Monday, February 4, 2013

Octopi and The Psychedelic Color Language

If you were an octopus, would you view the world from eight different points of view? Nine?
By Alvin Powell

The answer may depend on how many brains an octopus has, or, to say it another way, whether the robust bunches of neurons in its coiling, writhing, incredibly handy arms bestow on each of them something akin to a brain. Is an octopus a creature ruled by a single consciousness centered in its large brain, or, by dint of its nerve-infused legs, a collaborative, cooperative, but distributed mind?
The idea of a distributed mind among animals is not new, according to Peter Godfrey-Smith, who focuses his efforts on the philosophy of science. Experiments indicate that when a bird learns a skill using only a single eye, and is later tested while being forced to use the other eye, the learning does not transfer well.
“This suggests that animal minds lack the cohesiveness that humans have,” said Godfrey-Smith, a philosophy professor at Harvard. “It may have something to do with consciousness. Maybe it acts as a unifying tool.”
Godfrey-Smith has been swimming with octopuses for years, diving in and around Sydney Harbour during summer breaks in his native Australia. It is only recently, however, that he noticed that supremely camouflaged octopuses were pretty common there.
“For years, I was swimming and diving in this area of Sydney Harbour. I had an idea they were there, but didn’t know what to look for,” Godfrey-Smith said.
Once he understood what to look for, he realized octopuses were all around. They’re so well-camouflaged, he said, it is best to look not for the animal, but for their dens. They often collect bits of marine debris — broken glass, tiles, and other hard substances — and put them out front.
“They’re watching us even if we’re not watching them,” Godfrey-Smith said.
Intrigued, he looked into the scientific literature and was struck by how little was known about octopuses. Octopuses and other cephalopods such as squids are thought to be the most intelligent invertebrates, but the nature of their intelligence is still a mystery.
Octopuses have large nervous systems, centered around relatively large brains. But more than half of their 500 million neurons are found in the arms themselves, Godfrey-Smith said. This raises the question of whether the arms have something like minds of their own. Though the question is controversial, there is some observational evidence indicating that it could be so, he said. When an octopus is in an unfamiliar tank with food in the middle, some arms seem to crowd into the corner seeking safety while others seem to pull the animal toward the food, Godfrey-Smith explained, as if the creature is literally of two minds about the situation.
There may be other explanations for the observations. But whatever the answer, it seems likely that octopus intelligence is quite different from that of humans and, as researchers ponder the broader meaning of intelligence, may be as different as is likely to be encountered, short of finding it on other planets.
That’s because other creatures that are believed intelligent — such as dolphins, chimpanzees, some birds, elephants — are relatively closely related to humans. They’re all on the vertebrate branch of the tree of life, so there’s a chance the intelligence shares at least some characteristics. Octopuses, however, are invertebrates. Our last common ancestor reaches back to the dim depths of time, 500 million to 600 million years ago. That means octopus intelligence likely evolved entirely separately and could be very different from that of vertebrates.
“Octopuses let us ask which features of our minds can we expect to be universal whenever intelligence arises in the universe, and which are unique to us,” Godfrey-Smith said. “They really are an isolated outpost among invertebrates. … From the point of view of the philosophy of the mind, they are a big deal.”
They’re a big enough deal that Godfrey-Smith has begun collaborating with other scientists in both fieldwork and lab experiments. Though not trained as a biologist, he has participated in experiments with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science aimed at finding out how well an octopus can learn just by observing, which is a controversial question. Godfrey-Smith said the test subjects are the same gloomy octopuses he sees in the harbor, captured and then released after about a week when the tests are concluded. The first test, learning how to open a jar, is being completed, he said. Though there have been some “glimmers” of observational learning, the results are so far inconclusive. He is eager to repeat the tests next summer, modifying the problem the octopuses have to solve.
He also has explored the idea that octopuses — thought to be solitary creatures — may interact socially. During his dives, he has seen two octopuses living just two feet apart for more than a week in Sydney Harbour and has visited a diver down the coast who has found a group of octopuses living together and interacting.
His time in the water has turned up another scientific dividend, observations of the rarely seen process of the creatures mating. In a recent scientific paper, Godfrey-Smith described what he saw, identifying two strategies by the male octopus, one at close range and the second at a distance, where the male extends a sperm packet at the end of an arm. The second strategy seems to be employed when the male is smaller than the female.
Though the exact reason behind the two strategies remains unknown, Godfrey-Smith suspects it may be due to another major difference between humans and octopuses: Females, it seems, sometimes eat the males.

