A fish won’t stare at you, but an octopus will. They will watch you, with their human-like camera eyes, as much as you watch them. They are the smartest animal that has remained in the sea, the only invertebrate – animals with no backbone – with a large brain. Though very early in evolution, they have as many neurons as a dog.
Octopus are hunters and predators, but without much physical defense. Unlike their mollusk ancestors, they did not retain their shells. They can ink the water to escape, and do instantaneous camouflage, and a few are poisonous, but mostly they are mobile, and smart, brains over braun. Two thirds of their brain cells are in their eight arms. They can squeeze thru an opening as small as one of their eyes.
They are brains that swim.
Their squishy bodies, with no hard parts, are pure tasty, and quick, digestible meat. They are hunted by all the predators of the sea. Their life span is short, they die shortly after breeding just once. Life is risky, they go for broke.
They are ingenious at escape, and always try. They have been known to open a jar . . . from the inside . . . to get free. They seem able to recognize particular individual humans. When they escape, they are uncanny picking the moment you aren’t watching them.
“When you work with fish, they have no idea they are in a tank, somewhere unnatural. With octopuses it is totally different. They know they are inside this special place, and you are outside it. All their behaviors are affected by their awareness of captivity.” Peter Godfrey-Smith
They have been found to have perceptual constancy – they understand an object is the same object, from different points of view. They have comparative memory analysis – they can bring past experiences to bear on present situations and decisions . They can navigate maizes. They have curiosity. They will interact with something, even when they know they can’t eat it. They do step by step action, like other animals with consciousness.
They are not very social, but divers have known then to ‘high five’ each other . . . !
They have three hearts and blue green blood.
We are not just consciousness, but also are self-consciousness, we have awareness of ourselves along side our awareness of the world, the eerie sense of two-ness that haunts us. We sense that in them.
“Meeting an octopus, is, in many ways, the closest we are likely to get to meeting an intelligent alien.” Peter Godfrey-Smith
They may BE alien. Scientists have very recently decided that since their genetics and intelligence are so much a leap from their origins that some of their DNA, literally, may have come from outer space.
“the genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity, with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo Sapiens. . . the possibility that cryopreserved octopus eggs arrived in icy bolides [in meteors] several hundred million years ago should not be discounted, as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth circa 270 million years ago.” Steele, et. al. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, March 2018.
“All humans of normal intelligence can learn any language, provided they start at a young age. After the age of five or six, a child can almost never become perfectly fluent in a language, and the ability to learn it can completely disappear soon after that. After puberty, it is almost impossible to perfect the pronunciation of a second language.” Gene, Peoples, and Languages, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.
Do we speak because we think, or do we think because we speak? How does our thinking depend on our language? Did we become smart because we can talk, or can we talk because we are smart?
To Noam Chomsky, we speak because we think, and we think . . . linguistically . . .not because it helps us speak, but because it helps us think. Life is about characters and events, situated in the past, present, and future, and so is our thinking. We function in social groups, with goals of survival, children, cooperation, and deception. We live stories, and so we think stories. Our minds are literary. We are playwrights, and we are one of our characters.
For Chomsky, speech came later, an output of thinking, like a printer is to a computer. Unlike for thinking, there are physical constraints on speech delivery, so for Chomsky, speech is less than thinking. By speaking our minds with others, we expand our knowledge. Thinking and speaking feedback to enlarge our intelligence and our scope of collective action. The rest is history. We vanquished the bigger and stronger Neanderthal. We have taken over the planet.
Noam Chomsky started linguistics in the 1950’s, when the human mind was a blank slate, to be filled up with culture and learning. He noted, however, how easily and fast children acquire language without specific instruction. They acquire the skills of language fare faster than can be taught. He wrote a ground-breaking work, Syntactic Structures, in 1957, and suggested that there must be a ‘language acquisition device’ in the human mind, a universal, innate and hard-wired brain system that unfolds a language ability, in a child, as it is activated by exposure to speech in the early years of childhood.
This was at last a theory of nature and nurture in human development, not one or the other. Chomsky’s theory up-ended the foundations of social science, and launched the field of modern brain science. He is, today, the sixth most cited person in scientific literature . . . of all time . . . just behind William Shakespeare.
People vary in their ability to convert thought into speech. Chomsky, himself, is a master. No one can speak more clearly, more comprehensively, more spontaneously, his very complex thinking about very complex ideas, or enunciate streams of information as they support reasoned conclusions and opinions, than he.
Politics is a different matter.
This great linguist theorist of biological human language is a . . . radical socialist anarchist. Famous for repudiating behaviorism, the theory that psychology is all about learning, he strangely applies behaviorist rationality to human political nature. Blind to the biology of tribalism and political behavior, he forever condemns illogical politics as immoral.
“How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?” Albert Einstein.
In 1939, at Cambridge University, Ludwig Wittgenstein was lecturing on the Philosophy of Mathematics. By this time, with messianic certainty, he was adamant that mathematics was just a lot of linguistic convention, a bunch of tautologies based on definitions and word play. He thought that seeking mathematical proofs, along with the quest to develop a mathematics without inconsistencies, was fruitless. He essentially taught against mathematics.
At the same time, Alan Turing, soon to be one of the great mathematicians of all time, was also at Cambridge, teaching a course in mathematical logic. He was also a student in Wittgenstein’s class. He had proven certain mathematical truths that would eventually be very important for code breaking during the coming war, and for the future of computer programming. He could not agree that being mathematical inconsistent didn’t matter.
“The real harm of a system that contains a contradiction, will not come in unless there is an application, in which case a bridge may fall down or something of the sort.”
Turing and Wittgenstein debated each and every class. The other students were bystanders. Wittgenstein would cancel class if Turing wasn’t going to show up. Turing gradually realized that Wittgenstein considered debate, itself, as meaningless. He eventually stopped going.
The Vienna circle philosopher, Moritz Schlick, told his friend Albert Einstein of his allegiance to Wittgenstein’s thinking, finding all philosophy ‘superfluous’ and all metaphysical thinking meaningless. Schlick was the dean of the Vienna school of ‘logical positivists’, philosophers who tried to believe that only observations, verified by experiment, could be considered true. They did not believe that conceptual theory could lead to truth.
Einstein, like Turing, could not agree. He found the philosophers such as Kant and Mach very helpful. He defended the role of both experiment and theory in scientific advancement. It was not one or the other. All living creatures used thinking in some way! Concepts, as well as observations, theory as well as data, were necessary.
“Physics is an attempt to construct, conceptually, a model of the Real World, as well as its law-governed structure. You will be surprised by Einstein the metaphysician, but in this sense every 4 and 2 legged animal is, de facto, a metaphysician.”
Turing’s legacy is computers, Einstein’s is space travel.
Computers that have logically inconsistent programming will crash.
Space ships, with inaccurate calculations of fuel and trajectory, traveling millions of miles to encircle and land on asteroids, will crash.
The SpaceX robot-guided Falcon 9 rockets ride into sun-synchronous orbit, deliver satellites to geo-synchronous orbit, at the speed of a bullet, and then return, decelerating from 120,000 feet per second to zero feet per second, in a matter of minutes, rotating elegantly from head-first to feet-first, and landing, intact, on a platform 60 square yards in size, floating at sea.
Mathematics, a product independent of human experience, is the pilot.
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” St. Augustine of Hippo.
Everywhere in archeology, in the pyramids of Giza, the stones of Stonehenge, or the observatory of Chichen Itza, humans have worshiped the heavens. But not the sun or the moon or the stars themselves. No, humans have been worshiping their . . . predictability. Humans express reverence for this mysterious truth of nature . . . the past informs the future. And for their gift of memory, humans give gratitude to the . . . gods.
