Octopuses are super-smart ... but are they conscious?

Octopuses are super-smart ... but are they conscious?

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Inky the wild octopus has escaped from the New Zealand National Aquarium. Apparently, he made it out of a small opening in his tank, and suction cup prints indicate he found his way to a drain pipe that emptied to the ocean.Nice job Inky. Your courage gives us the chance to reflect on just how smart cephalopods really are. In fact, they are real smart. Octopus expert Jennifer Mather spent years studying them and found that they not only display the capacity to learn many features of their environment, they will transition from exploration to something approaching play if given the chance.For example, Mather recounts the way two octopuses repeatedly used their water jets to blow an object towards an opposing stream of water in their tank: what she describes as “the aquatic equivalent of bouncing a ball”. Further, as Mather explains, cephalopods are inventive problem solvers. When predating clams, for example, octopuses will use a variety of strategies to remove the meat from the shell, often cycling through strategies – pulling the shell open, chipping the shell’s margin, or drilling through the shell – in a trial-and-error way.It’s not just cephalopods, of course: lots of non-humans are intelligent too. In their own kind of way, lots of machines are smart as well – some are better than the best humans at some of our most complicated games. You can probably sense the question coming next. Does this mean lots of non-humans – octopuses, crows, monkeys, machines – are conscious? And if so, what do we do about that?

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