Life was born in the chemistry of the ocean and we still carry it inside us. When we ground ourselves in this evolutionary connection, the separation slips away and the boundary between sea and land slowly disappears. We find ourselves in a mesh of kinship and species. We find ourselves in the gaze of the octopus.
In his book Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, Peter Godfrey-Smith journeys through the evolutionary pathway of Cephalopods in search of what these incredible animals can teach us about other minds and the origin of consciousness. To examine this evolutionary story is to ask big and timely questions of our place in the world. Consciousness – the sense of having a subjective perspective on the world – is possible, in his view, outside of just a human perspective.
Godfrey-Smith's observations begin in the wild - in OCTOPOLIS. An underwater site in Australia, it is an octopus city where the usually solitary creatures gather in great numbers to feed. Struck firstly by their interest in us, Godfrey-Smith begins both a scientific and philosophical journey into the intimate sensory life of the creatures. A common octopus brain has 500m neurons, an astounding amount for a creature that only lives for two years. Unlike a vertebrate’s, an octopus’ neurons are ranged through its entire body, including its arms, which act and sense by taste as much as touch. For the octopus, Godfrey Smith tells us that the body itself is all possibility and lives outside the usual body/brain divide. Octopus’ also feel pain and have been noted tending to wounds, another indicator of its own consciousness.
All-sensory with a tentacular understanding of space and time, a creature whose boneless body seems to challenge borders with every movement, shapeshifting, curious and inquisitive. This is a being with a sense of taste 100 times greater than ours. It is very possible they can taste the sea in us and they know we are kin.