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Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

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The scuba-diving philosopher who wrote Other Minds explores the origins of animal consciousness Dip below the ocean’s surface and you are soon confronted by forms of life that could not seem more foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals, and serpulid worms, whose rooted bodies, intricate geometry, and flower-like appendages are more reminiscent of plant life or even arc The scuba-diving philosopher who wrote Other Minds explores the origins of animal consciousness Dip below the ocean’s surface and you are soon confronted by forms of life that could not seem more foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals, and serpulid worms, whose rooted bodies, intricate geometry, and flower-like appendages are more reminiscent of plant life or even architecture than anything recognizably animal. Yet these creatures are our cousins. As fellow members of the animal kingdom—the Metazoa—they can teach us much about the evolutionary origins of not only our bodies, but also our minds. In his acclaimed 2016 book, Other Minds, the philosopher and scuba diver Peter Godfrey-Smith explored the mind of the octopus—the closest thing to an intelligent alien on Earth. In Metazoa, Godfrey-Smith expands his inquiry to animals at large, investigating the evolution of subjective experience with the assistance of far-flung species. As he delves into what it feels like to perceive and interact with the world as other life-forms do, Godfrey-Smith shows that the appearance of the animal body well over half a billion years ago was a profound innovation that set life upon a new path. In accessible, riveting prose, he charts the ways that subsequent evolutionary developments—eyes that track, for example, and bodies that move through and manipulate the environment—shaped the subjective lives of animals. Following the evolutionary paths of a glass sponge, soft coral, banded shrimp, octopus, and fish, then moving onto land and the world of insects, birds, and primates like ourselves, Metazoa gathers their stories together in a way that bridges the gap between mind and matter, addressing one of the most vexing philosophical problems: that of consciousness. Combining vivid animal encounters with philosophical reflections and the latest news from biology, Metazoa reveals that even in our high-tech, AI-driven times, there is no understanding our minds without understanding nerves, muscles, and active bodies. The story that results is as rich and vibrant as life itself.


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The scuba-diving philosopher who wrote Other Minds explores the origins of animal consciousness Dip below the ocean’s surface and you are soon confronted by forms of life that could not seem more foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals, and serpulid worms, whose rooted bodies, intricate geometry, and flower-like appendages are more reminiscent of plant life or even arc The scuba-diving philosopher who wrote Other Minds explores the origins of animal consciousness Dip below the ocean’s surface and you are soon confronted by forms of life that could not seem more foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals, and serpulid worms, whose rooted bodies, intricate geometry, and flower-like appendages are more reminiscent of plant life or even architecture than anything recognizably animal. Yet these creatures are our cousins. As fellow members of the animal kingdom—the Metazoa—they can teach us much about the evolutionary origins of not only our bodies, but also our minds. In his acclaimed 2016 book, Other Minds, the philosopher and scuba diver Peter Godfrey-Smith explored the mind of the octopus—the closest thing to an intelligent alien on Earth. In Metazoa, Godfrey-Smith expands his inquiry to animals at large, investigating the evolution of subjective experience with the assistance of far-flung species. As he delves into what it feels like to perceive and interact with the world as other life-forms do, Godfrey-Smith shows that the appearance of the animal body well over half a billion years ago was a profound innovation that set life upon a new path. In accessible, riveting prose, he charts the ways that subsequent evolutionary developments—eyes that track, for example, and bodies that move through and manipulate the environment—shaped the subjective lives of animals. Following the evolutionary paths of a glass sponge, soft coral, banded shrimp, octopus, and fish, then moving onto land and the world of insects, birds, and primates like ourselves, Metazoa gathers their stories together in a way that bridges the gap between mind and matter, addressing one of the most vexing philosophical problems: that of consciousness. Combining vivid animal encounters with philosophical reflections and the latest news from biology, Metazoa reveals that even in our high-tech, AI-driven times, there is no understanding our minds without understanding nerves, muscles, and active bodies. The story that results is as rich and vibrant as life itself.

