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Work by Dominic Sivitilli in the David Gire Lab is the focus of an article on the NOVA website:

Thinking is for suckers, but if you’re an octopus, suckers are for thinking

Octopuses “think” with neurons so distributed throughout their bodies that sometimes the left hand literally doesn’t know what the…left hand is doing.

 
Like humans, octopuses are incredibly intelligent. But an octopus’ mind is about as alien to the human mind as the human mind is…well, to an alien’s.

“I like to [ask], ‘How are they intelligent?’ rather than ‘How intelligent are they?’” says Dominic Sivitilli, a behavioral neuroscientist and astrobiologist at the University of Washington who presented a new octopus cognition model at the AbSciCon 2019 conference.

The model is designed to illustrate how octopuses process information, and Sivitilli believes it could eventually provide insight into how non-human intelligence evolved here—and possibly elsewhere in the universe.

Octopuses have problem-solving abilities similar to those observed in corvids (the group of birds that includes crows, ravens, and jays), parrots, and primates. But the way these eight-armed enigmas process information is completely different. Unlike humans and other vertebrates, which centralize mental processing in the brain, octopuses and other cephalopods use neurons throughout their suckers, arms, and brain to understand their world.

“What we’re looking at, more than what’s been looked at in the past, is how sensory information is being integrated in this network while the animal is making complicated decisions,” said David Gire, lead researcher on the project and neuroscientist at the University of Washington, in a statement.

The unique nature of octopus intelligence has sparked a rather peculiar debate recently: A group of researchers (not associated with Gire and Sivitilli’s study) has suggested that an octopus’ mind might seem so foreign because it may be alien. The hypothesis, published in 2018, states that octopus evolution may have arisen, in part, because of a retrovirus (a type of RNA virus) delivered to Earth by an asteroid during the Cambrian explosion about 541 million years ago.

But as alien as an octopus’ intelligence may seem, Sivitilli is careful to point out that they’re “definitely, based on the evidence in front of us, related to us at some point in our history.”

“I do not think that octopuses are aliens,” he says.

Read the entire article here.