The Mind of an Animal

Well the Superbowl lacked any hint of satisfaction for me (not counting the food, it’s an extraneous factor). When you aren’t a fan of either team playing and have no stake in who wins it’s a rather dull time. If only I had several ways of viewing the game, perhaps I could take on a different point of view that would have me leaping for joy every time the ball moved. Harvard Professor of philosophy Peter Godfrey-Smith believes that for some animals this is the way life is perceived.

Recent research has suggested that octopuses may not have a single consciousness that guides their actions as we humans do. There could in fact be plural trains of thought running at the same moment. Seems crazy, right? It is commonly observed that intelligent animals (such as monkeys, whales, etc) appear to have the same single consciousness as humans. Then how did octopuses develop multi-strand consciousness?

Octopuses are invertebrates, meaning that unlike monkeys and whales it diverged from the vertebrate lineage hundreds of millions of years ago. If octopuses are some of the most intelligent invertebrates it may have a consciousness that is much different than ours that developed over this time from the split.

Observational studies have been done to try to prove this hypothesis of separate consciousness. For instance, an octopus in a tank, when presented with food on one side, appeared to have a dilemma. Several of its arms reached for the food, while others crowded in the corner of the tank, trying to hide. I’ve never hidden from food, much less half-hidden, half-munched food, and I’ll be interested to see which part of the octopus’ mind wins in the battle.

So here’s to all the octopuses,

Half-brave, half-wusses.

Written by: Erik Alvarenga


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