Wicked Cognition: Into the mind of the Octopus

In all the animal kingdom, it’s hard to think of an animal equipped with a more extensive arsenal than the Octopus.

Respectfully named the “Devil fish” by fisherman, here is a quick list of some of the abilities of these eight limbed water gangsters.

Changing colour and texture

Shooting ink 

Venomous 

Body compression 

Marine and terrestrial (land) locomotion 

Mimicry 

Advanced problem solving 

Each one of these abilities would be deemed a Marvel style super power if possessed by a human!

However it’s the last point in that list that is the most intriguing and it possibly offers an explanation on why octopuses are geared up with all these abilities, and even has implications for a deeper understanding of human evolution.

Aquarists (people who work in aquariums not star sign bullshit) often tell tales of Octopodes (plural for Octopus) being elite escape artists, breaking out of their enclosures and having a wander around the aquarium. I have even heard stories of octopuses climbing into other tanks to devour hapless Crabs.

These stories prompted scientific research into Octopus cognition (intelligence and problem solving) and in lab tests they displayed a level of intellect not seen in any other invertebrate. Based on these findings Octopodes and other Cephalopods are the only invertebrates to be covered by ASPA.

But that’s just the tip of the ice berg, animals think with cells called neurons within our brains. Octopodes have a conventional brain just like us however two thirds of these neurons dwell in their tentacles. These tentacles have also been observed to respond in an intelligent manner when severed from the rest of the animal 

The implications of this are  staggering; consciousness might be spread throughout the entire animal. The octopus itself might essentially be a kind of mobile brain, with each of their eight arms having its own independent mind.

All this information begs the question.

What evolutionary pressure from the environment has created this multi-talented cerebral badass?

Well, here is some speculation on the matter.

These are not social creatures, in fact Octopodes straight up hate each other they cooperate briefly to reproduce but apart from that its Cripts Vs Bloods style gang warfare. Aquarists struggle to stop octopuses using their escape artist skills to climb into each other’s tanks to murder and cannibalise each other. This intense hostility has also been documented in the wild.

It is possible that a major selective pressure on these animals is themselves.

Having to constantly outwit each other in a game of marine espionage lasting millions of years could have created an arms race of cognitive ability, resulting in the bizarre genius creatures inhabiting our oceans today. I am not claiming this is the sole reason Octopodes evolved their unique arsenal, but it may be an integral factor.

This could have implications for the evolution of another of earth’s intelligent animals: Homo sapiens.

One only has to glance at the news to see that Human Beings generally don’t like each other, whether its football rivalry, differences in political ideology or direct warfare it does seem we are designed to compete with members of our own species in a very intense manner. However we are also the most intelligent and cultured animals on the face of the planet (Jeremy Kyle show viewers not included).

Maybe a vital ingredient in the recipe for intelligence is millions of years of direct competition with your own species. This could be a large piece to the puzzle of Human evolution.

 

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