Octopi have tentacles instead of children

Here is an exhilarating idea from Alison Gopnik: octopi have tentacles instead of children.

Any mind must navigate between exploring and exploiting. Are you flexible and ready to learn (explore), or do you optimise along a path that you have already chosen?

Humans deal with this by behaving differently at different life stages: children explore, adults exploit. We really do become set in our ways as we get older, down to the rate at which neurons connect. We fix our understanding of the world in our early years, and spend adulthood taking advantage of it.

Octopi do not have long childhoods. So they deal with the explore/exploit differently: by having different brains for each

octos actually have divided brains. So they have one brain in the center in their head, and then they have another brain or maybe eight brains in each one of the tentacles. And if you actually watch what the octos do, the tentacles are out there doing the explorer thing. They’re getting information, figuring out what the water is like. And then the central head brain is doing things like saying, OK, now it’s time to squirt. Now it’s time to get food. So, my thought is that we could imagine an alternate evolutionary path by which each of us was both a child and an adult. So imagine if your arms were like your two-year-old, right? So that you are always trying to get them to stop exploring because you had to get lunch. I suspect that may be what the consciousness of an octo is like.

Written on April 26, 2021