey-Smith (Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection), an Australian philosopher of science, uses his passion for cephalopods to address “how consciousness arose from the raw materials found in living beings.” Comparing vertebrate consciousness and intelligence with that of cephalopods is not as odd as it might seem, because “cephalopods are evolution’s only experiment in big brains outside of the vertebrates.” Godfrey-Smith demonstrates that octopuses are constructed from a dramatically different plan than vertebrates, with each of their arms having the ability to act and sense their environment semi-autonomously from their central brains. This striking difference raises intriguing questions about the nature of communication within organisms, as well as about the meaning of intelligence. 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. He also ponders how and why such intelligence developed in such short-lived creatures (they generally live only a few years). Godfrey-Smith doesn’t provide definitive answers to his questions, but the journey he leads is both thoroughly enjoyable and informative. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/12/2016
Release date: 12/06/2016
Open Ebook - 272 pages - 978-0-374-71280-8
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-374-53719-7
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