The arms of an octopus have more autonomy than human arms and legs: each has its own mini-brain, which is somewhat independent of the central brain of the animal. Because the human brain is highly centralized, Godfrey Smith, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney to me The challenge is to understand how this less central nervous system works than ours, and whether more brains mean more polyps.
Our common ancestor: the flatworm!
The more closely you look at the body and nervous system of an octopus, the more difficult it is to understand what it is like to be an octopus, but sympathy is also made difficult by the fact that our last common ancestor lived 600 million years ago – a type of flatworm.
Heather Browning, a postdoctoral researcher at the London School of Economics, and her team investigated whether octopuses are conscious. Their main question was whether the octopus had the characteristics of human consciousness, such as the sense of pain.
Browning reviewed more than 300 scientific papers, searching for eight conditions that would prove that cephalopods are sentient creatures. For example, these criteria were related to receptors that sense noxious stimuli, areas of the brain that integrate sensory information, connections between brain regions, and self-defense behaviors. If seven or more associations can be detected in an animal, the animal is likely to be conscious, but 5 or more is “strong evidence” of emotion. On this basis, octopuses are considered sentient beings, because they have fulfilled all but one criteria. The report was used as evidence to amend the UK Animal Welfare Bill to recognize cephalopods and decapods as sentient creatures.
Our Psychologist: Octopus
Awareness can develop through learning, decision-making and trade-offs—for example, a cephalopod would risk popping out of a can of beans to pounce on a tasty morsel passing by, even if it had seen a predator there before. Evidence of consciousness can also be an intelligent response to novelties and curiosity, which psychologist Peter Deuze actually achieved in a 1959 experiment, when three octopuses had to turn on a one-arm light bulb.
The ability to be open and directed cannot be unconscious, according to philosopher of science Marta Halena, given that we take human consciousness and human neurological and behavioral connections as the basis of consciousness,
The further we move away from humans in terms of structure, behavior, and function, the more uncertain we are, in fact, tracking consciousness.
By exploring the consciousness of octopuses, we access human consciousness, but do we really know what consciousness feels like? If we study the consciousness of an octopus, we also need to know what human consciousness is.
Halina believes that if we realized how little we know about human consciousness, we would be more open to the question of what an octopus’ consciousness looks like. With this clever way of thinking, we jumped over 600 million years!
(Cover Image: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
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