The Octopus & Evolution of Intelligent Life with Peter Godfrey-Smith, Zoom

Join Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith on a fascinating journey to the depths of the ocean to learn how nature became aware of itself


Mar 7th 2021 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm


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In this lecture Peter Godfrey-Smith brings his parallel careers as a philosopher of science and a scuba diver together to tell a bold new story of how nature became aware of itself. Mammals and birds are widely seen as the smartest creatures on earth. But one other branch of the tree of life has also sprouted higher intelligence: the cephalopods, consisting of the squid, the cuttlefish, and above all the octopus. New research shows that these marvelous creatures display remarkable gifts, with each of their tentacles even capable of thinking for itself. What does it mean that higher intelligence on earth has evolved not once but twice? And that the mind of the octopus is nonetheless so different from our own? Combining science and philosophy with first hand accounts of his cephalopod encounters, Godfrey-Smith shows how primitive organisms bobbing in the ocean began sending signals to each other and how these early forms of communication gave rise to the advanced nervous systems that permit cephalopods to change colours and human beings to speak. By tracing the problem of consciousness back to its roots and comparing the human brain to its most alien and perhaps most remarkable animal relative this lecture sheds new light on one of our most abiding mysteries.

Speaker: Peter Godfrey-Smith is a professor in the School of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Sydney.

He grew up in Sydney, Australia with an undergraduate degree is from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in philosophy from UC San Diego. He taught at Stanford University between 1991 and 2003, and then combined a half-time post at the Australian National University and a visiting position at Harvard for a few years. He then took up a full-time position at Harvard and was Professor of Philosophy there from 2006 to 2011, before moving to the CUNY Graduate Center (2011 to 2017). He began a half-time position in the HPS program at the University of Sydney in 2015. This became a full-time position in 2017.

His main research interests are in the philosophy of biology and the philosophy of mind. He also works on pragmatism (especially John Dewey), general philosophy of science, and some parts of metaphysics and epistemology. He's written six books, Complexity and the Function of Mind in Nature (Cambridge, 1996), Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Chicago, 2003),  Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection (Oxford, 2009), which won the 2010 Lakatos Award, Philosophy of Biology, (Princeton, 2014), Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (FSG, 2016), and Metazoa: Animal Life and the Both of the Mind (FSG and William Collins, 2020).

Image: Plate 54 from Kunstformen der Natur, one of the 100 pop science biology illustrations published from 1899 – 1904 in Leipzig by Ernst Haeckel through Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts.