Books

Book Review: Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

Let’s start by confessing the fact that I had a weird obsession with octopuses. It is because they are closest to an alien life we can get to with their copper blood, suckers, soft bodies, and escape artist minds. They can perceive the world beyond their tanks, separate humans from each other, show dislike towards us with jets of water and cause a massive amount of damage while trying to escape or while trying to shut off the lights, who can blame them? The only downside of octopuses I have to complain about is their short lifespan, two to five years. There you have it, now it is high time you share this love with me. But I’m not sure if this is the right book to start your journey. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery is approachable than this one, but compared to that book with anecdotal tales about octopuses this one tries to piece together if, in fact, octopuses have consciousness from a more scientific starting point, adding on with philosophy.

That said, this is not an impossible book to read. The book is composed of studies done on consciousness and what we know about it compared to other animals and us. It also discusses intelligence and how to test it. How octopuses have evolved and from what, possibly. How octopuses behave and why they might behave so. Peter Godfrey-Smith also writes about his personal accounts with the magnificent sea predator, whose intelligence might be because of its diverse prey. He also goes over the color-changing abilities, and why it might happen. The book is comprehensive, and I loved every page I read. But often enough, the writer lost his point and rambled on with one detail to mask the fact that he couldn’t answer the question or idea he proposed a moment ago. Also, when he discusses exciting issues like the duality of mind and body and proposes that octopuses don’t have this issue as their tentacles and body are wired with neurons, he never truly goes far enough to finish his point. The same is with consciousness. I keep waiting for his explorations to start, to show me how he might combine this idea of philosophy and biology together, he really doesn’t. Yet, as I wrote it before, I have this weird obsession with these octopuses, and I had fun reading this book. Every new novel idea excited me even when I truly didn’t get answers. The best part of the book might be the evolution part, where the writer explains how these creatures have come to be and how we should think about them compared to squids and cuttlefishes and other mollusks.

Anyway, this book deepened my love with cephalopods, but I know this might not be the case with everyone who picks up this book randomly. Other Minds is not a bad book. Its crime is that it tries to be more than an overview of octopus but never delivers what is promises. There are not enough studies quoted, and the inner structure is a huge mess. And even a line like “okay x+a+z are known if fact from the creatures, but we can’t truly say if E holds true, but for those who work with the animal, it is something to pursue to know more.” would have saved the book. But I loved it. Anyone willing to spend their time thinking octopi and their intelligence is a good friend of mine.

Thank you for reading and have a tentacleous day!

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