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Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness Kindle Edition
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A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
One of the Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2016 and a Top Ten Science Book of Fall 2016, Publishers Weekly
"If this is philosophy, it works, because Godfrey-Smith is a rare philosopher who searches the world for clues. Knowledgeable and curious, he examines, he admires. His explorations are good-natured. He is never dogmatic, yet startlingly incisive." ―Carl Safina, The New York Times Book Review
"Entrancing and profound . . . Godfrey-Smith takes us on a philosophical journey of a quite unique kind, for its backdrop is the sea. We accompany the author, an avid diver and admirable writer, as he explores the lives of the cephalopods and the origins of consciousness . . . As is clear from the title of Godfrey-Smith's book―as well as his enchanting descriptions of encounters with octopods―he believes these creatures have minds." ―Stephen Cave, Financial Times
"A philosopher of science and experienced deep-sea diver, Godfrey-Smith has rolled his obsessions into one book, weaving biology and philosophy into a dazzling pattern that looks a lot like the best of pop science. He peppers his latest book with vivid anecdotes from his cephalopod encounters . . . [and] relates dramatic stories of mischief made by captive octopuses . . . [but] his project is no less ambitious than to work out the evolutionary origins of subjective experience . . . The result is an incredibly insightful and enjoyable book." ―Meehan Crist, Los Angeles Times
"[Other Minds is] a terrific mix of Cousteau-esque encounters with [cephalopods] in the wild . . . wide-ranging scientific discussion, and philosophical analysis. Beautifully written, thought-provoking, and bold, this book is the latest, and most closely argued, salvo in the debate over whether octopuses and other cephalopods are intelligent, sentient beings." ―Olivia Judson, The Atlantic
"A smoothly written and captivating account of the octopus and its brethren . . . [Godfrey-Smith] stresses their dissimilarity to us and other mammals, but he also wants us to appreciate what we have in common . . . Mr. Godfrey-Smith mixes the scientific with the personal, giving us lively descriptions of his dives to 'Octopolis,' a site off the east coast of Australia at which octopuses gather." ―Colin McGinn, The Wall Street Journal
“The alienness of octopuses, in [Peter Godfrey-Smith’s] view, provides an opportunity to reflect on the nature of cognition and consciousness without simply projecting from the human example . . . Godfrey-Smith starts with the conviction that consciousness is an evolved thing, and accepts the conclusion that it has more primitive precursors: that it comes in degrees after all.” ―Amia Srinivasan, London Review of Books
"To investigate these astonishing animals with such empathy and rigor is achievement enough. To do so while casting light on the birth and nature of consciousness, as Godfrey-Smith does here, is captivating." ―China Miéville, author of The City & The City and Kraken
"Brilliant . . . The beauty of Godfrey-Smith’s book lies in the clarity of his writing; his empathy, if you will . . . He proves that, like all aliens, these strange, beautiful creatures are more like us than our hubris allows." ―Philip Hoare, The Guardian
"Peter Godfrey-Smith's Other Minds sells us on the sentient cephalopod and the history of our own consciousness, one tentacle at a time." ―Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair
"Fascinating . . . After reading this book, to paraphrase Byron, you will 'love not man the less, but cephalopods more.'" ―Callum Roberts, The Washington Post
"[Other Minds's] subject is so amazing, it’s hard not to be drawn along, just as Godfrey-Smith was when he extended a hand to an octopus and it reached out to return his touch, echoing his interest." ―Irene Wanner, The Seattle Times
"Godfrey-Smith skillfully links the details of evolutionary history and biology to broader philosophical debates about the nature and function of consciousness . . . [Other Minds] is a valuable contribution to some of the most basic questions about the origins of conscious life." ―Nick Romeo, Chicago Tribune
"Delightful . . . Godfrey-Smith explores the issue from many angles, beginning with a succinct and thoughtful discussion of the evolution of animals, and extending to a look at the octopus' remarkable neurological systems . . . Throughout, Godfrey-Smith intertwines his own keen work observing and filming these animals at a remarkable site off of the coast of Australia he calls 'Octopolis.'" ―Adam Gaffney, The New Republic
"Such wondrous creatures deserve a remarkable chronicler. They’ve found one in Godfrey-Smith . . . Other Minds is a superb, coruscating book. It’s exciting to see bottom-up philosophy―philosophy that starts on the reef and in the sand and then crawls slowly up towards abstraction. That’s how all philosophy should be done." ―Charles Foster, Literary Review
"Fascinating and often delightful . . . This book ingeniously blends philosophy and science to trace the epic journey from single-celled organisms of 3.8 billion years ago to the awakening and development of cephalopod consciousness." ―Damian Whitworth, The Times (London)
"Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher, skilfully combines science, philosophy and his experiences of swimming among these tentacled beasts to illuminate the origin and nature of consciousness." ―The Economist
