SciAm on Octopus Intelligence

Scientific American: Eight smart limbs plus a big brain add up to a weird and wondrous kind of intelligence

Octopuses and their kin (cuttlefish and squid) stand apart from other invertebrates, having evolved with much larger nervous systems and greater cognitive complexity.

The majority of neurons in an octopus are found in the arms, which can independently taste and touch and also control basic motions without input from the brain.

Octopus brains and vertebrate brains have no common anatomy but support a variety of similar features, including forms of short- and long-term memory, versions of sleep, and the capacities to recognize individual people and explore objects through play.

MLK day

As a White person, I can take responsibility for doing stuff about racism. I don’t have to slack.

It’s Martin Luther King day today. Ordinarily it’s just another day off, like President’s Day or Columbus Day. Usually I work on meaningless holidays. This year I will observe the occasion.

What I’ll do will be small – take my kids to a teach-in. Anything is better than nothing.

“Neanderthals Were People, Too” (NYT)


(NYT) Neanderthals Were People, Too. “New research shows they shared many behaviors that we long believed to be uniquely human. Why did science get them so wrong?

I think that understanding how much we share with neanderthals is only the beginning. I think we’ll extend this understanding to species that were close but different, like Homo heidelbergensis. We will see how little new there was in our own particular species, and that our experience is only different in subtle ways.

Obviously our daily lives at the height of the anthropocene are very different than those of our predecessors hundreds of thousands of years ago. Where our experience is similar is on a sensory and physical level. Things like smelling peanut butter, having an orgasm, breaking your leg, or feeling full after a meal.


Is Humanism Really Human?

How might a posthumanist approach to undoing interspecies hierarchies intervene with structures of violence among humans themselves? Trump’s election reflects and emboldens white supremacy and misogyny to a frightening degree. Could a posthumanist intervention risk moving focus away from a direct and much-needed struggle against these things, or could it help?

Octopus intelligence

Just how smart is an octopus?

The cleft in the tree of life that separated the lineages that led to vertebrates and invertebrates happened 600 million years ago. One path, as Godfrey-Smith explains, led to progressively more complex intelligences, in the form of fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. The other path, while producing sophisticated means of sensing and surviving in a dangerous world, eschewed mental complexity. The cephalopods represent an island of intelligence in this invertebrate sea. They represent a separate experiment in the evolution of the mind.

Godfrey-Smith is not a scientist but a philosopher. This is, he says, a philosophy book as well as a scientific one. The question with which he wrestles is that of consciousness: “Does it feel like something to be one of the large-brained cephalopods, or are they just biochemical machines for which all is dark inside?”


I have a recurring thought about how little our species’ experience of life differs from others. I’m doing some ordinary thing like biting into a doughnut and I think “this feels pretty much the same to a monkey.”

Our physical sensations are probably the same as all other mammals. Things like physical pain, sleepiness, and hunger probably feel exactly the same to a cow or dog.

Our intellectual and emotional lives are probably little different than near-ish relatives, including not only humanoids like neaderthals and homo afarensis, but even primates like bonobo. These include the sensations of thinking, creativity, love, and mourning.

And not only close relatives. Dolphins have rich emotional, social, and intellectual lives.
Birds are cladistically far from us, but some are remarkably intelligent. Some live socially, can count, use tools, appear to mourn.

And the list goes on. How Smart Is An Octopus?

divers wanted to know whether octopuses—as suspected—steal fish from fishermen’s nets, so they set up a net complete with several fish, and settled back to watch. Sure enough, an octopus came and helped itself to the lot. Another octopus opened a jar containing food, while a third seemed disturbed by its reflection when shown a mirror.

I draw the line somewhere: hive beings. I think ant colonies are intelligent and have a sense of self interest, but their affective lives are truly alien.

In the long run there may be something like a Copernican revolution, but applicable to experience rather than astronomy. We may come to realize that our experience is hardly different than that of many others.

