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Publisher's Summary

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 tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? What does it mean that evolution built minds not once but at least twice? The octopus is the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter?
In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being - how nature became aware of itself. As Godfrey-Smith stresses, it is a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared. Tracking the mind's fitful development, Godfrey-Smith shows how unruly clumps of seaborne cells began living together and became capable of sensing, acting, and signaling. As these primitive organisms became more entangled with others, they grew more complicated. The first nervous systems evolved, probably in ancient relatives of jellyfish; later on the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous mollusks, abandoned their shells and rose above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so. Taking an independent route, mammals and birds later began their own evolutionary journeys.
But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? Drawing on the latest scientific research and his own scuba-diving adventures, Godfrey-Smith probes the many mysteries that surround the lineage. How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually think for themselves? What happens when some octopuses abandon their hermit-like ways and congregate, as they do in a unique location off the coast of Australia?
By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind - and on our own.
©2016 Peter Godfrey-Smith (P)2016 Harper Collins
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Chris Geschwantner on 05-31-17

Empathy for an Octopus?

I started this book knowing a little about the octopus and nothing about cuttlefish. How they would relate to consciousness or the origins of it was a open question. The reviews were interesting, so I used a credit. My only complaint is that one night I stayed up way too late, wanting to finish listening to a chapter.

The author is enamored of these creatures. And it is clear as to why. He has spent many hours with them, not in a lab, but in their natural environment. We get to share this time, and still stay dry. We get to know these animals, and when it comes to the discussion of their short lives and death, I felt an empathy for these creatures I would have never expected.

The philosophical discussion about how consciousness evolved requires the full attention of the listener and is aided enormously by the narrator. He speaks clearly and with a lively intonation. What might have been tedious passages held my interest and left me thinking about the subject long after the book was completed.

For anyone interested in evolution especially of the mind, I highly recommend this book.

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13 of 13 people found this review helpful


By V on 05-24-17

suprisingly deep

i expected a more observation based book with some interesting facts but it appeared to be way more. there are consciousness theories, evolution and other deeper things discussed inside.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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