Rocks smash or get smashed. Life can get out of the way.
“Brains are predictive devices, and exploit the fact that recurrence is a fundamental property of the world around us. Experience and memory allow the recall of similar situations an the deployment of previously effective actions.” Nature, Vol 497, May 30, 2013.
Memory recall can be unconscious, but with consciousness, memories can more powerfully be re-lived. This may be what consciousness is for. Consciousness sorts the past, present and future, and with it comes a sense of a continuous, uniform, forward-flowing time. Isaac Newton declared that this time was an absolute. For Einstein, time only existed as a part of SpaceTime, not as an independent entity.
“Only ghosts can hear the sounds of an eternally, uniformly occurring tick-tock. Ask an intelligent man who is not a scholar what time is and you will see that he takes time to be this ghostly tick-tock There is no audible tick-tock everywhere in the world that could be considered as time.” Albert Einstein
For Nicholas Humphrey, the sensation of time is a tool of the mind for organizing memory and experience.
“Suppose indeed that human beings travel through life as in a “time ship” that like a spaceship has a prow and a stern and room inside for us to move around“. A History of the Mind, 2008
“Thus, what happens in the thick moment of conscious sensation, Monet seems to be suggesting, is not that we blend past, present, and future but rather that we take a single moment and hold on to it just as it is – so that each moment is experienced as it happens for longer than it happens. Seeing Red, 2006.
One physicist, Richard A. Muller, suggests that time very much does exist, and moves forward in the ongoing expansion of SpaceTime that has been happening since the Big Bang.
“Just as space is being generated by the Hubble expansion, so time is being created. The coninuous and ongoing creation of new time sets both thearrow of time and its pace. Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as now.” Now, The Physics of Time, 2017.
NOW may be what rides the crest of this wave of new SpaceTime being created by our ever expanding Universe, and we, with our conscious awareness, unique riders on this surf.
There is singing, and then there is singing. Bob Dylan does singing. Listen to ‘House of the rising Sun’, on his very first album.
Malcolm Gladwell speaks of innovators, people who are always different. They wear odd clothes, and in ways that others don’t and wouldn’t. They start fads, but they don’t follow them. They never follow anything. Whatever it is that makes most people want to be like others, and join in with others, they don’t have. It is a life strategy. Think about it. Always being different avoids comparison. You can win when only you are playing.
“What others think about me, or feel about me, that’s so irrelevant. Anymore than it is for me, when I go see a movie, say Wuthering Heights or something, and have to wonder what Lawrence Olivier is really like.”
This is Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan. He insists on being him, whether you like it or not. With a born focus on his own, inner experience, with his trained skills of melody and lyric, he expresses what he finds there. He wants no contrivance, no preconceived, or planned song. And he doesn’t want us to understand him. He doesn’t think we should try to understand him.
“It’s all in the songs.” Be open to what a song does for you, not what you are told to think it means, or what you think it is supposed to mean. Rather than think the song. . .feel it.
“If a song moves, you, that’s all that’s important. I don’t have to know what a song means. I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs. And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means.”
Hey Mr. Tambourine man/ Play a song for me/Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship/My senses have been stripped/My hands can’t feel to grip/My toes too numb to step/wait only for my boot heels to be wandering/I’m ready to go anywhere/ I’m ready for to fade/Into my own parade/Cast your dancing spell my way/I promise to go under it.
“I can write a song in a crowded room. Inspiration can hit you anywhere. It’s magic. It really is beyond me.”
“My songs are personal music, they’re not communal. I wouldn’t want people singing along with me. It would sound funny. I’m not playing campfire meetings.”
My hearts in the highlands with the horses and hounds/Way up in the border country far from the towns/With the twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow/My heart’s in the highlands, can’t see any other way to go
“John Donne, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, ‘the Sestos and Abydos of her breasts. Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests’. I don’t know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.” Nobel Lecture, 2017.
“I’m no poet. Poets drown in lakes.”