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


This book turned me into an cephalopod nerd in the course of a single week. These creatures are so amazingly fascinating, and this book really does them justice. And, of course, as the title suggests, this book isn't just about cephalopods; it's about how they evolved, the intelligence that they've evolved, and how the differences between them and us can teach us about consciousness, both in ourselves, and in species very different from us. This is some deep, complicated stuff, and though this book challenged me in some of the more esoteric parts, I was engaged throughout, and learned a whole bunch, and had opinions on all of it by the end. Also there's a section about the evolutionary reason for why we age that was absolutely fascinating.

I never thought that I would feel so emotionally connected to cephalopods, but here we are. They're smart, they can recognize individual human beings, and apparently have strong opinions on us; there have been octopuses that would shoot water at anyone new who visited their lab, and other octopuses that would shoot water only at one specific person that they'd developed a strong dislike for. What's worse, by the time I finished the book, I had come to the realization that they're truly tragic figures. They can change color on a whim, and often display complex patterns on their skin that seem to mirror what's going on in their head, but they are colorblind. They can express what's going on in their heads on their skin, but can't see all of their skin, so the pictures on their skin haven't become an inward loop in their head like our voices have become in ours. Worst of all, they're the smartest animal on their entire branch of evolution, but they only live for two years before they start to spontaneously fall apart. They have so much going on in their strange, alien, brains, but they only live to mate once, and then fade away. It's incredibly moving, and only makes me love their strangeness, intelligence, and independence even more.

If you can't tell, I loved this book. I would definitely recommend it to anyone--unless, like one of my podcast co-hosts, octopuses freak you out. Then maybe skip this one? But I dare anyone to not be charmed by Charles, the octopus who absolutely refused to take part in a lever-pulling experiment, and instead broke the lever, pulled overhead lights down into his cage, and shot water at everyone.

5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.