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The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of… (2015)

por Sy Montgomery

Outros autores: Ver a secção outros autores.

MembrosCríticasPopularidadeAvaliação médiaMenções
1,494899,294 (3.86)126
"In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus--a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature--and the remarkable connections it makes with humans. Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect," about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think? The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds"-- "An investigation of the emotional and physical world of the octopus"--… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 88 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Having recently watched part of My Octopus Teacher, I passed by the book The Soul of an Octopus in the library and grabbed it to read. Showing how octopus have intelligence and understanding albeit so very different than humans, furthers my understanding of what a great and glorious world we live in and how things are never so clear cut as to what we believe they might be. ( )
  phoenixcomet | Aug 30, 2021 |
Melissa Alexander rave. Fun, breezy, first person naturalist's tale of her growing infatuation with octopuses. ( )
  wordloversf | Aug 14, 2021 |
The service is conducted in Tahitian, a language I don't understand. But I understand the power of worship, and the importance of contemplating mystery - whether in a church or diving a coral reef. The mystery that congregants seek here is no different, really, from the one I have sought in my interactions with Athena and Kali, Karma and Octavia. It is no different from the mystery we pursue in all our relationships, in all our deepest wonderings. We seek to fathom the soul. [...] But I am certain of one thing as I sit in my pew: If I have a soul-and I think I do-an octopus has a soul, too.

I have been writing this review in my head for a couple of weeks now, and it's time to be done with it, so here I go. Part of the difficulty in reviewing this particular book is that I review things for what they are, but this book doesn't know what it is. The subtitle suggests both popular science and philosophical tract, but it really isn't either of those. It fails spectacularly as journalism. The reader is left with a kind of memoir, a sort of 'my neat experiences with an aquarium' (focusing of course on that aquarium's octopi*), but even that is rather shallow. Looking back over the whole thing, this book was not what it wants to be or pretends to be, and as such I remain a disappointed reader. (However, book length treatments focusing mainly on the octopus are not particularly plentiful, so the book still has some value even with its many flaws.)

There is science in this book, yes (did you know an octopus has more neurons in its arms than its brain?), but it is more a collection of hodgepodge of facts (how about that they can taste with their skin?) strung together through the author's rambling (in fact, they may be able to see with their skin, but only maybe) stories about her adventures making friends at the aquarium (an octopus' eye has no blind spot, can detect polarized light, is panoramic instead of binocular, and can swivel independently, but sight is limited to about an 8 foot range), learning to scuba dive (the octopus is the chameleon of the sea, but much, much more finely tuned and capable than a chameleon), and above all her repeated stabs at a vague, semi-mystical notion of consciousness (cephalopods can disappear on a checkerboard and have done so in labs) which are unfortunately laced through with all manner of religious references the author does not really appear to understand (this camouflage thing is fantastic; look at this; the octopus starts at 1:50). There are no footnotes or endnotes (although there is the obligatory index and a nice bibliography), which makes it difficult to track down a lot of the science that is presented (they are strong enough to resist perhaps 100 times their body wait in pull, and for the big ones that may be almost 4,000 pounds) in the same wide-eyed fashion as the philosophy (I could go on like this all day, but I actually would like to finish this review, so I'll stop now).

The quote I pulled above gives a pretty good idea of the tone I'm talking about: The author attends a Protestant service held in a church that now occupies the site of a former temple to the octopus in Tahiti. Even though she doesn't speak the language, she happily assumes she understands enough to use the experience as her springboard into musings on the soul. (I have the advantage of having come from a Protestant tradition, and I can fairly say she is probably directly wrong as to the contents of the service.) Add to this the fact that the questions we ask give us the answers we get, and the author is determined to ask stupid questions. (Can we ever understand the octopus? Lady, I can't understand my family, friends, and neighbors. What on God's blue earth makes you think we can understand another species? It's like Hume never happened for this woman.)

