Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 4, 2021

Thinking like an Octopus

Filed under: Counterpunch,Octopus — louisproyect @ 4:17 pm


Just over five years ago, Inky the octopus became a folk hero because of his escape from a New Zealand aquarium. After squeezing through a narrow chink in his tank, he crawled across the floor and found an opening to a 164-foot-long drainpipe that led to the ocean. As much as I enjoyed the film based on Stephen King’s “The Shawshank Redemption”, which climaxes in Tim Robbin’s daring prison break, I only wish that a gifted animation team like the one that made “How to Train Your Dragon” could tell Inky’s story.

At the time, I made a mental note to myself to learn about octopuses. From the time that I read about Inky, interest in the creatures has increased dramatically with this year’s Oscar for documentary going to “My Octopus Teacher.” Nearly everybody who spends time looking at octopus YouTube videos, or going further and reading books about them, will be struck by both their intelligence and inscrutability.

This article will discuss Sy Montgomery’s best-selling “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness” and Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness.” It will also review “My Octopus Teacher.” Despite the inclusion of the word “consciousness” in both titles, there are vast differences between the two. Montgomery’s focus is on the interplay between humans and the octopus taking place in aquariums just like the kind that Inky fled, while Godfrey-Smith applies neuroscience and Darwinism to a creature that seemingly defies what these disciplines hold as sacrosanct. In either book, you’ll discover that both authors have the kind of love for the octopus that other authors had for the chimpanzee or the wolf. I, of course, am referring to Jane Goodall and Farley Mowat respectively.

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  1. What do you make of Paul the Octopus who correctly predicted 12 of 14 soccer match winners? Given that Paul did not watch soccer on TV nor did he play soccer himself, this result suggests extraordinary paranormal ability. Also, Paul like other octopi lived a short life of but two years. Do you think Paul and other octopi are aware of their own death?

    Comment by John Omaha — June 4, 2021 @ 6:08 pm

  2. What do you make of Paul the Octopus who correctly predicted 12 of 14 soccer match winners?

    Sheer nonsense, although I assume you knew that.

    Comment by louisproyect — June 4, 2021 @ 6:13 pm

  3. How true my 6 year and my 40 year old self throughly enjoyed this documentary

    Comment by ravirajah — June 5, 2021 @ 3:38 am

  4. That the octopus used coconut shells for protection is amazing.

    Comment by Michael Daniel Yates — June 5, 2021 @ 6:14 pm

  5. Apparently among molluscs not only the cuddly cuttlefish but also squid have a lot of intelligence.

    On the other end of the neuron abundance scale, there are (of course) bees–something like 4000 native species in US alone in addition to honeybees.

    Even super-stupid insects like the tragically beautiful periodical cicadas have a strategy, though we have been defeating it more and more in recent periods.

    I know of no sound in nature more beautiful than the mating chorus of the Pharaoh cicada (magicicada septendecim). Alas, I barely heard it this year.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — June 5, 2021 @ 6:41 pm

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