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Foiled by an octopus

Posted on October 2nd, 2012 at 9:12 by John Sinteur in category: News -- Write a comment

Foiled by an octopus … from Lauren De Vos on Vimeo.

  1. [Quote]:

    OK, OK, so I know a lot of weird and (to me) amazing facts about octopus, and I’m sure you do too. I can’t resist dropping just one, though. Think about this: octopus are very intelligent, perhaps as intelligent in some ways as primates. They use tools, they learn from observing each other, they can open jars, steal bait canisters, etc. Very smart critters. But they aren’t even in the same phylum as us. Hell, they’re not even deuterostomes! (Our mouth evolved from the same line of cells as their anus did, and vice versa.) Our bodies are totally backwards from each other, our heads the product not of divergent modification from a head-having common ancestor but rather of convergent evolution. The most we share in common with them is bilateral symmetry.

    Anyway, our most recent common ancestor with octopus might have looked something like this, though if you check the article you will find that that might actually have been an ancient mollusc, so more like an octopus than a human. Our most recent common ancestor was some kind of soft-bodied blob that existed well over half a billion years ago and had no head, no eyes, and only a very basic, decentralized nervous system.

    In other words, our common ancestor had no brain. Unlike all the other animals that we think of as smart — chimpanzees, dolphins, crows, etc — the octopus brain evolved completely independently from ours! I mean, just look at it. (That diagram shows what you would see if you looked up at the brain from underneath the tentacles.) It’s got three lobes instead of two, and yes, that’s the esophagus running through the middle of it. (That’s a lateral view, with the optic lobes cut away.)

    It’s completely unrelated to our brain and in fact it gets even weirder because as it turns out octopus arms are semi-autonomous and pretty much just take high-level commands from the brain (like, “grab that stupid shark and hold it down”) and then get on with the business of figuring out how to actually move their muscles in such a way as to accomplish those directives more-or-less on their own. The whole stunningly intelligent and curious assemblage of neural machinery bears only the most fundamental and distant resemblance to our own, and it evolved all on its own for lo these many hundreds of millions of years to suit the needs of a soft-bodied marine organism with eight arms and that lives for only a few short years at most, yet it rivals some of the best brains that our own evolutionary heritage has come up with.

    Octopus are truly the closest thing to alien intelligences that exists on this planet. If we ever do meet creatures from another world, the experience will be less like trying to communicate with someone from another country or even like trying to communicate with an elephant or a dolphin, and much more like trying to get inside the squishy, gelatinous head of an octopus. I love them so much.

  2. ^ best post in a while (the comment, that is)

  3. Hi there! Thanks for featuring the video. We are researchers at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, developing a cost-effective tool for monitoring fish populations in South Africa. The information gathered will be used for fisheries management and adquate fish conservation measures on our coastline. The project is funded by the Save our Seas Foundation, and we work together with the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). If you are interested in our footage and stories, visit our research blog here: http://saveourseas.com/projects/bruvs_false_bay


  4. The octopus always remind me how little imagination is at work in all the UFO and alien abduction folks. When intelligent beings on our own planet are so completely different, and at times bizarrely so, the idea that aliens from across the stars would remotely resemble humans is just plain silly.

    As much as I love large aquariums, it always pains be greatly when I see an octopus stuck in a tiny jail cell, like the tiny crevasse in which the one at the aquarium at Coney Island spends his miserable life.

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