…well, octopuses, as a motif, swam into my life during the process of writing first, we make the beast beautiful. From all kinds of angles.
You see, my book is about anxiety.
Anxiety is complex. So are octopuses (and yes, it’s “octopuses”, not “octopi”, the latter utilising a Roman suffix, which you can’t do on a Greek word). They have nine brains, three hearts and blue blood. They have 500 million neurons…far more than any other animal in their species, with more than half distributed though their tentacles. In an odd bit of symmetry, humans have the same number of neurons in their gut, which is where we’re said to emote from.
Anxious people have, at their heart, a yearning to connect. An intensity. A heart that aches to engage. The funny thing about octopuses is that they are actually very connected to humans. They are curious about us. And, a bunch of recent research (and books – see below) suggest that their “consciousness” is not as removed from our own as we originally thought. Our most recent common ancestor existed about 600 million years ago. They were small wormlike creatures that lived in the sea. We branched off from there – us into sentient mammals, octopuses into cephalopods, which are not known for being sentient.
And, yet, octopuses interact with humans like dogs and dolphins. They form relationships with us. They like to “hug” us, literally tasting us with their tentacles to distinguish between different people. In the words of biology-specialising philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith, “If we can make contact with 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.”
The anxious journey is one that entails intellectual honesty and rigour. Octopuses play and perform tricks on humans. They can out-wit researchers, undoing boxes, escaping mazes, hiding and derailing experiments.
While I was writing the book, I saw several in rock pools up on Sydney’s Northern beaches. I found them mesmerising. Check out this video.
My anxious journey has seen the number eight emerge repeatedly. Particularly the number 108. 108 is an auspicious number in several Eastern traditions and is a mathematically pure and abundant number. Plus, the diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth… As you hopefully know, octopuses have eight tentacles.
I dated a fisherman while writing this book. The relationship took me into my most challenging pain…as only the deepest love can. A lover holds up a mirror to our stuff, right? The octopus on the cover is a gyotaku print that he created.
If you want to learn more about octopuses check out these great, mindful and very recent releases:
- Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, by the scuba-diving, biology-specializing philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith, originally of Australia and now professor at New York’s City University.
- The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, a New York Times bestseller.
Or head to a rock pool and wait patiently.
Have you had an interaction with an occy? Where?