Octopus Links

The octopus is smarter than the dolphin

Learning from the Octopus by Rafe Sagarin (1971-2015)

I bought this book in 2012 and LOVED it. And then gave it to someone else, so I decided to buy another copy and don’t regret it at all. It’s the first book to alert me about how much we can learn from nature — not just via the usual biomimicry takes on designing objects, but with respect to how organizations (i.e. “organisms”) are designed. The central thesis of the book is that the octopus is a special kind of creature because it’s head isn’t as smart as the sum of its independently sensate and semi-sentient tentacles.

Sagarin’s book speaks to how I believe that being the boss is about being as dumb as you can be while enabling your tentacles to do what they do best, independent from you. And to try to do the minimal coordination needed so that the tentacles don’t get stuck in each other’s way (i.e. “clear swim lanes”).

Example of how an octopus uses coconut shells as a means to armor themselves — as an adaptive behavior learned on their own — makes you want to Learn from the Octopus.

More on the Octopus

2001 Nature article speaks to how the arms are brains+actuators:

By stimulating nerves in amputated octopus arms, or just by tickling the skin near them, Binyamin Hochner, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and colleagues made the limbs reach outwards just as an intact octopus reaches for a piece of food.

“We saw autonomous control of the entire arm,” says Hochner. This and other simple experiments demonstrate that the nervous control program for reaching is written into the arm’s nerves, the team believe.

2008 Telegraph article highlights a theory that there are 6 “arms” and 2 “legs”:

A study by scientists at Sea Life centres across Europe found that the invertebrates move across the sea bed using their two rearmost limbs, leaving the other six free for the important business of feeding.

Researchers who observed the creatures in action found they push off with the “legs” and then employ the other tentacles to pump themselves along.

2015 NYT and BBC spotlights how one arm is delegated to take the lead temporarily:

This revealed the surprising simplicity of their motion; they just choose which arm to use to push themselves along.

Apparently all arms exert the same amount of force and they move completely arhythmically.

2019 Science Daily on how it is proven that the brain isn’t needed for the arms to communicate with each other:

“The octopus’ arms have a neural ring that bypasses the brain, and so the arms can send information to each other without the brain being aware of it,” Sivitilli said. “So while the brain isn’t quite sure where the arms are in space, the arms know where each other are and this allows the arms to coordinate during actions like crawling locomotion.

Of the octopus’ 500 million neurons, more than 350 million are in its eight arms. The arms need all that processing power to manage incoming sensory information, to move and to keep track of their position in space. Processing information in the arms allows the octopus to think and react faster, like parallel processors in computers.”

And of course there is the video of how an Octopus collects coconut shells thrown out from a nearby resort to protect itself by creating its own armor: