Anyone close with me knows I’m obsessed with octopuses (yes, that is the correct plural form – Greek roots, not Latin). I’m fascinated by these mysterious creatures’ intellect, strength and playfulness. I dream of meeting an octopus one day – author and naturalist Sy Montgomery did just that.
I noticed The Soul of the Octopus by Sy Montgomery in Barnes & Noble. I purchased it with obvious interest and read it quickly. But why should anyone else read it? What’s so special about this slimy, tenticled creature? What can humanity possibly learn from it?
If I have a soul – and I think I do – an octopus has a soul, too.
- Octopuses Are Smarter Than You Think: Octopuses have 500 million neurons in their brains, and scientists say they’re as smart as dogs (though Aristotle claimed “the octopus is a stupid creature”). Experts at the New England Aquarium, where Montgomery observed, give the octopuses toys and games to keep them “octopied.” Boredom can lead them to escape from their tanks. Octopuses in captivity can recognize their caretakers with their suction cups, which act like taste buds. This prompts them to act differently towards different people.
- Octopuses are Stereotyped: Many people think cephalopods are dangerous creatures. Books such as Moby Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea reinforce this stereotype. Montgomery writes, “Octopuses represent the great mystery of the other.” For centuries, there were misinterpretations of this species without an attempt to understand it. After meeting her first octopus, Montgomery writes, “It pulls me like an alien’s kiss.” She shows that what we perceive as alien must not be feared, but rather approached with curiosity and understanding. This can be applied to our lives, especially in the wake of current social and political issues.
- Exploration of Consciousness: There is ongoing scientific debate on animal consciousness. Montgomery explores this topic, writing, “I wanted to meet the octopus. I wanted to touch an alternate reality. I wanted to explore a different kind of consciousness, if such a thing exists. What is it like to be an octopus?” This book explores the wonder of human consciousness and gives insight to the mind and soul of the octopus. Montgomery challenges preconceived notions of consciousness and pushes readers to question deeper philosophical concepts.
- A Special Bond: While we may think of bonding with our dog or cat, Montgomery develops a bond with each octopus she meets. She writes, “While stroking an octopus, it is easy to fall into reverie. To share such a moment of deep tranquility with another being… is a humbling privilege.” Special moments can be found in the strangest of circumstances. An octopus friend: Weird? Interesting? Remarkable? Wouldn’t you like to find out?
- Octopuses Aren’t So Different From Us: Physically, octopuses and humans could not be more different. They have no bones and eight arms covered in suction cups, change colors to match their surroundings and breathe water. Yet we both have learning and problem-solving skills and possess different personalities. Octopuses have a dominant eye, just as we have a dominant hand. Mother octopuses sacrifice their lives for their offspring, just as many humans would do if they had to.
My infatuation with octopuses goes far beyond thinking they’re cool. They’re subjects of recent studies of consciousness, and show insight to an alien, alternate reality. The Soul of the Octopus urges readers to look more deeply into their own lives and beliefs through the lens of eight-armed friends.