"Godfrey-Smith has set himself a double challenge with this book: (i) putting together what is known about octopi behavior and cognition and (ii) showing why this information challenges our philosophical and scientific conceptions of the mind. The result is most convincing." ―Ophelia Deroy, Science
"A concise and elegant guide to evolution, consciousness, and marine biology." ―Gary Drevitch, Psychology Today
"Deftly blending philosophy and evolutionary biology . . . 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 . . . [Other Minds is] thoroughly enjoyable and informative." ―Publishers Weekly
"An engrossing blend of avidly described underwater adventures . . . and a fluid inquiry into the brain-body connection . . . Godfrey-Smith performs an exceptionally revealing deep dive into the evolutionary progression from sensing to acting to remembering to the coalescence of the inner voice, thus tracking the spectrum between sentience and consciousness." ―Donna Seaman, Booklist
"I love this book, its masterful blend of natural history, philosophy, and wonder. Other Minds takes us on an extraordinary deep dive, not only beneath the waves, for a revelatory and intimate view of the mysterious and highly intelligent octopus, but also through the eons, to look at the nature of the mind and how it came about. It’s a captivating story, and Godfrey-Smith brings it alive in vivid, elegant prose. His ardent and humane passion for the octopus is present on every page. A must-read for anyone interested in what it’s like to be an octopus or in the evolution of the mind―ours and the very other, but equally sentient, minds of the cephalopods." ―Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds
"One of the greatest puzzles of organic life is how and why certain animals became aware of themselves. Peter Godfrey-Smith uses the octopus as a portal to enter nonhuman consciousness, doing so with great sensitivity and first-hand knowledge." ―Frans de Waal, author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
"Exciting, dramatic, vivid, revelatory, this book is full of jaw-dropping ideas and thrilling possibilities. In beautiful, clear, evocative writing, diver-philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith will transform your understanding of the nature of life, the course of evolution, and the development of the mind―ours and others'. Other Minds will delight and challenge every naturalist, every diver, every person who has ever wondered about the nature of other creatures' experience. In other words, everyone should read this book―and come away with a more complex and compassionate relationship to the other animals with whom we share both Earth and sea." ―Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, a National Book Award finalist
"Godfrey-Smith delivers a revealing exploration of one―no, two!―of evolution's most critical turns, and one remarkable creature's trail-blazing, eight-armed foray into a mental life." ―Jonathan Balcombe, author of What a Fish Knows
"One of our species's worst qualities is our insistence on an exclusive pathway to consciousness. Fortunately Peter Godfrey-Smith has given us a roadmap to a whole new territory of thinking. Other Minds is a gracious and generous exploration of this different land, one that will make you rethink the entire notion of sentience." ―Paul Greenberg, New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish and American Catch
About the Author
- File size : 6530 KB
- Publication date : December 6, 2016
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 273 pages
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (December 6, 2016)
- ASIN : B01FQRPIIA
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- Language: : English
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0008226296
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #25,587 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Most frustratingly, it is a bait-and-switch: The description (on the book cover and on Amazon) states that the author "tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being―how nature became aware of itself." Nonsense. It says almost nothing about subjective experience or consciousness (which are, I believe, the same thing), and certainly gives no new insights, discussing instead the evolution of the nervous system in various parts of the animal kingdom, along with a variety of unsupported guesses about how the mind works. (The word "perhaps" is used remarkably often.) Since gaining insight into subjective experience and consciousness was the primary reason that I bought the book, I was disappointed to say the least.
It does provide interesting descriptions of the lives of octopuses and cuttlefish, and of the author's scuba-diving experiences. But the science discussed - neural development and evolution primarily, along with some of what is known about memory - was at an extremely superficial level. (I'm a physician with a science background.) If you know nothing about these areas you may find their treatment worthwhile; I did not.
Yes, I know the author is a philosopher and not a scientist. But the little philosophy of mind offered in place of the promised analysis of subjective experience was also superficial, at the level of a dinner conversation. There was little that could not be intuited by anyone who thought about these puzzles for a while.
So, as I'm apparently in the less-than-one-percent who didn't love this book, please ignore me! And if you read it, please offer your review! Cheers.
