Inside The Octopus Mind

octoWho can think? Who can feel? Via Orion, the revelation that octopi — boneless creatures with brains the size of a walnut — seem to have immense intelligence, feelings, and personalities is challenging our understanding of what consciousness means and where it comes from:

I have always loved octopuses. No sci-fi alien is so startlingly strange. Here is someone who, even if she grows to one hundred pounds and stretches more than eight feet long, could still squeeze her body through an opening the size of an orange; an animal whose eight arms are covered with thousands of suckers that taste as well as feel; a mollusk with a beak like a parrot and venom like a snake and a tongue covered with teeth; a creature who can shape-shift, change color, and squirt ink. But most intriguing of all, recent research indicates that octopuses are remarkably intelligent.

Many times I have stood mesmerized by an aquarium tank, wondering, as I stared into the horizontal pupils of an octopus’s large, prominent eyes, if she was staring back at me—and if so, what was she thinking?

Not long ago, a question like this would have seemed foolish, if not crazy. How can an octopus know anything, much less form an opinion? Octopuses are, after all, “only” invertebrates—they don’t even belong with the insects, some of whom, like dragonflies and dung beetles, at least seem to show some smarts. Octopuses are classified within the invertebrates in the mollusk family, and many mollusks, like clams, have no brain.

But now, increasingly, researchers who study octopuses are convinced that these boneless, alien animals—creatures whose ancestors diverged from the lineage that would lead to ours roughly 500 to 700 million years ago—have developed intelligence, emotions, and individual personalities. Their findings are challenging our understanding of consciousness itself.

As we gazed into each other’s eyes, Athena encircled my arms with hers, latching on with first dozens, then hundreds of her sensitive, dexterous suckers. Each arm has more than two hundred of them. The famous naturalist and explorer William Beebe found the touch of the octopus repulsive. “I have always a struggle before I can make my hands do their duty and seize a tentacle,” he confessed. But to me, Athena’s suckers felt like an alien’s kiss—at once a probe and a caress. Although an octopus can taste with all of its skin, in the suckers both taste and touch are exquisitely developed. Athena was tasting me and feeling me at once, knowing my skin, and possibly the blood and bone beneath, in a way I could never fathom.

hen I stroked her soft head with my fingertips, she changed color beneath my touch, her ruby-flecked skin going white and smooth. This, I learned, is a sign of a relaxed octopus. An agitated giant Pacific octopus turns red, its skin gets pimply, and it erects two papillae over the eyes, which some divers say look like horns. One name for the species is “devil fish.” With sharp, parrotlike beaks, octopuses can bite, and most have neurotoxic, flesh-dissolving venom.

While Alexa Warburton was researching her senior thesis at Middlebury College’s newly created octopus lab, “every day,” she said, “was a disaster.”

It seemed to Warburton that some of the octopuses were purposely uncooperative. To run the T-maze, the pre-veterinary student had to scoop an animal from its tank with a net and transfer it to a bucket. With bucket firmly covered, octopus and researcher would take the elevator down to the room with the maze. Some octopuses did not like being removed from their tanks. They would hide. They would squeeze into a corner where they couldn’t be pried out. They would hold on to some object with their arms and not let go.

Some would let themselves be captured, only to use the net as a trampoline. They’d leap off the mesh and onto the floor—and then run for it. Yes, run. “You’d chase them under the tank, back and forth, like you were chasing a cat,” Warburton said. “It’s so weird!”

Octopuses in captivity actually escape their watery enclosures with alarming frequency. While on the move, they have been discovered on carpets, along bookshelves, in a teapot, and inside the aquarium tanks of other fish—upon whom they have usually been dining.

Read the rest at Orion

, , , , , ,

  • LanceHardpound

    Octopus’s brain is large…”In the 1950s, for example, biologists demonstrated for the first time that octopuses have massive brains.
    Cephalopods belong to the same lineage that produced snails, clams, and other mollusks. A typical mollusk might have 20,000 neurons arranged in a diffuse net. The octopus has half a billion neurons. *  The neurons in its head are massed into complex lobes, much the way our own brains are. In comparison with their body weight, octopuses have the biggest brains of all invertebrates. They’re even bigger than the brains of fish and amphibians, putting them on par with those of birds and mammals.”http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2008/06/how_smart_is_the_octopus.html 

  • LanceHardpound

    Octopus’s brain is large…”In the 1950s, for example, biologists demonstrated for the first time that octopuses have massive brains.
    Cephalopods belong to the same lineage that produced snails, clams, and other mollusks. A typical mollusk might have 20,000 neurons arranged in a diffuse net. The octopus has half a billion neurons. *  The neurons in its head are massed into complex lobes, much the way our own brains are. In comparison with their body weight, octopuses have the biggest brains of all invertebrates. They’re even bigger than the brains of fish and amphibians, putting them on par with those of birds and mammals.”http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2008/06/how_smart_is_the_octopus.html 

  • Anarchy Pony

    Living things can feel and think? No, my magic sky father says they have no souls so they are just objects to be exploited. It may look like they have emotions and stuff but that is totally a devil trick to make you love the living world, which I am told is wicked and sinful and therefore to be hated.

    But seriously, one more episode of science confirming the obvious. Living beings are ALIVE. They want to be alive, they have fear and rage and joy just like you and me. Spend any fucking time watching the breathing world and this conclusion is pretty fucking easy to reach.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Living things can feel and think? No, my magic sky father says they have no souls so they are just objects to be exploited. It may look like they have emotions and stuff but that is totally a devil trick to make you love the living world, which I am told is wicked and sinful and therefore to be hated.

    But seriously, one more episode of science confirming the obvious. Living beings are ALIVE. They want to be alive, they have fear and rage and joy just like you and me. Spend any fucking time watching the breathing world and this conclusion is pretty fucking easy to reach.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Living things can feel and think? No, my magic sky father says they have no souls so they are just objects to be exploited. It may look like they have emotions and stuff but that is totally a devil trick to make you love the living world, which I am told is wicked and sinful and therefore to be hated.

    But seriously, one more episode of science confirming the obvious. Living beings are ALIVE. They want to be alive, they have fear and rage and joy just like you and me. Spend any fucking time watching the breathing world and this conclusion is pretty fucking easy to reach.

    • EyeoftheAxis

      I have a Grey Parrot that tries to argue to get it’s way and once told me “sorry I said a bad word “ a half hour after it said the bad word and I had forgotten all about it.

      • Anarchy Pony

        Grey parrots are very smart creatures. There is a rather famous one called Alex with a tremendous english vocabulary I think.

        • EyeoftheAxis

          The first UNIVAC computer was like the size of a room, compare that to the modern iPhone that computes circles around the old devices. Or say vacuum tubes, to transistors, to microchips. Analog to digital. I know Silicon vs. carbon based is not the same, but I do see a pattern that might hold somewhat true in evolution. I often think the cat is daydreaming, and dogs obviously crave love and affection. I think of alien intelligence, and wonder if we self absorbed humans would recognize it when we see it. According to Ray Kerzweil if intelligent life were to come to us from some far away galaxy, Moore’s law would have them so small we could not see them. For more about Alex ( R.I.P ) http://www.123compute.net/dreaming/knocking/alex.html

          • Anarchy Pony

            I am not really a fan of Kerzweil or other technology worshipers.

    • chonus

      Well, I don´t disagree for the most part, but as far as thinking goes, I tend to defer to Wittgenstein when he said the limits of our language form the limits of our thoughts, and thus what can be said. If they don´t have language I don´t know how much they can think…

      • Anarchy Pony

        Your confusing the difference between a lack of thought, and a different form of thought, perhaps language creates the parameters of our thought, but not the ability to think entirely. 

        • chonus

          I guess, then, what would form the parameters of an octopus´ thought?

          • chonus

            I guess I´d say it´s just instinct and intuition. I´m curious though, not saying I´m an expert on the subject by any means.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Fair enough.

          • Anarchy Pony

            Fair enough.

          • chonus

            I guess I´d say it´s just instinct and intuition. I´m curious though, not saying I´m an expert on the subject by any means.

        • chonus

          I guess, then, what would form the parameters of an octopus´ thought?

      • NoLanguageRequired

        You think it takes language to think? Words are symbols of symbols, not thoughts.

        • chonus

          in a sense, yes.

          • chonus

            What can an octopus think? I guess is what I want to know… Can a dog think? A plant? Maybe we have different ideas of what constitutes thinking. Not wanting to fight or anything about it… I think it´s a rather interesting subject.

          • chonus

            Does a baby think? What does it think? at what point from conception to adulthood does a person begin to think?