A Trans-Species Perspective on Nature

The human species has spent a lot of effort trying to find the “holy grail” that will confirm a qualitative difference and position of superiority above other animals. Neurobiological studies have failed to turn up a single property of the human brain that is qualitatively different from that of other species (i.e., that is not explainable within the common framework of comparative evolution). Specific focus has been placed on finding the basis for the uniqueness of the human brain among our closest primate relatives, that is, what separates us qualitatively from chimpanzees. But moving beyond the range of primates provides an important perspective on this effort. I have studied cetacean (dolphin, whale and porpoise) and primate brains for the past twenty years and there are compelling differences among them. Primate and cetacean brains are arguably two of the most different, morphologically, among the large mammals. These differences exist in cortical topography and cytoarchitecture and represent different ways of distributing and processing information in the brain. The cetacean brain not only possesses very unusual features but also a uniquely elaborated paralimbic lobe not found in primates. Despite these striking neuroanatomical differences driven by adaptation to different physical environments for tens of millions of years there is striking convergence in psychology across cetaceans and primates — not equivalence — but comparability and shared aspects of mind. To the point, cetacean and primate brains are vastly more different from each other than any two primate brains are. Yet, they are most validly understood as variations on a theme. Therefore, what would be the basis for arguing that there is a “bright line” between human brains and those of other primates? Compared to cetacean brains human and chimpanzee brains, for instance, are almost identical.

Try as we might we have yet to find any fundamental mechanism or principle unique to the human brain.


It is the will of the people. The voters wanted to break shit, and thus shall it be broken.

The first thing each of us needs to do is take care of ourself.

The right wing can’t govern. They gave us Iraq and the Great Recession. They gave us epic national debt.

And that was on a good day, when they were firmly unified under the neoconservative cabal. They are not unified at all right now. It’s the alt-right that won this election. Reaganism lost almost as badly as liberalism.

The alt-right could care less about Reaganite ideology. It wants to express angst. It wants to share misery. It wants naked violence.

The neocons were incompetent. The alt-right is against competence.

The consequences of not being able to govern are severe. Trumpian incompetence at global scale. How do you start to visualize a bankruptcy of that size? Is trillions the right order of magnitude?

Liberals will want to defend our greater goals. Equality, fairness, liberty. But those are not an option during a crash. First take care of yourself alone. Before putting your child’s oxygen mask on, don your own. This plane is going down.



1. Nuclear Iran
2. Inflation
3. China gains influence over NATO
4. Annexation of former Soviet states by Russia
5. Further fragmentation of EU

Deserts 2 – disquiet0251

New music by me – Deserts 2 – disquiet0251

The last thing I put out in this stream of ideas was Playing In Tongues. After about ten years of making heavily predetermined music, I’m inspired by looseness, flow and improvisation. Revelation instead of perspiration.

So far this music isn’t as successful as my earlier stuff. The Joy Drops are verging on 200K streams at Free Music Archive, but the Playing In Tongues video has barely gotten past 200.

The problem might be that people who like my earlier music aren’t the same people who would like this new music, so I might fork off new social media identities.

Dark days for women

Women working in Trump’s orbit have been in a supremely hostile work environment. That’s a given. No news. But that only applied on the set of a reality show, or a troubled real estate business.

This will now apply at the White House. And women who work in politics or who simply want a voice in how their country is governed will have to choose to enter his orbit.

Since every voter knows about his history, he will almost have a mandate for sexual assault. Trump will not be chastened by the campaign. The opposite. As POTUS his ego will be even worse. A President Trump will be grabbing more pussy than ever.

Add the influence of Roger Ailes, whose behavior at Fox News was comparable if not worse.

The White House will be a place of crude, relentless sexual harassment.

It’s not like women in Washington will have a choice. The White House is a baseline part of their work. When they get invited to a dinner, they’ll have to go. And they’ll be full of dread on the way to work.

Daughters will steer away from internships in Washington, leaving those opportunities to sons. Grown women will lean back. Those who don’t lean back will find themselves diminished. Careers will stall and salaries will drop.

Then consider what might have been. A woman whose career was unfairly embattled, who symbolized grit and resilience. A woman with great intelligence and competence. Who won in the end.

Vs what was: that qualified woman lost to that unqualified man.

Dark days in Washington. Maybe so dark that it will create a surge for women. Trump could be a force so malignant for women that their political footprint is ultimately magnified. I guess that’s a good thing.