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Other Minds Audiobook

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

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Publisher's Summary

Although mammals and birds are widely regarded as the smartest creatures on earth, it has lately become clear that a very distant branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. In captivity, octopuses have been known to identify individual human keepers, raid neighboring tanks for food, turn off lightbulbs by spouting jets of water, plug drains, and make daring escapes. How is it that a creature with such gifts evolved through an evolutionary lineage so radically distant from our own? What does it mean that evolution built minds not once but at least 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 subjective experience crept into being - how nature became aware of itself. As Godfrey-Smith stresses, it is a story that largely occurs in the ocean, where animals first appeared. Tracking the mind's fitful development, Godfrey-Smith shows how unruly clumps of seaborne cells began living together and became capable of sensing, acting, and signaling. As these primitive organisms became more entangled with others, they grew more complicated. The first nervous systems evolved, probably in ancient relatives of jellyfish; later on the cephalopods, which began as inconspicuous mollusks, abandoned their shells and rose above the ocean floor, searching for prey and acquiring the greater intelligence needed to do so. Taking an independent route, mammals and birds later began their own evolutionary journeys.

But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? Drawing on the latest scientific research and his own scuba-diving adventures, Godfrey-Smith probes the many mysteries that surround the lineage. 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? What happens when some octopuses abandon their hermit-like ways and congregate, as they do in a unique location off the coast of Australia?

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.

©2016 Peter Godfrey-Smith (P)2016 Harper Collins

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Chris Geschwantner 05-31-17
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    "Empathy for an Octopus?"

    I started this book knowing a little about the octopus and nothing about cuttlefish. How they would relate to consciousness or the origins of it was a open question. The reviews were interesting, so I used a credit. My only complaint is that one night I stayed up way too late, wanting to finish listening to a chapter.

    The author is enamored of these creatures. And it is clear as to why. He has spent many hours with them, not in a lab, but in their natural environment. We get to share this time, and still stay dry. We get to know these animals, and when it comes to the discussion of their short lives and death, I felt an empathy for these creatures I would have never expected.

    The philosophical discussion about how consciousness evolved requires the full attention of the listener and is aided enormously by the narrator. He speaks clearly and with a lively intonation. What might have been tedious passages held my interest and left me thinking about the subject long after the book was completed.

    For anyone interested in evolution especially of the mind, I highly recommend this book.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    V 05-24-17
    V 05-24-17 Member Since 2016
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    "suprisingly deep"

    i expected a more observation based book with some interesting facts but it appeared to be way more. there are consciousness theories, evolution and other deeper things discussed inside.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    S. Yates 07-10-17
    S. Yates 07-10-17 Member Since 2017
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    "Wondrous introduction to cephalopods"
    Any additional comments?

    4.5 stars. An absorbing book exploring cephalopod intelligence and what it might tell us about evolution of the mind and consciousness. Godfrey-Smith capably outlines how evolution works, what we can surmise about how and why cephalopods came to evolve their extensive nervous systems and unique brains, and philosophically how we tackle consciousness in other creatures. He manages to balance his own wonder at these seemingly alien creatures with both the soft and hard sciences, leaving the reader intrigued and informed (and avoiding the dual pitfalls of sounding either too unscientific or too unequivocal where factual questions remain). A wonderful book for those interested in consciousness or cephalopods.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    cds48 06-15-17
    cds48 06-15-17
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    "More philosophy than about the octopus."
    What did you like best about Other Minds? What did you like least?

    Liked interesting info about nature and Cephalopods. Did not like most of the book and focus was on philosophy of consciousness and the mind. Wanted a book with more focus on biology.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    The focus on Cephalopods was most interesting, and what I was looking for in the book, not the philosophical exploration of consciousness and the mind. It was about a 50/50 split between biology and philosophy, with a focus on the philosophy.


    Which character – as performed by Peter Noble – was your favorite?

    No characters in the book, except maybe Cephalopods. But his performance was excellent. Very engaged.


    Was Other Minds worth the listening time?

    Eh. About 50% of it, unless you love the philosophy subject matter.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Buretto 04-06-17
    Buretto 04-06-17
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    "Wanted to love it, still liked it a lot"

    Good balance of marine biology and psychology. I'll never look at takoyaki the same again.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 08-10-17
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 08-10-17

    I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^

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    "Mischief and Craft "

    "When you dive into the sea, you are diving into the origin of us all."
    - Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds

    "Mischief and craft are plainly seen to be characteristics of this creature."
    - Claudius Aelianus, 3rd Century A.D., writing about the octopus

    It is always fascinating reading a biology book that seems to resemble a physics book, or an economics book that borrows heavily from psychology. Cross-pollination and flexibility to squeeze into other academic boxes always pleases me. So, when I discovered a book that looks at the philosophy of cognition by examining the brains and evolution of cephalopods (primarily octopuses and cuttlefish) I was excited. One reason is my love for octopuses (while almost accidental) goes back nearly ten years. For most of the time I've had an Audible account, my avatar has been an octopus. Friends buy me Cthulhu masks and plush dolls (I'm still not sure what one does long-term with a Cthulhu doll. How long can you appropriately cuddle with an Elder God doll before it becomes creepy?).

    Anyway, Godfrey-Smith uses the development of the Cephalopod brain as a way to highlight our own brain's development and also as a way to highlight different ways cognition may appear in other life forms. The unique neural patterns/structure in Octopuses makes the way they see the world significantly different than the way we see the world (despite our separately evolved, but similar eyes). As Godfrey-Smith also points out -- an octopus is probably the closest we will come to examining another mind:

    "If we want to understand other minds, the minds of cephalopods are the most other of all" (p10).

    As YouTube shows, part of the appeal of Octopuses is how they, for an animal so different from us (it is closer to a slug than us biologically) seems to flirt with behaviors that are both close to us (playful, clever, petty) and also completely foreign. They seem to exits in a weird uncanny valley that attracts us. How can we not be fascinated by something that seems to have almost dropped her from another planet, but acts a bit like a cat. Octopuses, and their brains, reminds me of the famous Montaigne quote about his cat:

    When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing With Me?

    Indeed. When we are watching octopuses on YouTube, they seem to be equally fascinated with us. It is strange and lovely, and opens up a lot of questions about what it means to be alive, to think, to have a subjective experience. Peter Godfrey-Smith moves well along this path and asks most of the big questions I would want asked. Many answers, however, seem largely unanswerable. But like a philosopher is want, he still asks.

    10 of 13 people found this review helpful
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    Justin Edwards 08-11-17 Member Since 2014
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    "Great Book"

    The information is incredible. I couldn't stop listening to it. I highly recommend this book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Aksunai 07-27-17
    Aksunai 07-27-17
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    "fascinating and fun to listen to!"

    The book was a tour of scientific studies and personal experiences, and covered a variety of related topics. I never got bored and I'll probably listen to the whole thing again soon.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine L. Jevic Edmonton, AB Canada 06-27-17
    Catherine L. Jevic Edmonton, AB Canada 06-27-17 Member Since 2016
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    "Intresting"

    Chapter 2 is a bit slow, don't give up! Great info and stories ahead! Perfect book for someone interested in octopuses or cuttlefish.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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