Peter Godfrey-Smith is a leading philosopher of science. He is also a scuba diver whose underwater videos of warring octopuses have attracted wide notice. In this book, he brings his parallel careers together to tell a bold new story of how nature became aware of itself.
Mammals and birds are widely seen as the smartest creatures on earth. But one other branch of the tree of life has also sprouted surprising intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. New research shows that these marvellous creatures display remarkable gifts.
What does it mean that intelligence on Earth has evolved not once but twice? And that the mind of the octopus is nonetheless so different from our own? Combining science and philosophy with first-hand accounts of his cephalopod encounters, Godfrey-Smith shows how primitive organisms bobbing in the ocean began sending signals to each other and how these early forms of communication gave rise to the advanced nervous systems that permit cephalopods to change colours and human beings to speak.
By tracing the problem of consciousness back to its roots and comparing the human brain to its most alien and perhaps most remarkable animal relative, Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds sheds new light on one of our most abiding mysteries.
About the author
Peter Godfrey-Smith is a distinguished professor of history and the philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. He is the author of four books, including Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection, which won the 2010 Lakatos Award for an outstanding work on the philosophy of science. His underwater videos of octopuses have been featured in National Geographic and New Scientist.
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 Miéville, 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