30 review for Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    Small update I was reading other reviews, and those who don't like philosophy mixed in with their science don't like it so much. But thinking about consciousness - it's one of those things we know for 100% certain exists but no one knows where or can define exactly what it is and which creature has it and which definitely don't. So how can you leave out philosophy? ____________________ I wish I hadn't read this book. The book is mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting as much from the philosophy as the Small update I was reading other reviews, and those who don't like philosophy mixed in with their science don't like it so much. But thinking about consciousness - it's one of those things we know for 100% certain exists but no one knows where or can define exactly what it is and which creature has it and which definitely don't. So how can you leave out philosophy? ____________________ I wish I hadn't read this book. The book is mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting as much from the philosophy as the scientific observations. It's an expanded conventional view of evolution but adds in philosophy and somehow poetry, there is a poetry in the author's descriptions of the animals, mostly marine ones, he interacts with. It was startling to read of him stroking a cleaner shrimp and it turning round and looking at him. Then later in the book, the test that proves the animal has selfhood, a mark on the face, a mirror, and the shrimp touched the mark on it's face from seeing its reflection. It's a hard thought, what does a shrimp think of itself and of the world it knows? It must think, there is no instinct that could account for its mirror action. This book is not just science, it's a very beautiful book. I wish I hadn't read it yet, I wish I was going to just start it for the first time again. The book explores consciousness, selfhood, and when decision-making at the basic, instinctive, chemical level such as in very simple animals with few cells, when it becomes 'mind', where the mind is, how many minds could we have - people with split brains (from operations to help control epilepsy), seem sometimes to have two minds. There was much to think on and now I'm reading Tales from the Ant World, I'm thinking on octopuses both in this book and the author's Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness and thinking how octopuses have in a completely different evolutionary branch developed eyes and the ability to manipulate objects with curiousity like people, not like other molluscs and fish and how ants are a parallel world to people, and wondering about consciousness, mind and especially with ants, selfhood. An amazing 10 star read for me. __________ Everything necessary to produce mammals, primates and us, had evolved in the sea. A flexible body, a capacity for manipulation and a centralised brain. But no one sea creature evolved all of these together. "This combination arose independently in two big branches, in early dinosaurs and mammals. It was transformed again in the dinosaurs who survived - birds - and came to a particular fruition in primates, like us." Is that beautiful writing? Science and writing at their best. I love this book. I don't want it to end so I am rationing it! ___________________ You know the mirror test? Where the researcher puts a blob of something on the face of an animal and they look in the mirror and if they see it they touch it on their own face? Very few mammals and birds pass this - toddlers only 'get it' around 20 months, However, cleaner shrimps pass the test! They have superb vision, more really than anything we can imagine, but it is consciousness that tells you that it is 'you' that is in the mirror and not another shrimp, baby or cat. (view spoiler)[Cats, with their obvious feelings of superiority and disdain for human emotions when they feel like it, are very hard test subjects. They fail the attachment test too - where a child or puppy runs to the mother who has returned to a room where there is only a stranger now - but I think that's because cats expect the mother to run to them. (hide spoiler)] This book is brilliant and mind expanding, although I struggled quite a lot with the physics of electrical impulses in single-celled organisms. Truthfully, I struggled with all the physics. However, to be able to write about evolution from an organic and philosophical way as well as scientific, made the struggle worth while. I have learned something new that has changed my perception of the world. We tend to think of evolution as a tree and things like cockroaches and lizards as lower down. No, says the author, we are all on the same plane, we are all at the very top level of our own development.

  2. 5 out of 5

    D

    A bit superficial and too long. I learned some interesting concepts related to consciousness: experience, subjectivity, agency, sentient etc. And how these applied to various animal species. But no detail, e.g. a more detailed explanation of the role of genetics in evolution. There certainly were many entertaining descriptions of amazing types of animals. But, again, rather superficial. In the end I discovered that the author is a philosopher, that may explain his focus. My mistake.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Best review of this one I've seen yet, by an actual biologist, who's been a pretty reliable reviewer for me: https://inquisitivebiologist.com/2020... Excerpt: "Compared to Other Minds, Metazoa dives deeper into neurological and philosophical topics: qualia, pain, emotions, types of memory, and others. It is, altogether, a more challenging book, though in a stimulating way. I am not sure it will have the same wide appeal as Other Minds, but for those readers interested in joining him on his quest t Best review of this one I've seen yet, by an actual biologist, who's been a pretty reliable reviewer for me: https://inquisitivebiologist.com/2020... Excerpt: "Compared to Other Minds, Metazoa dives deeper into neurological and philosophical topics: qualia, pain, emotions, types of memory, and others. It is, altogether, a more challenging book, though in a stimulating way. I am not sure it will have the same wide appeal as Other Minds, but for those readers interested in joining him on his quest to understand the evolution of mind, consciousness, and subjective experience, Godfrey-Smith delivers in spades." Kicked it up the TBR a bit. I'll take a look (probably) when the library gets a copy. Here's an excerpt from the book, with photos and a short video from "Octopolis": https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles... WSJ review: https://www.wsj.com/articles/metazoa-... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers.) I was pretty enthused on reading this review, until I recalled that I was lukewarm on his octopus book, finding it too heavy on philosophy. Maybe this one has more biology and less philosophy? Um. The author is a professional philosopher -- & I'm generally kinds allergic to philosophic maunderings.🙀 I might take a look when the library gets a copy.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Carl Safina

    One of my newly favorite authors and thinkers returns again to consider what consciousness is and what creates the ability of an entity to experience sensations. We know that much of our brain and body does things "in the dark," directing and carrying out high and complex functions without our being aware of them and with no decision-making ability. We also know that part of our brain and the brains of many other species functions as what we can call a "mind," capable of creating experienced sen One of my newly favorite authors and thinkers returns again to consider what consciousness is and what creates the ability of an entity to experience sensations. We know that much of our brain and body does things "in the dark," directing and carrying out high and complex functions without our being aware of them and with no decision-making ability. We also know that part of our brain and the brains of many other species functions as what we can call a "mind," capable of creating experienced sensations through input from sense organs, capable of imagining, of remembering, of deciding. Here in Metazoa we are talking about how this happens. So there is much illuminating science. But no one is quite sure how it happens, and the competing and conflicting ideas--along with the author's encounters with undersea animals and the abundant evidence of their conscious perception and sentience--makes this book very, very interesting. Some sections verged a bit on the academic (I say this as an academician, as is the author). But so what. Godfrey-Smith takes us for a ride on the frontier of knowledge and informed speculation. Very worth the time and the reading.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lata