Or she is determined to avoid asking the questions. The book give two fairly uncomfortable portrayals of these lovely (and, yes, very, very intelligent) animals in distress: Octavia is brought to the aquarium near adulthood due to Athena's sudden demise, and shows clear distress over her change in environment, while Kali is kept for an unexpectedly long time in a barrel behind the scenes as Octavia takes much longer than anticipated to die after egg laying; Kali also exhibits clear distress and boredom. A journalist would have been forced to ask some probing questions here about the ethics of these practices with wild animals who appear to be at least as smart as, say, the family dog. No such questioning arises. The author relates the situation, but she does not investigate the different sides of the argument. (She does later present the thoughts of an obtainer of octopi, who takes the animals from the wild for aquariums, and who does what he does because people must learn about them to protect them, but that is as far as it goes.) Given the obvious controversy here (and the traditional close relation between studies of an organism's level of consciousness and the ethical questions of how to relate to that organism accordingly), this refusal to dive in is especially disappointing.

As a memoir, this functions on about the same level of [b:Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know|6332526|Inside of a Dog What Dogs See, Smell, and Know|Alexandra Horowitz|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347980799s/6332526.jpg|6518250], another book that promised to explore the science but was ultimately bound to the idiosyncratic interpretations and ideas of its author. This is a decent enough read to get a passel of facts, but not the survey of the wonder of octopus intelligence the title seems to promise. I have moved on to [b:The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins|20948410|The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins|Hal Whitehead|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1400938011s/20948410.jpg|40320112], which seems to be a more promising treatment of a similar subject, although not, unfortunately, of the wondrous octopus.



*I am aware (indeed this book immediately makes the reader aware) of the current pushback by grammar hounds against the marvelous word 'octopi' on the grounds that 'octopus' is a word of Greek origin, meaning you cannot have the Latin plural 'octopi' but must instead have either the regular English plural 'octopuses' or the Greek plural 'octopodes' (which is almost never heard outside of this debate and remains generally unrecognized). I am not generally one to join in choruses of 'Is that even a word?' and this round of that game is particularly offensive. It ignores the wonderful capability of the English language to make an inspired mistake, and the fact that this is an inspired mistake. It is better as a word, on almost every level, than the regular plural form, so unless my fellow English speakers suddenly accept that Greek business on a widespread basis, I'm keeping it. Grammar hounds who don't like that can take a long walk off a short pier. Maybe they will meet some octopi.

Reviewed 3/13/16.
****************************
2/29/16: So, 2016 continues to be the year of books I thought would be better. Review to come. ( )
  amyotheramy | May 11, 2021 |
The book was okay. I was disappointed that it was not more about octopuses or consciousness (psychology). The book was really about *the author* and her experiences at an aquarium, particularly with the octopuses and the aquarium workers who work with the octopuses. Often more of a chapter would be about people than octopuses.

I did find many of the facts and observations of the octopuses interesting. I think a better title would have been "The Year I fell in Love with Octopuses and the People who Love them". ( )
  kparr | May 5, 2021 |
Not what I was hoping for from the title. More a description of a fun set of experiences with octopuses than an exploration of consciousness and what we know about octopus cognition. ( )
  hedgeling | Apr 10, 2021 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 88 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
"This book's big reveal may be up front in the title, but that doesn't detract from the delight of discovering just what, exactly, an octopus's soul might look like. ...Anyone captivated by the natural world, from interested middle school readers and up, will be engrossed by this account of a strange - and unexpectedly beautiful - animal."
adicionada por DiscothequeKittens | editarLibrary Journal | June 2015 | Vol. 140 No. 10, Lisa Peet (Jun 1, 2015)
 

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Nome do autorPapelTipo de autorObra?Estado
Sy Montgomeryautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculated
Dippolito, PaulDesignerautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
Kwan, LaywanDesigner da capaautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado

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"In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus--a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature--and the remarkable connections it makes with humans. Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, "Deep Intellect," about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think? The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds"-- "An investigation of the emotional and physical world of the octopus"--

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594.56 — Natural sciences and mathematics Zoology Mollusks Cephalopods

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