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It makes no sense that octopuses should be so smart


New findings show, the brainy seafood breaks all the rules about why some life forms are smart:

A 2018 study (open access) sought to discover why octopuses are unusually intelligent—and this year another study disputed the findings. The issue is thorny because octopuses obey none of the rules for animal intelligence. Intelligent animals are supposed to be social animals that live a long time. That makes sense; managing relationships requires some intelligence and brains take a long time to mature. As Ed Yong notes in The Atlantic, apes, elephants, whales and dolphins, crows and other corvids, and parrots (all vertebrates) share these traits. But the intelligent octopus shares the physical traits of the “dim-witted dynasty” of snails, slugs, clams, oysters, and mussels that are its own relatives. And it breaks the behavior rules:

With rare exceptions, most of them are solitary animals that aren’t above cannibalizing one another when they meet. Even those that swim in groups, like some squid, don’t form the kinds of deep social bonds that chimps or dolphins do. Cephalopods also tend to live fast and die young. Most have life spans shorter than two years, and many die after their first bout of sex and reproduction.

Ed Yong, “For Smart Animals, Octopuses Are Very Weird” at The Atlantic

One difficulty is that just how a life form comes to evolve “intelligence” is a difficult question. Being intelligent ourselves, we can easily see the advantages of intelligence. But that does not tell us how exactly it is acquired. Not only are there no good theories of human consciousness, there are no good theories about how even an octopus comes to be smarter than we might have expected. And that problem underlies the disagreement between the two groups of researchers. Further research might unearth a wealth of interesting information without shedding much light on that conundrum. One difficulty is that the interpretation of research into animal intelligence is sometimes guided by outdated assumptions. … “Scientists clash over why octopuses are smart” at Mind Matters News

See also: See also: Is the octopus a “second genesis of intelligence”? Can its strange powers provide insights for robotics or the human mind?

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