    The author poses some really interesting questions about cognition by taking us from the development of single-celled creatures all the way to mammals. The author has an engaging style, and makes his material really interesting. He points to fossils and experiments performed with present day invertebrates to postulate behaviours and experiences of long-dead creatures, and from there to gradually build a picture of thinking and feeling based on actions, reactions and experiences. The author refus The author poses some really interesting questions about cognition by taking us from the development of single-celled creatures all the way to mammals. The author has an engaging style, and makes his material really interesting. He points to fossils and experiments performed with present day invertebrates to postulate behaviours and experiences of long-dead creatures, and from there to gradually build a picture of thinking and feeling based on actions, reactions and experiences. The author refuses to simply take the traditional route that only humans can think and feel, as researchers have determined some really interesting things from arthropods, cephalopods (Adrian Tchaikovsky’s octopodes in Children of Ruin get a mention here), and other sea creatures. He also asks what our responsibilities are with respect to certain kinds of research on our fellow beings on this planet. There was a lot to think about, and honestly, I think I need to revisit this to get a better grasp on the various interesting ideas the author raised in this terrific book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    I was pleasantly surprised by this volume from philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith in that it brought some welcome clarity to the issue of consciousness and the origin of what we know to be the mind in the natural world. Oftentimes - and I realize how general a remark this is - philosophers discussing something that is mainly the province of scientists turns the discussion into a linguistic and syntactical rat's maze with no end and no conclusions, even if they manage to agree on terminology (they n I was pleasantly surprised by this volume from philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith in that it brought some welcome clarity to the issue of consciousness and the origin of what we know to be the mind in the natural world. Oftentimes - and I realize how general a remark this is - philosophers discussing something that is mainly the province of scientists turns the discussion into a linguistic and syntactical rat's maze with no end and no conclusions, even if they manage to agree on terminology (they never do). A lot of people approach books in this area from philosophers with trepidation however I have to say as someone with a very biologically centered materialist view on this, you have nothing to fear from this volume. Here, proceeding from a very materialistic perspective on the mind, he examines how varying degrees of sensation, response, and adaptation have transformed the nervous systems, and as a result, the ability to call something a mind from some of our most distant ancestors. A particularly interesting focus for me was on nociception in creatures we don't credit with having a sense of pain. That we begin with some of the most basic sea creatures - mollusks, shrimp, starfish - is evidence of how comprehensive a look he is taking at the notion of having a mind and being conscious. We are then treated to a developmental history of these features both from fossil and naturalistic evidence and also from his own personal experiences observing these creatures in the waters around Australia. I'm not totally sure I agree with his final conclusions, embracing the "walled off garden" notion from Wittgenstein (a remark that this previous philosopher meant as a pejorative), however I have to say I haven't yet read a book that dealt with a subject area so fraught with tedious and tangential terminological issues that read with such clarity and openness of opinion. It is certainly the case that humans have been very solipsistic in their view of what could constitute a mind among our distant cousins and ancestors, and so far, Peter Godrey-Smith is the best guide to take you through this development while also framing the discussion - philosophically speaking - with cogency and clarity.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Janne Sinkkonen

    (Listened, not read, which may affect my impressions.) I have read both "Philosophy of Biology" and "Other Minds" from the author, and like his style, which is non-combative, often searching for a middle way or a synthesis. This book is a bit like Other Minds in that it mixes (often) tranquil diving scenes with more conceptual science and philosophy, in this case evolutionary history of animals, especially their movement, senses and associated implications to cognitive organisation. A carrying th (Listened, not read, which may affect my impressions.) I have read both "Philosophy of Biology" and "Other Minds" from the author, and like his style, which is non-combative, often searching for a middle way or a synthesis. This book is a bit like Other Minds in that it mixes (often) tranquil diving scenes with more conceptual science and philosophy, in this case evolutionary history of animals, especially their movement, senses and associated implications to cognitive organisation. A carrying theme, although mostly discussed at the beginning and at the end, is philosophy of mind. I think the discussion of animal evolution and animal minds was excellent, and there is not much to disagree. On philosophy of mind, he describes himself as a materialist, material monist, and gradualist. This is all ok, for me personally and as a good background for most of the more concrete issues discussed. What bothers me a little bit, but just a little because it is a kind of side track in this book, is the treatment of the hard problem (of consciousness). Notably, he is critical of panpsychism, but says something like "this is what it feels to *be* the matter, instead of looking at it outside as an observer". But this is exactly what a panpsychist, Philip Goff says! I'd definitely classify the view presented in Metazoa as a panpsychist, the kind of variety which associates the potential of consciousness for all matter but requires nervous systems for it to appear in flavours familiar to ours, and some kind of organisation for it to appear in any flavour. He also briefly discusses strong AI, is critical of functionalism in this context and (it felt to me) he agrees with Searle's criticism (Chinese room etc.): consciousness depends on the substrate, not necessarily in a very wet sense but on the often overlooked intricate details of organisation at the very low level. (This opens questions about the relationship of computation and physical base in biological systems in general, not touched in the book.) But the book as its bulk matter discusses animal evolution and the appearance of selves on various branches of the evolutionary tree, also briefly plants. Mixed with descriptions of underwater events, narrated by the author, I find the book very enjoyable, occasionally almost meditative.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Travis Rebello

