Peter Godfrey-smith is something of an Oliver Sacks of cephalopods. The analogy isn’t perfect — he doesn’t attempt to diagnose or cure mental disorders in octopuses, and he lacks any long-standing relationships with them, though he certainly identifies individuals and their quirks. But just as Sacks could see the human condition reflected in individuals with profoundly different ways of perceiving the world from the norm, Godfrey-Smith asks in Other Minds: Who is like us? What makes a person live in her own mind, and recognize it as separate from the mind of another? Sacks asked such questions of people with neurological dysfunction, whereas Godfrey-Smith in Other Minds asks them of a species that is uncannily personable without being at all human. An octopus can gaze at you with what seems like a facial expression, changing color as if with a change in mood, even reaching out a tentacle to touch an inquisitive diver.
Scientists have known for decades that octopuses and their relatives can solve puzzles and navigate mazes, have camera-like eyes just as humans do, and seem more like vertebrates than the snails and jellyfish to which they are much more closely related. YouTube videos show them unscrewing the lids of jars to clamber out of confinement, or confounding their keepers by circumventing the experiments in which they are placed. They are capable of learning which food types are easier to acquire and remembering their discoveries for weeks at a time. They play. The famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau mused on the octopus’s “soft intelligence.” But unlike other animals that we see as intelligent, such as great apes, or crows and their kin, octopuses seem unsettlingly alien.
here’s a compelling case to be made that taking on climate change could transform the lives of people still reeling from the fallout of the recession, and respond to both the ecological crisis and the economic pain that drove many to vote for Trump. An Inconvenient Sequel—Al Gore’s latest documentary—never makes that case, opting instead for at-length explanations of glacial ice melts and the sausage-making behind international agreements. As both a film and a political treatise, its biggest problem might be just how much the story revolves around Gore and his outdated view of how politics work.
Just your average summer beach read about emergent super-AI, nuclear annihilation, Silicon Valley and Amazon product reviews.
No, I mean seriously. Rob Reid's newest novel, After On, is a doorstopper: 547 pages which, at the very start, he dares the reader to finish — promising a gift at the end for anyone who does.