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Scientists peered into an octopus’ brain — and were astonished at what they saw

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Among the smartest animals on Earth, octopuses are unique for being utterly weird in their evolutionary path to developing those smarts. Philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith has called the octopus the closest thing to an alien that we might encounter on Earth, and their bizarre anatomy speaks to this: An octopus’ mind isn’t concentrated in its head but spread throughout its body. Their tentacles are packed with neurons that endow each one with a hyperaware sense of touch, as well as the ability to smell and taste. Marine biologists have remarked that each tentacle sometimes seems like it has a mind of its own. Every octopus is a tactile thinker, constantly manipulating its surroundings with a body so soft it almost seems liquid. 

All of these things are surprising, at least in theory, because scientists have learned to associate intelligence with vertebrates and a tendency to socialize. Octopuses are either asocial or partially social — and all of them are invertebrates. This raises an obvious question: How did octopuses become so smart?

Scientists know surprisingly little about this subject, as a great deal of the research on octopus neuroanatomy up to this point has focused on one species, the European common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) — which has about as many neurons in its body as a dog. Thanks to the scientists behind a new study in the scientific journal Current Biology, we now know more about the neural wiring of four very different types of octopuses (or, in one case, octopus-like animals): the vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), which dwells in the deep sea and is technically neither an octopus nor a squid; the blue-lined octopus (Hapalochlaena fasciata), a venomous creature that keeps to itself while roaming the ocean at night; and “two diurnal reef dwellers,” Abdopus capricornicus and Octopus cyanea (also known as the day octopus). 

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https://mediaproxy.salon.com/width/1200/https://media.salon.com/2021/11/octopus-1122211.jpgOctopus (Getty Images/sko)

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https://www.salon.com/2021/11/23/scientists-peered-into-octopus-brains–and-were-astonished-at-what-they-saw/?utm_source=pocket_discover

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