    Diving into the waters of the mind once more Metazoa is simply a stunning book. A mix of evocative underwater scenes, evolutionary storytelling, and philosophical exploration, it has got to be one of the most fascinating books I have read. Peter Godfrey-Smith builds here on his bestselling Other Minds, expanding both on the range of philosophical puzzles about the mind that are explored and the cast of creatures that join us in that exploration. He has a wonderful ability not only to capture the Diving into the waters of the mind once more Metazoa is simply a stunning book. A mix of evocative underwater scenes, evolutionary storytelling, and philosophical exploration, it has got to be one of the most fascinating books I have read. Peter Godfrey-Smith builds here on his bestselling Other Minds, expanding both on the range of philosophical puzzles about the mind that are explored and the cast of creatures that join us in that exploration. He has a wonderful ability not only to capture the visual scenery of the underwater world in words, but also to identify features of conscious experience that can otherwise be so elusive and to imagine his way into the inner lives of some of the most alien animals on our planet. The book is ultimately a defence of materialism about the mind, but one that doesn’t shy from the challenges involved in making materialism intuitively acceptable. Godfrey-Smith describes his approach—borrowing from some remarks by the mathematician Alexander Gothendieck—as one of building knowledge around a problem until the problem transforms and disappears. In this way, the books seeks to open new directions for thinking about the nature of the mind and its realization in the vastly different bodies of our fellow creatures. Some of my favourite passages from Metazoa involve speculations that reach beyond what can be settled by currently available evidence; one has the sense there of being included in Godfrey-Smith's own private meditations, as though sitting with him while he thinks aloud on these difficult topics. If, like me, you engage with Metazoa as an audiobook, you'll see (or hear) that the author reads his own work for his one. Authors reading their own works can sometimes go quite badly, but Godfrey-Smith's reading of his work is clear and engaging. After a while, I found myself returning to the audiobook as if to an ongoing conversation with an old friend. If there is a downside to the audiobook, it is merely that the diagrams and pictures that feature in the printed edition of the book are not included. If you also take this on as an audiobook, I highly recommend finding some way to have a look at these—perhaps online or in the kindle edition of the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Epistemology is one of my many weak points. There were places in this wondrous book that waxed too philosophical for me to follow and I confess got skimmed. The new paleontology, the biology, the neuroscience, the animal behavior sections are moving and eye-opening They are also witty, as in the description of a shrimp with multiple appendages "a Swiss army knife" or of another shrimp with a head "festooned with golf clubs and party lights." The author describes an experiment showing that bees, Epistemology is one of my many weak points. There were places in this wondrous book that waxed too philosophical for me to follow and I confess got skimmed. The new paleontology, the biology, the neuroscience, the animal behavior sections are moving and eye-opening They are also witty, as in the description of a shrimp with multiple appendages "a Swiss army knife" or of another shrimp with a head "festooned with golf clubs and party lights." The author describes an experiment showing that bees, with brains of 1 cubic mm volume, can quickly learn to follow two-stage decision trees. A central argument is to toss out the old phrases we learned about "higher animals," and "lower on the tree of evolution." This book is a scientific complement to the poetry of Henry Beston decades ago in The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ben Rogers

    I enjoyed this one. Great scientific book. I feel that, although this book was great, I would recommend instead these books instead: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness Fathoms: The World in the Whale Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures 2.9/5 I enjoyed this one. Great scientific book. I feel that, although this book was great, I would recommend instead these books instead: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness Fathoms: The World in the Whale Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures 2.9/5

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A wonderful book! Continues the exploration of consciousness he started in “Other Minds” by looking at other forms of life. Great combination of biology and philosophy of mind, with lots of reasoning based on evolutionary theory. Also, the author is a great observer of wildlife. Finally, I loved his writing style - he doesn’t lecture the reader, instead he brings you along on a voyage with him. He has a definite point of view, but he is humble and is respectful to those who he doesn’t agree with A wonderful book! Continues the exploration of consciousness he started in “Other Minds” by looking at other forms of life. Great combination of biology and philosophy of mind, with lots of reasoning based on evolutionary theory. Also, the author is a great observer of wildlife. Finally, I loved his writing style - he doesn’t lecture the reader, instead he brings you along on a voyage with him. He has a definite point of view, but he is humble and is respectful to those who he doesn’t agree with. Reminds me of Darwin, and what higher praise is possible?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I found this book fascinating. Consciousness is well within my area of expertise as a psychologist, but the further one advances in her education, the more specialized her focus becomes. Metazoa took me all the way back to the history and systems of psychology. I haven’t considered qualia in any meaningful fashion since I was an undergrad! Godfrey-Smith builds an argument, and the process is necessarily a bit tedious, but I learned a lot about consciousness/cognition/minimal cognition in non-mam I found this book fascinating. Consciousness is well within my area of expertise as a psychologist, but the further one advances in her education, the more specialized her focus becomes. Metazoa took me all the way back to the history and systems of psychology. I haven’t considered qualia in any meaningful fashion since I was an undergrad! Godfrey-Smith builds an argument, and the process is necessarily a bit tedious, but I learned a lot about consciousness/cognition/minimal cognition in non-mammals, and I enjoyed hearing a philosopher’s take on the matter. What I read in Metazoa strengthens my inclination to learn more about non-mammals, invertebrates, and even plants and fungi that first arose when I read Merlin Sheldrake’s An Entangled Life. Metazoa might be a bit technical for people without a pre-existing interest in consciousness, but I think the world would be a much better place if everyone took the time to consider the experience of non-human animals, and I hope it will be widely read.

