What it's like to share consciousness with an octopus

Marine biologist/US police brutality survivor/science fiction writer Peter Watts, in a brilliant vignette that, I hope, will be part of a novel someday:

"Those arms." His Adam's apple bobbed in his throat. "Those fucking crawly arms. You know, that thing they call the brain— it's nothing, really. Ring of neurons around the esophagus, basically just a router. Most of the nervous system's in the arms, and those arms… every one of them is awake…"

I gave him time.

"People talk about the eyes," he continued after a bit. "You know, how amazing it is that something without a backbone could have eyes like ours, eyes that put ours to shame even. And the way they change color, right? The way they blend into the background. Eyes gotta figure front and center in that too, you'd think."

"You'd think."

Guo shook his head. "It's all just— reflex. I mean, maybe that little neuron doughnut has its own light on somewhere, you'd think it would pretty much have to, but I guess the interface didn't access that part. Either that or it just got— drowned out…"

"The arms," I reminded him.

"They don't see." He closed his eyes. "They don't hear. There's this vague distant sense of light I guess, if you really focus you can sort of squint down the optic nerve, but mostly it's— chemical. Taste and touch. Suckers by the fucking hundreds, like tongues, and they're always moving. Can you imagine what it's like to have a thousand tongues squirming across your body, pulsing in your guts and your muscles, sprouting out of your skin in, in clumps like— hungry parasites…"

I shook my head.

"Now multiply that by eight." Guo shuddered. "Eight blind squirming things, each one rotten with taste and smell and, and touch. The density of the sensory nerves, it's— obscene. That's the only way I can describe it. And every one of those arms is self-aware."

Colony Creature

(via Dan Hon)

(Image: Pinnoctopus cordiformis, Common octopus, Brian Gratwicke, CC-BY)