Thursday, August 14, 2008

Research: The Octopus God

Octopuses are smarter than they should be. Every other invertebrate registers as static on an EEG. An Octopus generates the kind of slow looping patterns you'd see in a dog or maybe even a primate.
Na Kika- The octopus-god of the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati). His many arms served him well when he shoved up the earth from the bottom of the sea to form the islands, the beaches and the rocks. He is the son of Na Atibu and Nei Teuke, the first beings.
Octopuses are among the very few of their charges that Aquarium staff will give names to. They know them as escape artists: A tank that was full of fish yesterday is empty this morning and there's a wet trail from a sealed octopus tank across the room and back again. And a much fatter very self satisfied octopus. In zoos the escape artists are orangutans another of nature's anti-social loners.
The Hawaiʻian creation myth relates that the present cosmos is only the last of a series, having arisen in stages from the wreck of the previous universe. In this account, the octopus is the lone survivor of the previous, alien universe.
Octopuses have a unique flexible brain wrapped around their esophagus. It has complicated whorls and ridges and a very complex visual cortex. It needs to be; Octopuses apparently coordinate the movements of their two legs and six arms by sight.
Kanaloa - The Hawaiian Creator, the equivalent of Tangaroa from Maori myths. He is also the god of the underworld, who can teach magic. He appears in the shape of an octopus.

They learn. They remember things. They make plans. They play.
The Samoan demigod Tae-o-Tagaloa is born of a woman part human and part fe'e ("octopus"), hence he is part god and part human.[13] Magic connected with the number eight throughout southern Polynesia may derive from the eight-armed octopus. The Maui figure, sometimes represented as a son of the Tagaroa family, is "eight-headed" in Tahiti, "eighth born" in Samoa.[14] In the Marquesas, according to Handy, "an octopus, or if one could not be obtained, a taro root with eight rootlets was used ceremonially in certain rites."
The tragedy of the octopus is that it has enormous potential brain power and no time to develop it. A long lived Octopus lasts at most five or six years. They breed once and then whither up and die.

But what if that process could be stopped, the biological kill switch blocked?

UPDATE: I sourced the passage that in the Hawai'ian creation myth 'the present cosmos is only the last of a series, having arisen in stages from the wreck of the previous universe. In this account, the octopus is the lone survivor of the previous, alien universe.'

It's from Oceanic Mythology by Roland B. Dixon published in 1916. Dixon appears to have been an odd egg, 'Even though Dixon was looked upon by fellow anthropologists as a very knowledgeable man, he was looked up to by very few because of his impersonal nature. Alfred Tozzer, one of his Harvard colleagues, spoke of Dixon: “he was rigid and unbending in his ideas and he shrank from personal contacts”' Very much in the classic Lovecraftian model of the aesthetically sensitive, vaguely hysterical, obsessed academic investigator. A life-long New Englander of course.

Here's the relevant passage:

One of the most curious and interesting of Polynesian cosmogonic myths is that found in Hawaii, which, although differing in several important particulars from those just outlined, must yet be considered as belonging to the same general type. In the very beginning, however, a striking variation occurs, in that although we have the source of all things from chaos, it is a chaos which is simply the wreck and ruin of an earlier world. "And so, creation begins in the origin of a new world from the shadowy reflex of one that is past. . . .

"Unsteadily, as in dim moon-shimmer,
From out Makalii's night-dark veil of cloud
Thrills, shadow-like, the prefiguration of the world to be."

The drama of creation, according to the Hawaiian account, is divided into a series of stages, and in the very first of these life springs from the shadowy abyss and dark night. There is here, however, no long series of antecedent, vaguely personified entities ranged in genealogical sequence, but the immediate appearance of living things. At first the lowly zoophytes and corals come into being, and these are followed by worms and shellfish, each type being declared to conquer and destroy its predecessor, a struggle for existence in which the strongest survive. Parallel with this evolution of animal forms, plant life begins on land and in the sea--at first with the algae, followed by seaweeds and rushes. As type follows type, the accumulating slime of their decay raises the land above the waters, in which, as spectator of all, swims the octopus, the lone survivor from an earlier world.

Octo-Dancing from Reza Dolatabadi on Vimeo.


Larry Gambone said...

"The Hawaiʻian creation myth relates that the present cosmos is only the last of a series, having arisen in stages from the wreck of the previous universe. In this account, the octopus is the lone survivor of the previous, alien universe."

Hail Cthulhu!

Geekwad said...

Many squid and cuttlefish share the great intelligence and the toroidal brain. I am fascinated by that brain. I want to know more.

I suspect a lot of their intelligence owes to their chromatophores which can be consciously controlled, and of course as you mentioned, to their impressive visual system, which is also necessary for their ability to camouflage. They also need to be smart enough to figure out what their local area looks like from a removed point of view. I know humans who can't read a map -- they could not do this!!

Being a billboard has probably also stimulated their social and communication abilities (and hence requirements, as sexual selection ramps up the pressure over time) which all take lots of powerful brain.

I keep rats, which are quite intelligent (with some individuals being blessed with apparently demonic levels of awareness) and yet are elderly at only two years. Their entire conscious existence is compressed into a span less than the average cell phone contract. They go through infancy, childhood, and adolescence while I'm on the same box of detergent. Meanwhile they are integrating with their larger community. They form individual relationships with everyone they know. They are constantly learning from their environment, and actively testing it. It is recognizably a life, in the sense that people mean when they tell me to get one. They raise a few litters, pass on what they have learned and then die in less than 40 months. I think about that a lot.

Cliff said...

Glad to see you back Larry, and Geekwad thanks for dropping by.

I think the biggest change coming to the biological sciences will be a fundamental reevaluation of just how intelligent an animal is or can be.

The trend has been a steadily growing recognition that we've underestimated the intelligence of everything from primates to birds I expect that to continue.

Matthew The Astrologer said...

And yet they're very, um, not cute by human standards. People love hearing that chimps or their dog or a bird may be brighter than generally credited, but an intelligent octopus tends to give a lot of people the willies.

I can't help but think this says something about our lack or preparedness to interact with any intelligent alien species, Star Trek be damned.

Unknown said...

It depends on the human. My girlfriend thinks they are incredibly cute.

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