  13. 5 out of 5

    The Inquisitive Biologist

    Author of the bestseller Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith returns to the topic of subjective experience, consciousness and minds, charting the evolution of life's ability to behold itself. Read my full review at https://inquisitivebiologist.com/2020... Author of the bestseller Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith returns to the topic of subjective experience, consciousness and minds, charting the evolution of life's ability to behold itself. Read my full review at https://inquisitivebiologist.com/2020...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I so enjoyed Godfrey-Smith's "Other Minds," and was looking for something similar. I was surprised at his Australian accent, having read this book on Audio. I found parts of it, especially the part on Ions and the electrical aspects of mind....somewhat confusing for laymen like me. Listening further, I enjoyed the book, but found the subjects in Other Minds to be more concise and succinct. I so enjoyed Godfrey-Smith's "Other Minds," and was looking for something similar. I was surprised at his Australian accent, having read this book on Audio. I found parts of it, especially the part on Ions and the electrical aspects of mind....somewhat confusing for laymen like me. Listening further, I enjoyed the book, but found the subjects in Other Minds to be more concise and succinct.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anshuman Swain

    An interesting journey into how consciousness, and sentience can be perceived in organisms around us from both philosophical and biological (both evolutionary and an ecological) viewpoints. I would have given it 5 stars, but gave it 4, as I felt the length of the book could have been shorter and the it be better structured. Overall, I feel it might be difficult to write a book like this and also not give the smaller sidetracked details that make th book noteworthy. (In this dilemma I feel it's a An interesting journey into how consciousness, and sentience can be perceived in organisms around us from both philosophical and biological (both evolutionary and an ecological) viewpoints. I would have given it 5 stars, but gave it 4, as I felt the length of the book could have been shorter and the it be better structured. Overall, I feel it might be difficult to write a book like this and also not give the smaller sidetracked details that make th book noteworthy. (In this dilemma I feel it's a 4.5/5). This book is a must read for people who argue about sentience being a simple emergent phenomenon and how AI can create consciousness on side and the spiritual and philosophical people who talk about soul and humans being special.

  16. 4 out of 5

    WheeldonHS

    Firstly, this is a philosophical text and not a scientific text so it is quite light on science and heavy on philosophical speculation. The author uses their interest in marine life to contemplate consciousness and the divide between the physical (tangible) and non-physical (intangible) self. I really enjoyed the author's other work - "Other Minds" - however, I found this particular work to be somewhat aimless and less cohesive. I also found the author's ideas to be somewhat unformed and wishy-wa Firstly, this is a philosophical text and not a scientific text so it is quite light on science and heavy on philosophical speculation. The author uses their interest in marine life to contemplate consciousness and the divide between the physical (tangible) and non-physical (intangible) self. I really enjoyed the author's other work - "Other Minds" - however, I found this particular work to be somewhat aimless and less cohesive. I also found the author's ideas to be somewhat unformed and wishy-washy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    K. Ira

    I read this immediately after Other minds. I didn't get the feel of major unnecessary overlap. He attempts to go further along his original concepts of consciousness and the mind and includes various animal life instead of focusing on octopi. After the first book, this one did not fall short of expectations. I read this immediately after Other minds. I didn't get the feel of major unnecessary overlap. He attempts to go further along his original concepts of consciousness and the mind and includes various animal life instead of focusing on octopi. After the first book, this one did not fall short of expectations.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    An informative, readable study of the origins of subjective experience in animals. This meeting of philosophy and science is engaging and thought-provoking.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    An interesting combination of science and philosophy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jack Hicks

