Lessons from the Octopus…

The "Intellectual" King of the Sea...

When you think of the “King of the Sea”, the first image surely to pop into your mind is Charley the Tuna and “Chicken of the Sea ™” tuna that’s of course unless your Jessica Simpson, however we will save that for another post.  Here, however with new research at hand, we should start thinking differently about the once lowly octopus as a creature with no bones and a very short life span may end up surprising us after all.

Typically a solitary creature where the females have a life span of only three to four  years, dying after hatching their eggs, octopi have never been looked at that closely from an intellectual stand point as their friends the dolphins have seemed to have garnered the majority of the lime light here.  However with research coming out of Coruna, Spain, it’s clear we need to look at this mollusk a little differently as it might have a lot to teach us about ourselves and our world.

For starters, current research has shown that octopi are “self aware” in that they have a special understanding of their “physical self” as well as the ability to recognize and navigate the unknown making “cognitive” rather than rote decisions.   As to test this, researchers placed octopi in a closed plastic box with only a single hole for escape.  The catch to this is the octopus can compress all of its fleshy body “except” for the cartilage area between its eyes.  So the first hole was made to this dimension, the octopus was placed in the box.  It probed the hole and promptly escaped by compressing through the hole.  Now the researchers made the hole slightly smaller than the cartilage bridge of the subject and  repeated the experiment were again the hole was probed with the arm.  However this time the octopus did not attempt to escape, in fact this same test was repeated over and over again to rule out individual anomalies.

In short the prior experiment showed the animal was “self aware” which led the researchers to yet another cognitive test, that being of the unknown where a subject was placed into an underwater maze of clear tubes with an array of challenges to which the octopi quickly reasoned and adapted showing an ability to “reason” at a high level and learn.   So with all of this said, why isn’t the octopus the king of the sea as from these test it’s clear  that compared to other aquatic friends they poses a significant amount of “wet ware” if you will.

Well it’s here that via analogy we can learn something from our cephalopod friends as they have a relatively short life expectancy, and some species live for as little as six months whereas larger species, may live to five years under suitable circumstances. However, reproduction is a cause of death: as males will only live for a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch due to endocrine secretions from the two optic glands, in essence genetically programmed death.  The point here is the short life span does not allow for the transfer of information from generation to generation, therefore each new hatch starts the world “a new” and must relearn everything from the ground up.  In short nature has built in a biological “kill switch” much as William S. Burroughs added to the “Replicants” in Blade Runner as so they wouldn’t over take the human race.

Thus factoring a short life span with a solitary existence means a break in the information which is where it again becomes interesting as man is living longer, and via technology becoming more social which is creating a logarithmic growth in information exchange.  So what happens when this occurs in another species such as the octopus?  Well it just so happens that off the coast of Capri Italy this is actually taking place in the wild as tourism has affected the ecosystem in such a way that the resident octopi are being forced to cohabitate so information is now spanning generations rather than being lost with each reproduction cycle.  So in short the octopi of Capri are taking part if you will in their own socialized version of the internet and evolving thought information exchange.

Finally what struck me as fascinating is the octopus really doesn’t have a “single” brain it in fact has nine brains distributed throughout its body to form a neuroplasty system which provides for the ability of the nervous system to remodel through changing function, size, structure or chemical profile.  As this is very much like the (technological) neural stores we single brained humans with centralized nervous systems have built in the search to become more social…

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About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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