BBC R4 Book of the Week
‘Fascinating and often delightful’ The Times
What if intelligent life on Earth evolved not once, but twice? The octopus is the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien. What can we learn from the encounter?
In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how nature became aware of itself – a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared.
Tracking the mind’s fitful development from unruly clumps of seaborne cells to the first evolved nervous systems in ancient relatives of jellyfish, he explores the incredible evolutionary journey of the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous molluscs who would later abandon their shells to rise above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so – a journey completely independent from the route that mammals and birds would later take.
But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually ‘think for themselves’? By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind – and on our own.
Praise for Other Minds: `Entrancing and profound' Financial Times `A superb, coruscating book' Literary Review `Startlingly incisive ... refreshing guidance' New York Times `The beauty of Godfrey-Smith's book lies in the clarity of his writing; his empathy, if you will. He takes us through those early stirrings in the seas of deep time, from bacteria that sense light and can taste, to cnidarian jellyfish, the first organisms to exhibit nervous systems, which he describes wonderfully.' Philip Hoare, Guardian `Fascinating and often delightful ... This book ingeniously blends philosophy and science to trace the epic journey from single-celled organisms of 3.8 billion years ago to the awakening and development of cephalopod consciousness.' The Times `As poignant as anything you will read this year' Mail on Sunday `In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher, skilfully combines science, philosophy and his experiences of swimming among these tentacled beasts to illuminate the origin and nature of consciousness.' The Economist `A delight on so many levels' Dive magazine `To investigate these astonishing animals with such empathy and rigour is achievement enough. To do so while casting light on the birth and nature of consciousness, as Peter Godfrey-Smith does here, is captivating.' China Mieville, author of Kraken `I love this book, its masterful blend of natural history, philosophy, and wonder ... It's a captivating story, and Peter Godfrey-Smith brings it alive in vivid, elegant prose ... A must-read for anyone interested in the evolution of the mind - ours and the very other, but equally sentient, minds of the cephalopods.' Jennifer Ackerman, author of The Genius of Birds
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