Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness Reprint 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
"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
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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.
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.
It is not simply about octopuses and squids though. It is about using those life forms to explore bigger things like intelligence, consciousness and how animals including humans understand their environment. The author explores evolutionary possibilities about how animals come to relate to conspecifics, predators and prey. There are others which do not fit any of those categories.
As a book written for a popular audience it is not replete with scientific jargon and when new words or concepts are introduced, they are explained in understandable language with very good examples to provide perspective. Maybe the thing I appreciated the most was that it was written using a lot of questions and humble suggestions rather than offering grand new theories. It made for a far more thought provoking read than some others in the genre. Those questions and suggestions are too many for a book review but below a few will be presented.
It is nearly an aside here, but a philosopher who does field research by scuba diving off the coast of Australia with scientists and whose research reveals not raw data for laboratory testing but philosophical insight, makes the author himself a very interesting character. Some of his experiences can be viewed here.
Early in the book the reader is introduced to cephalopods by way of the scuba diving anecdotal stories of their engagement with the humans. In particular, he means the interactions with the author. Certainly the cephalopod does not recognize that object as we do but something like a dark animal with no face, four arms and many bubbles exuding from them. Nevertheless the author experienced them reaching a tentacle or arm out to tactilely probe the object of this encounter-to the point of attempting to pull them into the lair. This behavior suggests the importance of feel to the cephalopod’s repertoire of resources that help it survive and bring forth spawn.
He also observed their visual observance of everything around them. They watched the scuba divers but also their entire landscape for friend, foe and neutral bodies. Well maybe just for foe as the writer indicated often, these species are generally indifferent to their conspecifics. He did remark on variation from the rule here as he did whenever he was making a general statement about behaviors. Noting exceptions to the rule is critical to explanation and for the non-scientist reader, valuable.
He brought up the fact of the elaborate nervous systems of these animals and how that plays with the brilliant abilities for the animals to shape shift as if to conform to their surroundings which included immediate color changes. It is remarkable for many reasons but a couple include the fact that the colorations do not occur as if by one mechanism but instead by many yet it occurs so quickly it appears as if by simplicity. It is a three step process since they mechanisms occur at three different layers of skins. The details are in the book but not here. They are too fascinating for my own interpretation. He does provide an image however.
The other bizarre curiosity is that lab results strongly suggest that they are colorblind. Something within the nervous system that is not visual ignites the instantaneous processes that allow the color change and body morphing. He examines this through two different operations of the nervous systems one in which is the taking of sensory cues from the environment with the innate motor skills respond like autonomic reactions. The other is a simpler stimulus response action based on what occurs on the spot like the flight or fight response.
In this discussion he cited other philosophers of consciousness to remind us that interpretation involves a lot of questions. There is nothing certain and plenty that may be probable. In efforts to describe animal behavior from a non-anthropomorphic perspective, the observer may not always see the forest for the trees. Yet we are thrust into a situation where it is difficult to understand information and the processing of it from other than a human perspective. We also have to treat information as a physical thing-something to be measured. Is it? Or is it reducible to a binomial sort of impulse and response an immediate (and evolutionarily adaptive) reaction? This is a debated question amongst those examining what is meant by “consciousness”. In fact it remains sort of a Gordian knot and there are dualists who consider that consciousness is made up of a “functional” quality which is the 1s and 0s of binomial information. It also has a “phenomenal” essence that involves the interpretational or conscious experience. The former is said to control behavior and the latter simply is consciousness. It is these sort of issues that the author proposes not to find concrete answers but to ask additional questions.
Godfrey-Smith ponders hard on the notion of consciousness saying “It’s sometimes hard to work out how these theories relate to my own target here: subjective experience in a very broad sense. I treat subjective experience as a broad category and consciousness as a narrower category within it— not everything that an animal might feel has to be conscious.” More important than defining consciousness, the author provides much to consider and the reader can take advantage of that.
Back to the animals, the author discovered several things that also make the reader think. With the knowledge that cephalopods have a very intricate nervous system it would seem that it would take years to develop and yet he informs us that these species have a very short life span. In most cases four years would be very long. He asks about the evolutionary benefit of this intricate structure to only exist for so short a time. They hardly have time to use their wondrous skills when they are replaced by the next generation.
They are semelparous meaning that they only reproduce once in a lifetime and in their case, the female dies right after spawning. They also use a deimatic display which is one of complete submission and the author examined this many times and offers suggestions as to why. These beasts are so capable of camouflaging for protection as well as to predate, why would they need a passive and subordinate display? It is not used when flight would work or an attempt to startle something it would eat. There is no clear answer but he believes it is used when a more aggressive conspecific appears.
There is much to learn about cephalopods and there is scarce information of them historically. Being soft bodied they do not preserve well so the fossil record is nearly non-existent. His own efforts at first hand observation are in coordination with biologists and other scientists. There is much study of them going on today. It is clear that the bounty of possible research is hindered by decreasing habitat. That is a problem that the study of any animal behavior faces. With climate change comes both a loss of habitat, but a change in behavior as well. Various species adapt differently to changing environment environments such as warming waters.
This was an easy book to not put down. The pace was lively and informative yet never certain. The book makes the curious reader intent on learning more of the subject matter. He provided lots of philosophical questions for the reader to ponder.
Top international reviews
( ALL lives are lives because souls underlie them!
No lives are "fake, existing only as props for humans to take advantage of, put there as props by God for Humans to use" as some Abrahamic religion types assume...
so can state truly that arthropods are DIFFERENT minds...
( exactly as others have said: arthropods experience seeing as a "wet" experience!
but, of course, they don't have retinas doing some processing, before forwarding-back towards their brains the partially-processed information, like we do,
they have balls of wet-filled pipes, bringing light down onto protrusions of their brains, giving their SEEing a completely different kind of feel!
BTW, if you ever get someone of the hornet/bee/wasp family accidentally in your home,
the way to get them safely out is:
no perfume or other scent overriding their free-will,
shut off all light inside, so the only light significant to them is outside, through a real opening
( not impassable glass )
( maybe light up the porch )
& block ( opaque ) all openings to deeper-inside, opening whatever door is letting them out.
Since they experience sentience more like swimming than anything else we know,
& since swimming into openness & light is their fundamental desire,
making the outside visibly lighter & more-open will probably have them "swimming" out shortly.
This doesn"t work on the blackfly family or the mosquito family: it is specific to the family including hornets/bees/wasps. )
Life kept reinventing good-brains & good-sensory-organs...
Life expresses through matter, driving evolution, until it loses-interest in that particular kind/expression/life...
( which is why species/empires sometimes just spontaneously collapse )
and understanding life is both fascinating & important.
This book is western-in-cosmology, so it presumes things that no one from India's philosophies would,
but is important & good.
Salut, Namaste, & Kaizen, eh?