Monday, June 23, 2008

Smart octopi?

When one thinks of a smart sea creature, the octopus rarely comes to mind. But there's a fair amount of evidence that they can be quite clever:

Aristotle didn't have a high opinion of the octopus. "The octopus is a stupid creature," he wrote, "for it will approach a man's hand if it be lowered in the water." Twenty-four centuries later, this "stupid" creature is enjoying a much better reputation. YouTube is loaded with evidence of what some might call octopus intelligence. One does an uncanny impression of a flounder. Another mimics coral before darting away from a pushy camera. A third slips its arms around a jar, unscrews it, and dines on the crab inside. Scientific journals publish research papers on octopus learning, octopus personality, octopus memory. Now the octopus has even made it into the pages of the journal Consciousness and Cognition (along with its fellow cephalopods the squid and the cuttlefish). The title: "Cephalopod consciousness: behavioral evidence."

The catch of course, is that while they may be "intelligent", intelligent means different things for species so vastly different. We are intelligent in different ways from an octopus; not surprising once you consider that our closest common ancestor existed some 700 million years ago.

There's not much point in trying to pin this sort of behavior to some human-based scale of intelligence, because our behavior emerged as apes adapted to life spent on two legs, in groups, and using our hands to make tools. We'd fail pretty badly at an octopus-based test of intelligence, but surely we wouldn't hold it against ourselves.

(h/t Pharyngula)

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

Thank you for posting this about octopi. The Detroit Red Wings sports group has been using octopi as a joke "party favor" for over 40
years in which they swing the cotopi in the air until it dies.
Obviously people don't realize that they are destroying the most intelligent of all invertebrates.