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Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Peter Godfrey-Smith, HarperCollins)

When we think of intelligence in the animal kingdom, it is usually the mammals that spring to mind, like dogs or chimps—the creatures that we can most easily identify with. Yet evolution has produced a separate branch of animals whose brains and nervous systems are as large and complex as our own, who can learn to manipulate tools, remember intricate navigation routes and recognise individual humans. These are the cephalopods, a group of creatures including squid, cuttlefish and the octopus. What is it like to be an octopus? And what are we to them? In this beautifully balanced book, Australia-born, US-based author and professor Peter Godfrey-Smith writes with both the knowledge of a scientist and the wonder of an observer in an alien world. Interspersed with the history of how these animals evolved is the author’s own deeply personal interactions with them. How is it that these animals are so smart and yet live such short lives? What does this tell us about our own intelligence, and how we judge the consciousness of others? For those who enjoy the works of Fred Pearce, George Monbiot and Sy Montgomery, this is a welcome addition to the field of popular science.

Helene Ephraim is a freelance reviewer who has worked as a bookseller and librarian


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