    Metazoa, Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2020 We are all descended from Protozoa, single celled animals that evolved over a period of several billions of years. We evolved from, single celled animals, Prokaryotes like bacteria, without a nucleus, which then evolved into Archaea, complex, single celled animals with a nucleus. Things started to get really interesting 600 million years ago when Metazoa, multi-celled, cooperative organisms came onto the scene and that is whe Metazoa, Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind Peter Godfrey-Smith, 2020 We are all descended from Protozoa, single celled animals that evolved over a period of several billions of years. We evolved from, single celled animals, Prokaryotes like bacteria, without a nucleus, which then evolved into Archaea, complex, single celled animals with a nucleus. Things started to get really interesting 600 million years ago when Metazoa, multi-celled, cooperative organisms came onto the scene and that is where this book picks up the story. Peter Godfrey-Smith is the author of the book “Other Minds” which chronicles the intelligent capabilities of the Cephalopods or Octopus and squids; creatures who evolved intelligence and self-awareness on a separate evolutionary path from the vertebrates. How did minds evolve? How did it coincide with the evolution of muscles, nervous systems and sensory organs? If you are interested in these questions, then you may be interested in this somewhat esoteric but illuminating book. Do you dismiss crabs or insects as somewhat mindless, automatons with no self-awareness? Insects are members of the Arthropods that came into being 500 million years ago and which include crabs and shrimp. Smith considers shrimps and crabs he has encountered in his many underwater research expeditions on the reefs of Australia. He concludes that these creatures with eyes, multiple sensory and manipulative limbs are and must have a sense of self, a sense of who they are separate from other creatures and their environment. A fascinating example are decorator crabs who are a sub-species of hermit crab. Hermit crabs use the discarded shells of clams to hide and protect themselves but in the case of decorator crabs they take camouflage one step further by plastering their discarded shell homes with algae, sponges and in some cases poisonous anemones for further protection. A form of tool use? Obviously, they could not engage in this behavior without a sense of self, a sense of the nature of their environment and the motivations of others. Dismiss the mental capabilities of bees? Their brain consists of over one million neurons which enables sophisticated vision and smell, navigation and flight control capabilities as well as sophisticated social interaction and building capabilities. Smiths long term study of Octopus centers around long term research at two sights off the coast of Australia where they live together in large communities, one nick named Octopolis and the other Octalantis. Before his research, Octopus were considered solitary creatures, but his long-term study shows many complex social interactions including not only aggression but habitat sharing and defense strategies. One amazing capability is the ability to instantly sense the color and texture of their surroundings and to instantly camouflage themselves by mirroring the surroundings in their own skin. Also mirrored are their emotions. If an Octopus turns deep red you know it is angry. Studying their sleep EEGs reveals brain wave patterns similar to vertebrates dream sequences. The content of their dreams seems to be reflected in changing skin patterns and colors as they dream. One fascinating unique characteristic of their mind is the hundred of millions of neurons distributed in their 8 arms. “Assuming that sensory information from the skin and suckers does get to the central brain as well as to local neural networks, the octopus becomes an animal with both a very expansive sensory surface and, from the brains point of view, a rather unpredictable one. As the arms wander, they will change the shape of the body and also encounter objects, surfaces, and chemicals that produce sensory events. This can happen in several arms at once. The Octopus does occupy a perspective, but a protean and perhaps sometimes chaotic one. When I try to imagine this, I find myself in a rather hallucinogenic place, and that is everyday life for an octopus”. Most people would rather not admit this fact, but we, mammals, “are an offshoot of the fish part of life” which came into being as the first vertebrates during the Cambrian period 500 million years ago. Our single lens eyes, our jaws, our bilateral brains, our lungs as derivatives of buoyancy bladders, all these features of our own beings came into being through our fish relatives. Some of our oldest relatives are the sharks which evolved about 400 million years ago and who still patrol the oceans with sophisticated sensing, navigational ability, and fast mobility. “A number of huge, and necessarily early, innovations occurred in the sea: the evolution of animals and animal bodies, senses, limbs, nervous systems, and brains. The sea is the natural context of these stages. … We have the marine stages to thank for the nerves and brains through which these words are buzzing, for animal bodies, and for experience itself”. Humans have existed for at least the last 200,000 years. For most of that time we existed as hunter, gatherers, part of the natural ecosystem. Only relatively recently, in the last few thousand years, have we devised cultural evolution, changed and massively manipulated ecosystems for our own purposes. Since that time, we as humans, through our mythologies, have tended to have the hubris that we are separate from nature, that we are the only conscious and sentient beings on the earth. We tend to dismiss the minds of other creatures and not consider where we came from, that our brains and sense of self are only recent alterations in the long 500-million-year evolution of mindfulness, that we share our heritage, our consciousness, and our sense of self with millions of other creatures. If reading a book like this does anything it will hopefully make you pause when you encounter the many other creatures around you, be they mammals, birds, reptiles, arthropods or fish; be humble and realize that we are only a recent appearance in the miracle of sentient life on this small rock. Preserve and respect all life. JACK

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Relph

    Godfrey-Smith’s title, “Metazoa,” suggests an attempt to look at life from above or beyond it. His reports from snorkeling expeditions make it quite easy for us to think of ourselves as outsiders. The ”Aha” or “Eureka” moment arrived for me on page 31 where Godfrey-Smith informs us that the earliest life forms had “ion channels” in (and sometimes through) them for some kind of electrical flow that came to them compliments of their surrounding saltwater solution we call ocean. Many chemicals disso Godfrey-Smith’s title, “Metazoa,” suggests an attempt to look at life from above or beyond it. His reports from snorkeling expeditions make it quite easy for us to think of ourselves as outsiders. The ”Aha” or “Eureka” moment arrived for me on page 31 where Godfrey-Smith informs us that the earliest life forms had “ion channels” in (and sometimes through) them for some kind of electrical flow that came to them compliments of their surrounding saltwater solution we call ocean. Many chemicals dissolve in salt water, releasing their component electrons (negative charge), protons (positive charge) and neutrons into the watery habitat. Every life form from the start had electrical flow action going on. Eventually electrical flow systems become nerves, message lines and brains. The potential (that’s an electrical pun) was there from the very beginning, and no one knows how early living entities began to feel things. What we do know from square one is that positive means attraction, negative repulsion, so we either move towards something in our vicinity or we move away from it. If we move towards it’s likely to eat or be eaten, and repeated trial and error experience will determine whether we survive and flourish or slowly disappear. Surviving and flourishing leads to better ways to move towards and away from, mouths and digestive systems to better eat and derive energy from those things we prefer, and eventually senses like smell and sight to improve our odds of finding food when we go looking for it, or evading predators when they come round. The building blocks were there from day one. * * * * * * Near the midpoint of the book Godfrey-Smith gives us something really valuable to think about fish: “Their body plan and ways of moving make fish particularly centralized animals, and this is reflected in the vertebrate brain. Here, as elsewhere, surprising disunity can be hidden; the fish brain has two sides, with a good deal of separation. But in comparison to the other bodies we have encountered so far, this is a centered, centralized form. The brain guides whole-body actions—just about all a fish has are whole-body actions, with no arms, claws, or tentacles” (p. 168). Brain and body are one fully compounded entity, so the fish can be said literally to be “of one mind.” We humans cannot. Our digestive tracts have “minds of their own” and determine whether we operate on a metabolism that makes it easy or hard for us to gain weight. We also know that our hearts have “minds of their own” and we can’t help feeling the way we do sometimes. Think about it a little bit and we can go on to say, at least some of us, that our hands have minds of their own, they sometimes do things that surprise us. And many men brag that their penises have minds of their own. We simply are not unified, highly integrated, entities the way fish are. So when we stand before a hard decision we can find ourselves “of two minds” on the question, unable to “make up our minds (pl)” what action to take or what is right to do among the present circumstances. And we often enough create a learning experience for ourselves by deciding in favor of action that later turns sour on us and leads us towards updating a hypothesis and going a different way. A great deal of life, in my experience, has to do with learning to make better decisions in the good old-fashioned trial-and-error way. Fail on, oh ship of state. Everything’s a process, nothing anywhere is sitting still, the process that brought us here began billions of years ago and our individual life processes are now pushing four score and ten (90) years before dust turns to dust again. Godfrey-Smith and colleagues are doing wonderful work giving us new ways to think about and understand ourselves from the outside, so then when we pick our lives back up again we can picture a little better what the world we live in — our home — is all about.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gaenor Bagley

    This is a follow up to Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book about the development of minds in the Octopus family, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. If you have questions about what do we mean by consciousness and the mind, this is an enlightening book. It deals with such questions as: Are there levels of consciousness? Are a sense of presence, a sense of pain or examples of agency evidence of existence of some a mind? The book discusses the view of the development o This is a follow up to Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book about the development of minds in the Octopus family, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. If you have questions about what do we mean by consciousness and the mind, this is an enlightening book. It deals with such questions as: Are there levels of consciousness? Are a sense of presence, a sense of pain or examples of agency evidence of existence of some a mind? The book discusses the view of the development of the mind as a gradual process, developing alongside physical development and in different ways along different branches of the evolutionary tree. If like me you are interested in biology and philosophy, but are an expert in neither, this book will be intriguing and diverting. It poses a number of good questions, not all of them answerable. It reminded me of the small pin prick we humans make up in the development of life on earth and made me challenge any sense that as humans we are separate and different from the animal world. From now on, I will think differently about what might be going on in the head of the trout resting at the edge of the stream, or the deer that often rests in our garden. It is quite an intense read, and I often had to read paragraphs twice as I kept losing the thread, but it really changed my thinking. As in Other Minds, there are some nice anecdotes about the behaviour of his beloved octopuses and a one armed shrimp, but compared to the previous book, there is more theory and more span in terms of numbers of different organisms discussed. I preferred this and I am itching to learn more. I am also looking forward to the next book. This book focuses a lot on the development of the mind, or processes similar to the mind in primitive animals. I would like to continue on this journey with the author to animals closer to home.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam Carter

    This book is a collection of interesting ideas and research that have helped the author think about consciousness, personalised using some stories about his scuba diving adventures. Many of the ideas explored were thought provoking. I thought the discussion on whether consciousness can be disunified in an animal and whether certain features of a nervous system resist immediate translation onto a computer particularly interesting. But none of the books ideas were presented in a way that was parti This book is a collection of interesting ideas and research that have helped the author think about consciousness, personalised using some stories about his scuba diving adventures. Many of the ideas explored were thought provoking. I thought the discussion on whether consciousness can be disunified in an animal and whether certain features of a nervous system resist immediate translation onto a computer particularly interesting. But none of the books ideas were presented in a way that was particularly novel nor were these ideas conducive to an overall compelling story about consciousness. On the one hand this books lacks the coherence and rigour that one might expect from a philosophical/empirical book on consciousness. On the other hand, this book doesn’t promise to provide more than it delivers, a modest, hopeful and well written conversation between science and philosophy. Unfortunately, I can only give this book two stars because I struggle knowing what kind of audience I would recommend this book to. I’ve read better introductions to the problem of consciousness, better introductions to biology and the evolution of animals, and better personal stories about the natural world. Moreover, I am not convinced that trying to integrate all these genres in this book paid off.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dayton

    Really fascinating stuff, compelling as natural history and provocative in its suggestions about the origins and development of consciousness. I find many of his arguments about the relation between animal life and sentience as we know it to be at least intuitively appealing, though not totally convincing. (Not to say I think he's wrong, or strongly prefer an alternate view, I'm just not sure he's right.) And in one of his goals, which was to make the emergence of subjective experience out of un Really fascinating stuff, compelling as natural history and provocative in its suggestions about the origins and development of consciousness. I find many of his arguments about the relation between animal life and sentience as we know it to be at least intuitively appealing, though not totally convincing. (Not to say I think he's wrong, or strongly prefer an alternate view, I'm just not sure he's right.) And in one of his goals, which was to make the emergence of subjective experience out of unfeeling matter appear less mysterious, I think he failed entirely — still seems pretty wild to me. But these are productive and interesting failures, and the author writes with an approachable humility that recognizes the speculative nature of much of this topic. It has certainly spurred me to want to continue reading on the subject, and I have been mining the endnotes for reading suggestions. It also kind of makes me want to go undersea diving and/or rewatch Blue Planet; again, the natural history elements are great and someone could make a cool documentary series out of this book…

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sunshine

    I was excited to win this book as a Giveaway because I enjoyed the author's previous exploration of animal consciousness, "Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness". That book I gave one less star because, for all the amazing insights into octopus and cuttlefish behavior and intelligence it contained, I often had to read the denser philosophical sections twice. Godfrey-Smith has seriously honed his writing in this sequel and developed his poetic side to the point I was excited to win this book as a Giveaway because I enjoyed the author's previous exploration of animal consciousness, "Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness". That book I gave one less star because, for all the amazing insights into octopus and cuttlefish behavior and intelligence it contained, I often had to read the denser philosophical sections twice. Godfrey-Smith has seriously honed his writing in this sequel and developed his poetic side to the point where I had to stop writing down his arresting turns of phrase or I'd be copying half the book. This is definitely a book of philosophy (and I'm not sure who would expect otherwise from the title), but I found it extremely approachable, and if I read a section twice, it was only out of amazement. This and Robert Macfarlane's "Underland: A Deep Time Journey" were my two favorite nonfiction reads of 2020.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Dr. Godfrey-Smith is an Australian scuba diver who was trained as a philosopher of science and is the author of Other minds about the probable sentience of cephalopods. This book is a discussion of the notion that sentience or consciousness was acquired gradually, i.e. not as an all or none phenomenon, by animals as they evolved new kinds of senses and actions over time, and especially as they developed nervous systems. Furthermore, not only did consciousness develop in this way, but it exists t Dr. Godfrey-Smith is an Australian scuba diver who was trained as a philosopher of science and is the author of Other minds about the probable sentience of cephalopods. This book is a discussion of the notion that sentience or consciousness was acquired gradually, i.e. not as an all or none phenomenon, by animals as they evolved new kinds of senses and actions over time, and especially as they developed nervous systems. Furthermore, not only did consciousness develop in this way, but it exists today in various degrees in non-human animals. The strength of the book is the author's fascinating description of various mostly sea creatures and his personal observations of their behaviors. Other less interesting parts of the book that are about theories of consciousness, including mention of neuronal oscillations and the generation of energy fields, are necessarily vague and require some hand-waving in their exposition.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alisa

    This book is a discussion and explanation of whether life forms have consciousness and understanding of things going on around them. It goes back to the beginning of life as it moved onto land from water. Another topic worthy of investigation was whether insects feel pain. Something I had not really considered. In his conclusion, author Peter Godfrey-Smith also introduces the topic of Artificial Intelligence and whether machines can truly be “conscious”. The book is thought provoking and offers This book is a discussion and explanation of whether life forms have consciousness and understanding of things going on around them. It goes back to the beginning of life as it moved onto land from water. Another topic worthy of investigation was whether insects feel pain. Something I had not really considered. In his conclusion, author Peter Godfrey-Smith also introduces the topic of Artificial Intelligence and whether machines can truly be “conscious”. The book is thought provoking and offers possibilities. The jury is out on these topics but it is good to have an expert perspective on the topic.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carroll Nelson Davis

    Godfrey-Smith leads the reader through a speculative and stimulating account of the evolution of sentience and mind, drawing on natural history, philosophy, and a wide field of other disciplines. At times the reader may feel bewildered at where the discussion is going and why, but the author regularly recaps ideas introduced so far and guides the reader back onto the book's intended path; and Godfrey-Smith has a talent for painting pictures with words, so the journey is fascinating and pleasant. Godfrey-Smith leads the reader through a speculative and stimulating account of the evolution of sentience and mind, drawing on natural history, philosophy, and a wide field of other disciplines. At times the reader may feel bewildered at where the discussion is going and why, but the author regularly recaps ideas introduced so far and guides the reader back onto the book's intended path; and Godfrey-Smith has a talent for painting pictures with words, so the journey is fascinating and pleasant.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This book was a really interesting read - definitely not one to pick up after a long day at work. I struggled to wrap my brain around many of the theories presented and moreso the analysis of those theories. For readers of Other Minds, don't expect the same ease of reading and understanding. In saying that this book still held my attention over the 2 weeks it took me to get through it, and I've finished it a fair bit more educated on the relationship between evolution and the formation of the an This book was a really interesting read - definitely not one to pick up after a long day at work. I struggled to wrap my brain around many of the theories presented and moreso the analysis of those theories. For readers of Other Minds, don't expect the same ease of reading and understanding. In saying that this book still held my attention over the 2 weeks it took me to get through it, and I've finished it a fair bit more educated on the relationship between evolution and the formation of the animal mind. Would absolutely recommend for those interested in the philosophy of science.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    I started using my mind when I became older to consider other animals as I swatted, trampled and chewed my way through life. The one armed shrimp seeming to contemplate Godfrey-Smith is one of the most touching scenes I’ve read. And while I struggled to understand some of this - electric field was something I understood and it sparked thoughts but too incomplete - I understood curiosity well enough to appreciate the possibility of an intimate connection.

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