Friday, January 06, 2017

Alien Intelligence on Earth?

Or in water . . .

The philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith, who appears to have a deep interest in the origin of consciousness, has written a book titled Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, which the conservationist and writer Carl Safina has reviewed in the NYT (December 27, 2016) under the title "Thinking in the Deep: Inside the Mind of an Octopus." The review begins with reflection upon a question about alien intelligence elsewhere in the universe, namely, as to whether we would understand intelligent extraterrestrial life, or even recognize it as intelligent. Godfrey-Smith suggests that we first look closer to home for a very alien intelligence, and then observe how we interact:
"If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, . . . [t]his is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien[, for] . . . . the minds of cephalopods are the most other [to ours] of all [other intelligent earthly creatures]."
But how do we interact? Well, they can certainly react to us in recognizably friendly ways:
"You reach forward a hand and stretch out one finger, and [watch as] one octopus arm slowly uncoils . . . [and clasps] your finger as it draws it in[, . . . while]. . . . [b]ehind the arm, large round [octopus] eyes watch[, and the] octopus . . . [pulls on the clasped] hand and . . . [you follow as if] being led across the sea floor by a very small eight-legged child [who wants to show you its home]."
Godfrey-Smith actually observed this scene just described, so these alien creatures, can definitely be friendlier than the aliens we dream up for Hollywood to scare ourselves with. Be that as it may, we humans and octopuses seem to recognize and even to understand each other's intelligence, to some degree.

It's a start.



At 12:21 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

This "octopus as alien intelligence" notion has been a recurrent meme for a while, now, producing several books and videos (viewable on YouTube). An octopus's "brain" is basically distributed throughout its body, but the end result is a body and a sensorium capable of solving multi-step problems (like learning how to open a screw-top jar containing a delicious crab merely by observing a human doing just that) in a recognizably intelligent way.

I already have another book, The Soul of an Octopus, on my Amazon wish list. Now that you've mentioned this book, I'll be sticking that on my wish list as well. Thanks.

Here's a video of an octopus leaping out of the water to catch a crab sitting on the rocks. Enjoy.

And here are plenty of "octopus as alien" videos.

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the scary videos, Kevin. I now know that Cthulhu is real!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, cph here--saw the movie "Arrival" a few days ago and it does a surprisingly well-researched and thought-out job of its humans-meet-aliens thing. I note it here because the aliens have a bit of an octopus element depicted (they appear to sorta use 'ink' to communicate visually). Mainly it's got to be one of the better-researched and well plot-integrated attempts in the movies to take linguistics and "'reality' based on language"-type ideas and such stuff seriously.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

You're far ahead of me, CPH. I've never heard of the movie Arrival. Aside from its attempts at scientific verisimilitude, how was the movie?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The more I've thought about it, the more I've liked it; one of those. Very clever plot that doesn't make real good sense until the very end. It's Amy Adam's movie, and of course it's always good, and rare, to see a real strong woman scientist role (she's a linguist with some interest in code-breaking for good measure). All told I'd give it a good 3.5 out of 4 on the Ebert Scale (ok, which I just now made up). Good solid "hard" sci-fi, which I'm pretty much always game for. I expect you'll see it appear there, it's done well here, I know. Now all that said, Leigh and I also went to see "La La Land" during the holidays, and ok, that one is pretty stone-cold brilliant. Ryan Gosling is a national (international?) treasure at this point, I'd say.

At 9:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, CPH. Until I got to "Leigh" I wasn't sure who "Anonymous" was.

Jeffery Hodges

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