Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus is a perfect book for just about any time. But when you’re stuck at home, Montgomery’s exploration of what we know about the octopus – and what we can imagine about them – is poignant, beautiful and mind-opening. Take, for instance, the video (above) of an octopus appearing to dream.
In the middle of the book Montgomery tells us that an octopus’s tentacles have “personalities”. One can be shy, while another is more daring, and a third, inquisitive. And because the creature has most of its neurons in its tentacles, it does most of what we would term thinking in this part of its body.
Montgomery then asks the fascinating question: If each tentacle has its own personality, does each one also have its own sense of self?
A lockown may not be the best time to meet an octopus, either at an aquarium or while diving, but the joys of the internet make it possible to discover all there is to know about this fascinating animal – so alien to us, and yet so intelligent – from the comforts of our sanitised home. (Indeed, 2020 brought us Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher.)
Here’s how octopuses camouflage themselves in the deep, mimicking other creatures.
And if you want to hear from Montgomery directly, there’s this lecture at the New England Acquarium where she met the octopus she got to know best.