Chris Hedges: Dystopia, Octopus Intelligence, and What Makes Us Human


Image by damn_unique via Flickr

Dandelion Salad

with Chris Hedges

TheRealNews on Oct 7, 2022

In Ray Nayler’s novel The Mountain in the Sea he explores the marine habitat of a hyperintelligent species of octopus, endowed with its own language and culture, is seized by a global tech corporation determined to harness this non-human intelligence for profit in new systems of artificial intelligence.

This dystopian future world is one of total surveillance, vast polluted dead zones, climate breakdown, a pervasive alienation, frequent targeted assassinations by governments and corporations against those who resist bondage as well as the brutal enslavement of workers, especially those from the Global South.

The lack of empathy we have for each other is reflected in the lack of empathy for other life forms. Our last common ancestor with octopuses is a flatworm that inched along the sea floor 750 million years ago. At the point we and all cephalopods traveled down separate evolutionary pathways.

We already know that Octopuses, with nine brains, including one for each tentacle, and three hearts, are highly intelligent. They can change their color and shape to render themselves indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape. They can recognize individuals outside of their own species, including human faces. They can escape from sealed aquariums and walk around at night.

They have been observed using rocks, broken shells, broken glass, bottle caps and coconut shells as tools and construction material for underwater cities. As Peter Godfrey Smith writes in Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and The Deep Origins of Consciousness:

“Cephalopods are an island of complexity in the sea of invertebrate animals. Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and lies so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. If we can make contact cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”

And yet, as Nayler writes, we know little about them, how they think and communicate, how to interpret an intelligence so foreign to humankind, one that has the potential to rival our own. This lack of connectedness, with our own species and other species, Naylar argues, dooms us.

Joining me to discuss his novel The Mountain in the Sea is Ray Nayler.


From the archives:

Should the Ocean Have Legal Rights? by Tracy Keeling

One thought on “Chris Hedges: Dystopia, Octopus Intelligence, and What Makes Us Human

  1. In recent years, most dystopian novels have seemed implausible to me. When people make predictions about the future, their unstated assumption generally is “if present trends continue.” But I believe present trends will NOT continue. We’re about to hit some major climate tipping points that are mentioned too rarely by the corporate press. So I think we’re headed toward utopia if our culture finds wisdom very soon, or extinction if we don’t. By wisdom I mean caring, sharing, cooperation, etc. Of course, Naylor’s dystopia is plausible if present trends DO continue.

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