Discussion Post 3 – OTHER MINDS The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Jillian D’Alessio

2222 unread replies.2323 replies.

Your main posting is due this Monday, September 28th. In order to adequately answer the questions posed, your main posting should be at least 500 words long.


Two replies (at least five sentences each) to your classmates are due on Wednesday, September 30th.

Please make sure to highlight what you found insightful about your classmates’ posts.

Please use a spell checker to identify grammatical errors before submitting your work.

Discussion Post Assignment Description (4 parts):

1.) Please read Chapter 7 Mind in Philosophy the Basics as well as the excerpt below, and watch the video on consciousness. Please use these resources to answer the following questions:

What is the Mind/Body Problem?

If the mind is immaterial, how would movement possibly affect our thoughts and subjective experiences?

Consider the phrase, ‘Dancing Mind, Thinking Body’. We may often notice that our thoughts and ideas may flow more freely when we go for a walk or we may be able to resolve the issues of the day while we’re taking a jog or run. Sensations of fear or being overwhelmed may subside as we move.

How is our gut considered our “first brain”? Taking into consideration the Japanese concept of ‘hara’, could we conclude that the body is the mind and the mind is the body?

What is consciousness and how does the video explain why it evolved?


“In the way we describe ourselves and the world we usually make a distinction between the mental and physical aspects. Mental aspects are such things as thinking, feeling, deciding, dreaming, imagining, wishing, and so on. Physical ones include feet, limbs, our brains, cups of tea, the Empire State Building, and so on. When we do something, such as play tennis, we use both our mental and our physical aspects: we think about the rules of the game, where our opponent is likely to play the next shot, and soon, and we move our bodies. But is there a real division between mind and body, or is this just a convenient way of talking about ourselves? The problem of explaining the true relationship between mind and body is known as the Mind/Body Problem.”

 (Links to an external site.)https://studyhighschoolenglish.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/0415693160_philosophy-the-basics.pdf

Descartes and the Discovery of the Mind-Body Problem

“The French philosopher René Descartes is often credited with discovering the mind-body problem, a mystery that haunts philosophers to this day. The reality is more complicated than that.

We have inherited the sharp distinction between mind and body, though not exactly in Descartes’s form, but we have not inherited Descartes’s “solution” to the mind-body problem. So we are left with the problem, minus a solution. We see that the experiences we have, such as experiences of color, are indeed very different from the electromagnetic radiation that ultimately produces them, or from the activity of the neurons in the brain. We are bound to wonder how the uncolored radiation can produce the color, even if its effects can be followed as far as the neurons in the visual cortex. In other words, we make a sharp distinction between physics and physiology on the one hand, and psychology on the other, without a principled way to connect them. Physics consists of a set of concepts that includes massvelocityelectronwave, and so on, but does not include the concepts redyellowblack, and the like. Physiology includes the concepts neuronglial cellvisual cortex, and so on, but does not include the concept of color. In the framework of current scientific theory, “red” is a psychological term, not a physical one. Then our problem can be very generally described as the difficulty of describing the relationship between the physical and the psychological, since, as Princess Elisabeth and Gassendi realized, they possess no common relating terms.”

https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/discovery-mind-body-problem/ (Links to an external site.)

 (Links to an external site.)

the mind body problem n.

“The newly identified neuronal firing pattern may represent an early feature preserved through the evolution of nervous systems.

The enteric nervous system (ENS) is known as the “second brain” or the brain in the gut because it can operate independently of the brain and spinal cord, the central nervous system (CNS). It has also been called the “first brain” based on evidence suggesting that the ENS evolved before the CNS.”

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180529132122.htm (Links to an external site.)

“The word Hara is a Japanese word that has no equivalent in English. While it literally refers to the lower abdomen, the term also has psychological and spiritual connotations in Japanese language and culture. In fact, Hara can be seen as the unification of a person’s physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions. That being said Hara has many definitions of what it is in the way how it functions and by the description and translation, but despite of all the different views of Hara they all have mostly this in common; “Hara is a place in a persons’ body and it’s a place of energy”.There are some open translations of Hara that can be understood for example as a “sea of energy”, a “seat of enlightenment”, or even as “the center of universe”.

http://seitokai.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/PATRICK-HILL-What-is-Hara.pdf (Links to an external site.)

“In Japanese, ‘hara’ (abdomen) is considered to be the place where ideas and feelings are located.”

https://academic.oup.com/fampra/article/16/5/528/535147 (Links to an external site.)

“An ancient Daoist saying tells us “When you are sick, do not seek a cure. Find your centre and you will be healed.” The centre it refers to is located deep in the sensed interiority of our belly, that abode of the soul known in Japanese as hara. ‘Depression’ (a word with no equivalent in Japanese) is, in essence, a lack of hara. With hara awareness we not only recontact our own innermost soul depths and soul centre. We learn to make contact with others from that centre – to experience true intimacy of soul. Hara awareness is both an alternative to medical and psychiatric ‘cures’ and the basis for a genuinely psychological medicine – an anatomy of the soul-body.”

https://www.amazon.com/Head-Heart-Hara-Centers-Centres/dp/1904519016 (Links to an external site.)

2.) Please watch the following videos and read the excerpts below. Please use these resources to answer the following questions:

How does philosopher Peter Godrey-Smith use the example of cellular life to illustrate how we should ‘think the right way’ about the biological basis of the mind? (2:50 in video)

How did an octopus’s tentacles evolve to think for themselves? (15:00 in video)

How does Godrey-Smith explain an octopus’s experience of felt pain/interior sensation/subjective experience? (18:10 in video)

How does the octopus surprise researchers with its ingenuity in the last video below?

Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness

“In Other MindsPeter Godfrey-Smith (Links to an external site.), a distinguished philosopher of science and a skilled scuba diver, tells a bold new story of how subjective experience crept into being―how nature became aware of itself. But what kind of intelligence do cephalopods possess? Drawing on the latest scientific research and his own scuba-diving adventures, Godfrey-Smith probes the many mysteries that surround the lineage. How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart? What is it like to have eight tentacles that are so packed with neurons that they virtually “think for themselves”? What happens when some octopuses abandon their hermit-like ways and congregate, as they do in a unique location off the coast of Australia?

By tracing the question of inner life back to its roots and comparing human beings with our most remarkable animal relatives, Godfrey-Smith casts crucial new light on the octopus mind―and on our own.”

https://libguides.eckerd.edu/c.php?g=676452&p=6635150 (Links to an external site.)

What Makes the Octopus and Its Consciousness So Extraordinary

“A humbling inquiry into a tentacled intelligence so wonderfully different from our own.

“While stroking an octopus, it is easy to fall into reverie,” Sy Montgomery wrote in her breathtaking inquiry into how Earth’s most alien creature illuminates the wonders of consciousness (Links to an external site.)“To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being, especially one as different from us as the octopus, is a humbling privilege… an uplink to universal consciousness.”

Studying how intelligence can arise along such a divergent evolutionary path can help us understand more about intelligence and consciousness in general — who knows what other forms of intelligent life are possible, or how they process the world around them.”

https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/02/15/ted-ed-octopus-consciousness/ (Links to an external site.)

3.) Please watch the following read the excerpt below. Please use this resource to answer the following questions:

At what point in evolution did humans split from the lineage that would lead to the octopus? Why is this so fascinating?

How does Sy Montgomery argue that the octopus must be inhabiting an altogether different version of what we call reality?

How does Montgomery argue that the octupus experiences “consciousness” and is not just reacting to instinct?

How does Montgomery’s immersion into the ocean seem to alter her perspective of reality and lead to her assertion that the octopus has a soul?

What are some of the recommendations for the ethical care of octopuses and against octopus farming? Why is it now more important than ever that we know not just that octopuses think, but also what they think/perceive?

The Soul of an Octopus: How One of Earth’s Most Alien Creatures Illuminates the Wonders of Consciousness

The Soul of an Octopus: How One of Earth’s Most Alien Creatures Illuminates the Wonders of Consciousness

“Despite centuries of investigation by everyone from natural historians, psychologists, and psychiatrists, to ethicists, neuroscientists, and philosophers, there is still no universal definition of emotion or consciousness,” Laurel Braitman wrote in her terrific exploration of the mental lives of animals (Links to an external site.). Virginia Woolf defined consciousness as “a wave in the mind,” (Links to an external site.) but even if we’re able to ride the wave, we hardly know the ocean out of which it arises.