There's a reason that both modern philosophy and science in general has studiously avoided the whole question of consciousness. Science and modern western philosophy can only deal with what can be observed, that is, in the world of “things,” matter. The author of this book, Godfrey-Smth, follows in this well worn groove and very soon comes to the inevitable dead end. Because he does not seem to realize that he has come to a dead end, the book meanders through various irrelevant philosophical speculations regarding supposed but unsubstantiated prerequisites for "consciousness": the need for language and a sense of self and time, or a requirement for social interactions, etc. He adds some scientific studies drawing from varied disciplines such as neurology, Darwinian evolution theory, paleontology. But he never comes close to looking at consciousness itself. He never even settles on a consistent use of the word “consciousness." Instead, by the end of the book he has so completely abandoned all pretense of delving into the question of consciousness that he makes no mention of his original intention. The book ends lamely by making a valiant plea for protecting our precious oceans. Nothing wrong with that—all our wild and natural places undoubtedly need protection—but he has craftily bypassed his stated mission.
Here's the thing: one cannot presume to discover the "origins” or anything else about Consciousness through conceptual thought. After Descartes' famous dictum "I think, therefore I am" has led succeeding generations of humans to identify their whole raison d’etre with their thinking capacity, science believes thinking to be the preeminent mode of grasping the profound nature of reality. Human thinking has elevated its own thinking process to such a degree that we have equated thinking with our most essential being, as in Descartes’ own misguided thought quoted above. Using conceptual thought to even get a glimmer of consciousness would be kind of like asking a fish "what is water?" "Huh?," it says. "Water? Never heard of it." Consciousness cannot be an object for thought because it is the means and essence behind thought. Like the fish, we can't conceive of some essence in which we are embedded and of which we are comprised. There is no "other" that can look at it, since it is what looks; it can only look at itself non-dualistically. Thought inherently presumes a subject/object dichotomy which is how the material world, the world of form, presents itself. The vastly larger more all-encompassing dimension of Consciousness does not abide by the thought-constructed rules of logic, order, appearance or values of human thought.
This is the conundrum of our highly venerated (shall I say, over-rated?) scientific method: it bases all its understanding in matter. Anything outside of matter, most of all Consciousness, is utterly outside its reach. Godfrey-Smith is caught in this conundrum from the beginning. Even framing his search for the "origin" of Consciousness within an evolutionary model presupposes that Consciousness arose as life developed through all its various forms. This is somewhat analogous to saying that radio waves came into existence as the radio developed. One idea that briefly flitted through the array of philosophical positions that Godfrey-Smith mentioned regarding consciousness—and which he summarily dismissed—was that Consciousness is the timeless essence of all being and permeates all of life. In contrast, Godfrey-Smith's two fundamental assumptions about Consciousness that underlie his whole line of inquiry—that Consciousness is a product of material evolution and that Consciousness is something other than the essence of being that permeates all of life—are the downfall of his inquiry. He simply cannot go any further using the completely inadequate vehicle of science and modern western philosophy.
For the readers who wish to gain some understanding of Consciousness, perhaps you may wish to start with the premise that Consciousness is fundamental; it is always present; it is the underlying essence of all that is; all form has arisen out of Consciousness itself (not the other way around); and our own essential being is Consciousness itself. When thought quiets down, what is left is simply Awareness=Consciousness. It becomes clear that Consciousness itself is perceiving through all of life, one Being perceiving through all the myriad forms. From this perspective, it is not surprising nor amazing that we find so many animals, including birds, primates, cephalopods and many others, who are not only highly intelligent but show distinct signs of attributes we ordinarily associate with humans: compassion, empathy, mourning and yes, awareness. In fact, Life in all its forms is an expression of intelligence, with each life form expressing and carrying out its own unique mode of intelligence. From this perspective, we can see so clearly how all of life operates as a whole as one elegant, living system imbued with intelligence and consciousness.
The Tibetan Buddhist tradition, especially in particular the dzogchen tradition, has built a whole “science” around a way of knowing that transcends conceptual thought. Eckhart Tolle is a contemporary spiritual teacher who presents the same knowing in an extremely clear, uncomplicated manner. This understanding of Consciousness has been pointed out in all spiritual traditions, sometimes directly but often obliquely. However you pursue your interest, congratulations for embarking on the path of awakening out of the relatively immature compulsive thought-possessed stage of development, into next stage of human development: the realization of Conscious Awareness as the essence, source and Being of all. This awakening of Consciousness through the material world into its awareness of itself is the evolutionary direction the universe is moving toward. It is a shift from the thought-based perception of life as a conglomeration of “things” to the thought-free perception of life as “Being.” You can experience for yourself how this changes everything.
