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The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

I read a wide variety of books over the year mostly from the stacks and bookshelves in my house. “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery was exception, a review I ran across that sounded interesting.

I grew up near the Pacific Ocean and collected shells, studied about shells so the word octopus in the title caught my attention immediately. The subtitle indicating this was more than about the octopus, but about consciousness in all creatures intrigued me.

So many people grow up considering octopuses (that is the correct plural) monsters in a class with bats and snakes. After all, they are so alien with their eight legs, lack of a skeleton and constantly changing colors and shapes. They make wonderful monsters in sea tales.

California beach
People play at the edges of the ocean, but rarely venture into its depths. Being creatures of the land, the ocean is a strange and frightening, even deadly place. The creatures living along the ocean’s edges seem alien. Those of the depths are mistaken for monsters. Some creatures like starfish are so simple they have no real brain. Others like the octopus are far more complex. All seem to have some level of consciousness and ability to learn.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how really alien the truth about octopuses is. “The Soul of an Octopus” reveals them to be highly intelligent.

Science has long dismissed other creatures as having no real consciousness, inferior intelligence and lacking real emotions. Anyone who has raised livestock knows this is false. However, having empirical observations and proof are two different things.

Long ago my family had a cat, Chief Grey Foot, with a sense of humor. She would tease my mother’s Irish Setter Sam and race away with Sam in hot pursuit. Chief would stop, letting Sam roar by, climb the fence and sit there laughing at the dog now frantically looking for her. How do you prove a sense of humor in a lab?

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
“The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery challenges the reader to examine and reassess what consciousness is expanding it to include other creatures.

How do you prove intelligence? My high school gave all students an IQ test at the beginning of the year. It was well known that students in inner cities scored much lower on these tests than those of us in the suburbs.

A group devised an IQ test using vocabulary familiar to those in the inner city. This reversed the results. The IQ test was biased toward those with a certain vocabulary.

How do you test intelligence for a creature far different than a person? A large octopus with a head the size of a watermelon can squeeze through a hole the size of an orange. It sees only black and white with its eyes and colors with its skin. It tastes with the suction cups on its arms. An octopus’ reality is the ocean, not land.

Reading “The Soul of an Octopus” has made me rethink both “The Carduan Chronicles” and the Planet Autumn series I am working on. How do I, a human, put myself into the consciousness and reality of alien creatures?

Challenge your long held beliefs about consciousness and read “The Soul of an Octopus” by Sy Montgomery.