The octopus is a creature magnificently dissimilar to us — it can change shape and color, tastes with its skin, has its mouth in its armpit, and is capable of squeezing its entire body through a hole the size of an apple. And since we humans experience reality in profoundly different ways from one another (Links to an external site.), based on our individual consciousnesses, then the octopus must be inhabiting an altogether different version of what we call reality.

The constellation of complexities comprising this difference, Montgomery reveals over the course of this miraculously insightful and enchanting book, expands our understanding of consciousness and sheds light on the very notion of what we call a “soul.”

More than half a billion years ago, the lineage that would lead to octopuses and the one leading to humans separated. Was it possible, I wondered, to reach another mind on the other side of that divide? Octopuses represent the great mystery of the Other.

Montgomery notes that octopuses have highly individual personalities and can exhibit marked curiosity — faculties we tend to think of as singularly human. Even their motives for friendliness and unfriendliness, far from the baseless brutality of depictions like Hugo’s, parallel our own:

In one study, Seattle Aquarium biologist Roland Anderson exposed eight giant Pacific octopuses to two unfamiliar humans, dressed identically in blue aquarium uniforms. One person consistently fed a particular octopus, and another always touched it with a bristly stick. Within a week, at first sight of the people — looking up at them through the water, without even touching or tasting them — most of the octopuses moved toward the feeder and away from the irritator. Sometimes the octopus would aim its water-shooting funnel, the siphon near the side of the head with which an octopus jets through the sea, at the person who had touched it with the bristly stick.

Surely, a skeptic might argue that this is more instinct than “consciousness.” But Montgomery goes on to outline a number of strikingly specific and context-considered behaviors indicating that octopuses are animated by complex conscious experiences — things we tend to term “thoughts” and “feelings” in the human realm — that upend our delusions of exceptionalism. Lest we forget, we have a long history (Links to an external site.) of bolstering those delusions by putting other species down, much like petty egotists try to make themselves feel big by making other people feel small — even Jane Goodall contended with dismissal and ridicule (Links to an external site.) when she first suggested that chimpanzees have consciousness.

Pacific giant octopus by photographer Susan Middleton from her project Spineless (Links to an external site.)

But beyond intellectual considerations of this weird and wonderful creature’s inner life, Montgomery points to the physical, bodily presence with an octopus as a transcendent experience in its own right — one that pulls into question our most basic assumptions about consciousness:

While stroking an octopus, it is easy to fall into reverie. To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being, especially one as different from us as the octopus, is a humbling privilege. It’s a shared sweetness, a gentle miracle, an uplink to universal consciousness.

Indeed, the book’s greatest reward isn’t the fascinating science — although that is riveting and ablaze with rigor — but Montgomery’s bewitching prose, pouring from the soul of a literary naturalist who paints the marvels of the ocean’s depths like Thoreau did the marvels of the New England woods. Finding herself “drunk with strange splendors” as she beholds the marine world’s “parade of wonders,” Montgomery writes:

A splendid toadfish hides beneath a rock. Once thought to live only in Cozumel, it’s pancake flat, with thin, wavy, horizontal blue and white stripes, Day-Glo yellow fins, and whiskery barbels. A four-foot nurse shark sleeps beneath a coral shelf, peaceful as a prayer. A trumpet fish, yellow with dark stripes, floats with its long, tubular snout down, trying to blend in with some branching coral… A school of iridescent pink and yellow fish slide by inches from our masks, then wheel in unison like birds in the sky.
I have known no natural state more like a dream than this. I feel elation cresting into ecstasy and experience bizarre sensations: my own breath resonates in my skull, faraway sounds thump in my chest, objects appear closer and larger than they really are. Like in a dream, the impossible unfolds before me, and yet I accept it unquestioningly. Beneath the water, I find myself in an altered state of consciousness, where the focus, range, and clarity of perception are dramatically changed.

Suddenly acutely aware that the octopuses she has met and come to love on her expeditions experience this dizzying otherworldliness as their basic backdrop of existence, she considers the limited array of sensations and perceptions that we’ve come to accept as the whole or reality:

The ocean, for me, is what LSD was to Timothy Leary. He claimed the hallucinogen is to reality what a microscope is to biology, affording a perception of reality that was not before accessible. Shamans and seekers eat mushrooms, drink potions, lick toads, inhale smoke, and snort snuff to transport their minds to realms they cannot normally experience.
In my scuba-induced altered state, I’m not in the grip of a drug: I am lucid in my immersion, voluntarily becoming part of what feels like the ocean’s own dream.

Out of this perspective-shifting consideration arises Montgomery’s most profound inquiry. Sitting in a Tahitian temple dedicated to the spirit of the octopus, where one of her expeditions has taken her, she wonders:

What is the soul? Some say it is the self, the “I” that inhabits the body; without the soul, the body is like a lightbulb with no electricity. But it is more than the engine of life, say others; it is what gives life meaning and purpose. Soul is the fingerprint of God.
Others say that soul is our innermost being, the thing that gives us our senses, our intelligence, our emotions, our desires, our will, our personality, and identity. One calls soul “the indwelling consciousness that watches the mind come and go, that watches the world pass.” Perhaps none of these definitions is true. Perhaps all of them are. But I am certain of one thing as I sit in my pew: If I have a soul — and I think I do — an octopus has a soul, too.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/12/14/the-soul-of-an-octopus-sy-montgomery/ (Links to an external site.)

What is good for an octopus?

“The Umwelt—or perceptual world —of the octopus is likely to be vastly different from our own.They do not perceive colour, but rather the plane of polarisation of light. They exist within an aquatic environment that allows for sensitivity to chemical and mechanical cues we are not able to perceive. This means that when considering their welfare, these environmental conditions must be included.

Current recommendations for octopus husbandry refer to lighting brightness and appropriate day/night cycles but have not considered light polarisation. Lights which appear gentle to the human eye may not be so within the octopus perceptual range, so light polarisation should also be measured and taken into account. Chemicals within the tank can affect health but may also be pleasant or aversive in ways we may not usually consider. Chemosensory enrichment opportunities could open up new avenues of exploration. Vibrations through the water can have a large impact on octopus health and welfare, with “noise and vibration control” forming a core part of the guidelines for octopus husbandry. Mather also describes two of the primary needs motivating octopus behaviour—exploration and fear.

These are very likely to impact octopus welfare and should accordingly form an important part of octopus husbandry. She provides evidence that octopuses have a strong motivation to explore, beyond simply the potential for extrinsic (food) reward. Provision of novel environments and objects for octopuses to explore is hence likely to be central to octopus welfare, to prevent boredom and frustration.The guidelines for cephalopod care recommend complex enriched environments; this evidence gives us reason to give this particular recommendation a high priority. Mather also shows that octopuses, lacking the protective shell of their mollusc relatives, probably often feel vulnerable; indeed they are most often found near suitable shelter. It will almost certainly be crucial for octopus welfare to provide sufficient refuge, such as opaque tank walls and shelters, to provide a feeling of safety and allow the opportunity to retreat.

Finally, personality differences between different octopuses give us reason to consider their needs not just as members of a species, but as individuals as well. These concerns are particularly relevant against the background of recent debate on whether octopuses should be farmed for consumption, with the desire for cheaper and more easily obtainable octopus meat conflicting with environmental and welfare concerns. Although there are currently few such farms —mostly in the trial stage —it is likely that their numbers will rise in the near future. Within this context, it is now important that we know not just that octopuses think, but also what they think. A better understanding of octopus welfare needs could be used to provide a stronger case against their farming if their needs cannot be met (as Jacquet et al. 2019 argue, they cannot). Failing that, it can also help to ensure higher welfare standards if such farms do inevitably arise.

