Peter Godfrey-Smith is a leading philosopher of science. He is also an accomplished scuba diver whose underwater videos of warring octopuses have attracted wide notice. In Other Minds, 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 marvelous 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 firsthand 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.
Peter Godfrey-Smith is a distinguished professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, and a professor of history and the philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. He is the author of four books, including Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science and 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, and he has discussed them on National Public Radio and many cable TV channels.
"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
"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
"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
"Exciting, dramatic, vivid, revelatory, this book is full of jaw dropping ideas and thrilling possibilities. In beautiful, clear, evocative writing, the diver–philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith will transform your understanding of the nature of life, the course of evolution, and the development of the mind – ours and others"
– Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, US National Book Award finalist