The Soul of an Octopus|
A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness
Atria Books, An Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2015, hc, 261pp, $26.00
A fellow author of books about animals comments, "Has science ever been so deliciously hallucinatory?" She has the right word. Whether you're diving in the ocean or looking through an exhibit window in an aquarium, you are certainly observing a world entirely different than the airy space we inhabit. The creatures who swim and breathe water are totally alien, from their mode of locomotion to their diet. In fact, their world is as uninhabitable for us as outer space...and perhaps even more beautiful and fascinating.
Author, Sy Montgomery is a naturalist and an author of 20 books ranging in subject matter from great apes to pink dolphins. The New York Times describes her as "equal parts poet and scientist" I heartily agree and will shortly continue to gobble up her other work...not just the books about the ocean and its inhabitants. She has written widely on many aspects of our natural world. (Google her.)
The major scene of this book is the wonderful New England Aquarium in Boston. Their website (www.neaq.org) is almost as good as being there--with films of various and remarkable water breathers as well as penguins and other water-loving animals)...maybe even better...four hundred and thirty thousand people came to visit the New England in a recent summer.
About Octopuses, Montgomery says, "no sci-fi alien is so startlingly strange...who, even if she grows to one hundred pounds and stretches more than eight feet long, could still squeeze her body through an opening the size of an orange...who can shape-shift, change color and squirt ink and has three hearts and neurons in their arms". But most intriguing of all...Octopuses are remarkably intelligent...their arms can get in touch with one another without having to communicate through the central brain. (And by the way, there is no such word as "octopi"...you can't put a Latin ending on a Greek word.)
Montgomery observes and interacts with the Aquarium's four octopuses...Athena, Octavia, Kali, and Karma. (Only recently was it admitted by the scientific set that octopuses are as intelligent as dogs and chimpanzees.) She also takes us along with aquarium staff on a Pacific acquisition venture where the octopuses call home.
And for all her many years of research and association, her inquiring mind is still searching. She still has a multitude of questions..."what goes on...in that large bundle of neurons in their arms when they see us...what does an octopus feel when she pours her huge body into a tiny crevice of her lair? What she does know is that they have given her a great gift: "a deeper understanding of what it means to think, to feel, and to know."
When you finish his wonderful book you will feel as if you have met a person you want to know better (and that's not just the author).