The recognition of octopus sentience has led to legislation and regulations for their protection within laboratory settings. It makes sense that similar regulations should also be in place for the use of octopuses in farming, based on what we know about octopus welfare. Welfare standards thus developed can also be applied to other captive octopuses housed in laboratories and aquariums. The mind of an octopus may be highly different from our own, but it is only by trying to see the world from their point of view that we will be able to find out what is good for them and hence ensure their welfare.

https://www.wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1476&context=animsent (Links to an external site.)

4.) Please watch the following videos and read the excerpts below. Please use these resources to answer the following questions:

What is the theory of panpsychism?

How do trees communicate with one another?

How is it argued that plants experience sentience?


“Modern panpsychism is the idea that some incredibly simple version of our own conscious experience is one of the fundamental properties of our universe’s matter, just like mass, charge, and spin, and that human beings inherit our complex consciousness from the intricately-related consciousness of our many material parts.

This contrasts on the one hand with ‘dualism’, the idea that matter is entirely unconscious, so something special and immaterial has to be added to make humans, and with ‘physicalism’, the idea that matter is entirely unconscious, and human consciousness is just an intricate arrangements of those unconscious goings-on.”

https://majesticequality.wordpress.com/papers-on-panpsychism-and-the-combination-problem/ (Links to an external site.)

Panpsychism: Ubiquitous Sentience

Most of us infer sentience to certain non-human animals. However, as we cannot acquire the report of consciousness from animals, we cannot establish direct neural correlates of consciousness (as this requires both mind and matter correlates). Thus our assumption of their sentience is not based on neurology so much as behaviour. Consider, especially, the octopus: its brain, two-thirds of which lie in its arms, is very dissimilar to our brain, yet the intelligent behaviour of the sea creature renders a denial of sentience to it implausible. Thus we do attribute sentience to it though we do not have a strict criterion by which we do so. So we can but infer sentience rather than verify it, and people will differ in their guessed inferences: some might stop sentience at the lobster limit, others might stop at the beetle border –but why stop at all?

If one demands a stop, the determining criterion must be established. If one proposes that such a criterion be that a being can sense and adapt to its environment, then one has almost become panpsychist by allowing for the sentience of plants. For instance, biologist Daniel Chamovitz writes that,we now know that Arabidopsis [thaliana] has at least eleven different photoreceptors: some tell a plant when to germinate, some tell it when to bend to the light, some tell it when to flower, and some let it know when it’s night time. Some let the plant know that there’s a lot of light hitting it, some let it know that the light is dim, and some help it to keep time.’ Thus eyes are not required to perceive light, just as muscles are not required to move. Therefore if one wants a criterion that rules out plants as sentient, it cannot be based on the ability to sense or adapt.So more commonly-held, stricter criterion for sentience is the possession of a complex nervous system, or a brain. One may believe this to be the case because one can gauge correlations between human brain events and mental events, via brain scans, brain damage, drug use, etc. Hence this mistaken argument:

1. If brain then sentience [based on human neural correlates of consciousness]

2. No brain [e.g. in a plant]

3. Therefore, no sentience [i.e. in the plant].

But this argument is an obvious example of the fallacy of denying the antecedent. It is equivalent to arguing that if you drink hemlock you will die, you did not drink hemlock, therefore you will not die (an easy way to acquire immortality!). Just as there could be other ways to die other than by hemlock, so there could be other ways to have sentience other than by having a brain. The philosopher Friedrich Paulsen, following the lead of renowned panpsychist and founder of psychophysics, Gustav Theodor Fechner, puts the point this way: ‘With what functions, with what marks that are lacking in plants, is inner life [sentience] connected?—Reference is made to the absence of a nervous system and brain. … [But] the syllogism is worthless. It is formulated on the plan: Horses dogs, and cats have legs, without which they cannot move; therefore creatures without legs cannot move. Snakes and worms contradict the syllogism.’ There may be other systematic substrata of matter that correlate to sentience other than those of the animal brain. If one believes in the possibility of machine, or robot sentience, one cannot disagree. Plants do not have neurons but they have other parts by which they transmit information, as do single-celled organisms, viruses, molecules and more.”

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335542991_Panpsychism_Ubiquitous_Sentience (Links to an external site.)

Search entries or author Filter replies by unreadUnread Collapse replies Expand replies