Other Minds is really a set of loosely connected essays about the evolution of life forms, especially cephalopods, of which octopuses are one example, with an emphasis on brains, minds, and, to a certain degree, consciousness. There is a great deal of straight science here but also first-hand stories from the author’s own scuba-dives in Octopolis, a site off Australia. I was especially moved by his experience of having an octopus reach out to touch him and lead him around his home turf.
The book is beautifully told and extremely informative; I learned a tremendous amount about evolution and was especially impressed at how the same traits and design seem to have evolved completely independently several times. On one level, though, I was disappointed, because both the title and the book jacket implied that the book is about subjective experience and consciousness and how it has developed in other beings than humans. This is a leading topic in the book but not the only one, e.g., the closing section is about the precarious state of our marine environment and how we need to protect it. The book does not explore consciousness nearly as much as I had expected, especially since the author is a philosophy professor. I would classify it as Science and Nature; if that is what you are looking for, it is well worth your time.
Top reviews from other countries
Secondly, 'Other Minds' is the kind of book destined to become a classic of its genre, as it has a tremendous - I would say life-changing - effect on the reader. This reader included; after reading about the startlingly high level of intelligence possessed by octopuses, I cannot ever see myself ordering octopus as food in a restaurant again. It just seems wrong; they are as characterful as dogs and cats, and I think it would simply be terrible to treat these amazing creatures as a foodstuff any longer. I do hope, given my love of bacon and chorizo, that Godfrey-Smith's next book is not on the topic of porcine intelligence...
And thirdly (for the sake of brevity - I could certainly go on in praise of this book), Godfrey-Smith makes a great case for the protection of the ocean environment. Overfishing and pollution have both taken their toll, and now that we understand how much intelligence - nay, sentience - is present in the depths, we owe it to our genetic relatives (by which I mean all species, in every shape and form) to do a better job of not destroying what life there is out there.
But how much do you know about octopuses (or, apparently, octopodes) and cephalopods in general?
The evolutionary tree and time scales are fascinating:
• 4,600 MYA: Earth formed
• 3,600 MYA: First single celled organism (perhaps earlier than this)
• 635 MYA, Ediacaran: Emergence first multicellular organisms and also the bilaterian body plan. Perhaps these animals also had simple light sensitive skin patches. Molluscs, the forbearers of cephalopods, split from rest of evolutionary tree during this period. ie common ancestor for humans and octopodes
• 542 MYA, Cambrian: explosion of body forms we see today
• 320 MYA: Bird and mammal common ancestor. A land dwelling lizard-like animal
• 164 MYA: First uncontroversial octopus fossil
• 6 MYA: Human and chimp common ancestor
• 1 MYA: Homo sapiens
Nervous systems developed independently (although from the same precursor protein), as did eyes. Whereas chordates (including us) have a centralised nervous system, cephalopods have a much more widely distributed nervous system: for instance their arms have enough "intelligence" to act semi-autonomously. Whereas there are many intelligent birds and mammals, cephalopods are the only intelligent molluscs. The common octopus has 500 million neurons, (similar to cats and dogs. This is four orders of magnitude greater than other molluscs ,a garden snail for instance has about 10,000 neurons.
There is an interesting discussion on the purpose of a nervous system. In simple animals it allows animals to do two things: respond to the environment (move toward food or away from pain), and to coordinate the animal's body. Looking after four feet whilst fleeing a predator is no mean feat. With larger brains animals can start to plan their actions, coordinate within a pack, and solve problems set by animal behaviourists.
Godfrey-Smith then attempts to make inroads into consciousness and self awareness. Without, I feel, much success.
Birds and mammals also demonstrate parallel evolution. Our common ancestor was probably a land reptile that roamed before the dinosaurs. Yet both us (as mammals) and birds have skin covering, are warm blooded, and have developed a level of intelligence. Although anatomically our brains are similar, birds and primates use their brains differently. A raven, as well as having a large brain for its weight, also uses that brain efficiently. The result is a surprisingly clever animal.
Why do cephalopods generate such fascinating skin colour displays? Especially as they're apparently colour blind, and they are not social.
Another interesting puzzle that Godfrey-Smith raises but doesn't entirely address: octopuses and cephalopods have comparatively large brains, yet only live for a couple of years. Why do they need such large brains for such a short life span? However the associated discussion on the evolutionary theories of senescence.
The book ends with a polemic on habitat destruction, which is fair enough but off-topic.
So despite the book's shortcomings, I learnt a lot. Hence a hearty 4 out 5.
His passion for octopuses also shines through and contributes to the readability of the book. The only reason it doesn't get five stars from me is that the prose is a tad try. Nevertheless, he does a great job of distilling complex concepts for the lay reader, and the book reads like a breeze, making it worthwhile for anyone with an interest in these kinds of subjects.