          • Voidthought

            I believe your understanding of “thinking” is naive and your thinking super imposes human perception upon the outer world as if we controlled more than just our own wits. Microscopic cells think and that is no lesser or greater feat than “human thought”. Of course plants, dogs, babies, everything living by the scientific definiton of the word THINKs. My definition of thinking would be: energy moving.
            When we talk about consciousness it’s really sane people trying to rationalize their insanity. If you explore the questions of “What is reality?” et cetera you see the void of our existence. The total end from which was once the beginning. Exploring the questions of life is a terrible but liberating experience, if you manage to recover from the trauma. This will give you something to “THINK” about:

            In an essay on Dostoyevsky: ”but after all and above all it depends on who is diseased, who mad, who epileptic or paralytic: an average dull-witted man, in whose illness any intellectual or cultural aspect is non-existent; or a Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky. In their case something comes out in illness that is more important and conductive to life and growth than any medical guaranteed health or sanity… in other words: certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit.”Speaking of Nietzsche: “his personal feelings initiate him into those of the criminal … in general all creative originality, all artist nature in the broadest sense of the word, does the same. It was the French painter and sculptor Degas who said that an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime.”On receiving the Nobel Prize: “The value and significance of my work for posterity may safely be left to the future; for me they are nothing but the personal traces of a life led consciously, that is, conscientiously.”-Thomas Mann-sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mann

          • chonus

            So the wind thinks… I never knew. I wouldn´t be so quick to call other´s naive.

          • chonus

            Magnets and gravity think as well, I guess…

          • chonus

            Does a baby think? What does it think? at what point from conception to adulthood does a person begin to think?

          • Sirius Fnord

            Maybe thoughts or thinking are non local events that are made up of potential energy and are a meta physical event . Language and our ability to express our thoughts is a process of actualisation and requires physicality and is therefore constrained to the laws of physical reality.

          • chonus

            Maybe… But I´m a Kantian. I think laws of freedom apply to us as well as the laws of physics.

          • chonus

            What can an octopus think? I guess is what I want to know… Can a dog think? A plant? Maybe we have different ideas of what constitutes thinking. Not wanting to fight or anything about it… I think it´s a rather interesting subject.

      • Stumage

        Language need not be of the spoken word, which is what i think you are referring to, for example there are non verbal forms of language, in essence language is simply a method of communication. Communication is a form of interaction, and thus it can be said that it interacts within its environment in a non verbal, yet sophisticated way. Or something

        • chonus

          Yeah, it interacts…but then we´re really dicing up what we consider language. A virus interacts…does it have language?

      • sonicbphuct

        so, you think they don’t have a language? Or, perhaps, they don’t speak english with tongues and modulation of air through the vocal chords? Cause the latter would be a more accurate statement as you can not conclude they “don’t have language” – Or, perhaps their body language isn’t as clear as human body language … or .. or .. or.

        • chonus

          No, I don´t think they have language. Just as plants don´t.

          I don´t consider mating calls language either.

          What animals and plants do have language then?

  • Okarin

    the last part is like how people are treated, if you move along and peddle through what mainstream says is the right thing to do you’re considered smart, if you actively rebel they think there is no intelligence to that and just being an ass

  • Okarin

    the last part is like how people are treated, if you move along and peddle through what mainstream says is the right thing to do you’re considered smart, if you actively rebel they think there is no intelligence to that and just being an ass

    • Okarinn

      and the researchers never thought that an creature with no brain could put up with such a heist

  • Okarinn

    and the researchers never thought that an creature with no brain could put up with such a heist

  • EyeoftheAxis

    I have a Grey Parrot that tries to argue to get it’s way and once told me “sorry I said a bad word “ a half hour after it said the bad word and I had forgotten all about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnvonbittrich John Francis Bittrich

    cthulhu fthagn!

  • JohnFrancisBittrich

    cthulhu fthagn!

    • Eric_D_Read

      Ia! Ia!     

  • Anonymous

    Well, I don´t disagree for the most part, but as far as thinking goes, I tend to defer to Wittgenstein when he said the limits of our language form the limits of our thoughts, and thus what can be said. If they don´t have language I don´t know how much they can think…

  • Anarchy Pony

    Your confusing the difference between a lack of thought, and a different form of thought, perhaps language creates the parameters of our thought, but not the ability to think entirely. 

  • Anarchy Pony

    Your confusing the difference between a lack of thought, and a different form of thought, perhaps language creates the parameters of our thought, but not the ability to think entirely. 

  • Anarchy Pony

    Grey parrots are very smart creatures. There is a rather famous one called Alex with a tremendous english vocabulary I think.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Grey parrots are very smart creatures. There is a rather famous one called Alex with a tremendous english vocabulary I think.

  • Anonymous

    Ia! Ia!     

  • NoLanguageRequired

    You think it takes language to think? Words are symbols of symbols, not thoughts.

  • Anonymous

    in a sense, yes.

  • Anonymous

    I guess, then, what would form the parameters of an octopus´ thought?

  • Anonymous

    What can an octopus think? I guess is what I want to know… Can a dog think? A plant? Maybe we have different ideas of what constitutes thinking. Not wanting to fight or anything about it… I think it´s a rather interesting subject.

  • Anonymous

    Does a baby think? What does it think? at what point from conception to adulthood does a person begin to think?

  • Anonymous

    I guess I´d say it´s just instinct and intuition. I´m curious though, not saying I´m an expert on the subject by any means.

  • Anarchy Pony

    Fair enough.

  • Voidthought

    I believe your understanding of “thinking” is naive and your thinking super imposes human perception upon the outer world as if we controlled more than just our own wits. Microscopic cells think and that is no lesser or greater feat than “human thought”. Of course plants, dogs, babies, everything living by the scientific definiton of the word THINKs. My definition of thinking would be: energy moving.
    When we talk about consciousness it’s really sane people trying to rationalize their insanity. If you explore the questions of “What is reality?” et cetera you see the void of our existence. The total end from which was once the beginning. Exploring the questions of life is a terrible but liberating experience, if you manage to recover from the trauma. This will give you something to “THINK” about:

    In an essay on Dostoyevsky: ”but after all and above all it depends on who is diseased, who mad, who epileptic or paralytic: an average dull-witted man, in whose illness any intellectual or cultural aspect is non-existent; or a Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky. In their case something comes out in illness that is more important and conductive to life and growth than any medical guaranteed health or sanity… in other words: certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit.”Speaking of Nietzsche: “his personal feelings initiate him into those of the criminal … in general all creative originality, all artist nature in the broadest sense of the word, does the same. It was the French painter and sculptor Degas who said that an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime.”On receiving the Nobel Prize: “The value and significance of my work for posterity may safely be left to the future; for me they are nothing but the personal traces of a life led consciously, that is, conscientiously.”-Thomas Mann-sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Mann

  • Stumage

    Language need not be of the spoken word, which is what i think you are referring to, for example there are non verbal forms of language, in essence language is simply a method of communication. Communication is a form of interaction, and thus it can be said that it interacts within its environment in a non verbal, yet sophisticated way. Or something

  • Sirius Fnord

    Maybe thoughts or thinking are non local events that are made up of potential energy and are a meta physical event . Language and our ability to express our thoughts is a process of actualisation and requires physicality and is therefore constrained to the laws of physical reality.

  • Happyjack909

    I once met a giant immortal octopus. I might have ingested some substances, but it was real.

  • Happyjack909

    I once met a giant immortal octopus. I might have ingested some substances, but it was real.

  • EyeoftheAxis

    The first UNIVAC computer was like the size of a room, compare that to the modern iPhone that computes circles around the old devices. Or say vacuum tubes, to transistors, to microchips. Analog to digital. I know Silicon vs. carbon based is not the same, but I do see a pattern that might hold somewhat true in evolution. I often think the cat is daydreaming, and dogs obviously crave love and affection. I think of alien intelligence, and wonder if we self absorbed humans would recognize it when we see it. According to Ray Kerzweil if intelligent life were to come to us from some far away galaxy, Moore’s law would have them so small we could not see them. For more about Alex ( R.I.P ) http://www.123compute.net/dreaming/knocking/alex.html

  • Anonymous

    so, you think they don’t have a language? Or, perhaps, they don’t speak english with tongues and modulation of air through the vocal chords? Cause the latter would be a more accurate statement as you can not conclude they “don’t have language” – Or, perhaps their body language isn’t as clear as human body language … or .. or .. or.

  • Anarchy Pony

    I am not really a fan of Kerzweil or other technology worshipers.

  • Anonymous

    So the wind thinks… I never knew. I wouldn´t be so quick to call other´s naive.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, it interacts…but then we´re really dicing up what we consider language. A virus interacts…does it have language?

  • Anonymous

    No, I don´t think they have language. Just as plants don´t.

    I don´t consider mating calls language either.

    What animals and plants do have language then?

  • Anonymous

    Magnets and gravity think as well, I guess…

  • Anonymous

    Maybe… But I´m a Kantian. I think laws of freedom apply to us as well as the laws of physics.

  • Vera

    It isn’t “octopi,” as “octopus” isn’t a Latin noun. It’s a Greek one, so one could say “octopodes,” but the standard modern word is “octopuses.” 

  • Vera

    It isn’t “octopi,” as “octopus” isn’t a Latin noun. It’s a Greek one, so one could say “octopodes,” but the standard modern word is “octopuses.” 

  • Wiser

    Not in a sense….it’s quite literally true.

  • Wiser

    The laws of physics and freedom are contemporary ones, we don’t know if they’re 100% accurate or subject to change.  You’d be surprised how much human knowledge is limited.

  • Wiser

    Hate to agree, but you are quite naive, chonus. 

  • Wiser

    Did you even read what Stumage said? LOL

    Try reading it again.