Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect", about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters.
Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.
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cephalopod/tentacle fetishists, woo ladies, people who like their science with huge globs of anthropomorphism
i was hoping this would be a more scientific observation of the author's interactions with an animal, followed up by scientific hypotheses as to why these interactions might be occurring the way they do. instead, it is a series of anecdotes dripping with human emotions applied to a non-human animal, and really visceral overindulgent descriptions of the "caresses" she got from the octopus, which made us really, really uncomfortable in the car. i LOVE cephalopods. just not... you know... like that. we did a lot of ear plugging while yelling. we kept expecting it to get better. it didn't. especially with the inflection of the reader, even non-sexual adjectives come across as trashy romance novel fodder.
everything she wrote about her personal experiences. the collected stories of various labs and aquariums were amusing, but the way she wrote about her own interactions was really uncomfortable and new-agey.
Vapid, Speculative, Maudlin
- Lumpus "Music nerd"