Octopi and The Psychedelic Color Language

These interesting findings highly correlate with what psychedelic researcher and ethnobotonist Terence McKenna had to say about the way octopi think and where humans are heading.
"I believe that the totemic image for the future is the octopus. This is because the squids and octopi have perfected a form of communication that is both psychedelic and telepathic; a model for the human communications of the future. In the not-too-distant future men and women may shed the monkey body to become virtual octopi swimming in a silicon sea."

The problem: common language.

Culture replaces authentic feeling with words 
As an example of this, imagine an infant lying in its cradle, and the window is open, and into the room comes something, marvelous, mysterious, glittering, shedding light of many colors, movement, sound, a transformative hierophany of integrated perception and the child is enthralled and then the mother comes into the room and she says to the child, "that's a bird, baby, that's a bird," instantly the complex wave of the angel peacock iridescence transformative mystery is collapsed, into the word.

All mystery is gone, the child learns 'this is a bird', and by the time we're five or six years old all the mystery of reality has been carefully tiled over with words
"This is a bird, this is a house, this is the sky", and we seal ourselves in within a linguistic shell of disempowered perception, and what the psychedelics do is they burst apart this cultural envelope of confinement and return us really to the legacy and birthright of the organism.

What these psychedelics do is they dissolve cultural conditioning
Cultural conditioning is like software, but beneath the software is the hardware of brain and organism and by dissolving the cultural conditioning to speak English, German, Swahili or whatever, then one returns to this ur-sprach, this primal language of the animal body and can explore the real dimension of feeling that culture has a tendency to cut us off from.

The Solution: 'Visible Language'?

What if language were visible? 
If we could see language, if language were a project of understanding that used the eyes for the extraction of meaning rather than the ears, it would be a kind of telepathy. There would be both a fusion of the observer with the object observed, and with the person communicated with. The place in nature where something like this has actually evolved is in the cephalopods.
They can also, because they're soft-bodied, fold and unfold and reveal and conceal, very rapidly, different parts of their body. So they're capable of a visual dance of communication.

Octopi have chromataphores all over the exterior of their bodies. Chromataphores are cells that can change color
Now many people know that octopi can change color but they think its for camouflage, for blending in with the environment, this is not at all the case. The reason octopi change colors in a very large repertoire of stripes, dots, blushes, travelling shades and tonal shifts is because this is for them a channel of linguistic communication.

In other words they don't transduce their linguistic intentionality into small mouth noises like we do
Small mouth noises which then move as sound across space in the form of vibrations of the air. Rather, they actually change their appearance in accordance with their linguistic intent.

What this boils down to is they physically become their meaning. 

How can an octopus have a 'private thought'?
In fact the only way an octopus can experience a private thought is to release a cloud of ink into the water into which it can retreat briefly and hide its mental nakedness from its followers. This kind of biologically intrinsic wiring into the potential of language is something that we may be able to mimic and achieve using psychedelic drugs as the inspiration for the direction given to a virtual reality development program. In other words we might be able to create kinds of visibly beheld syntax that would be the human equivalent of the dance of light, texture and positioning that constitutes the grammar and syntax of squids and octopi.

(Terence McKenna in 'Visible Language and Virtual Reality')

The majority of conflicts between people start due a misinterpretation of tone of voice. Could humans possibly evolve and develop a more efficient form of communication similar to the octopi? What are your thoughts? 


  1. Made me think we have 2 arms, 2 hemispheres. Maybe ur on time something, n arms or whatever r linked to brain n hemisphere n abiliies. Dogs have 4 legs n believed to be telekinetic, maybe that's a job of there hemisphere, but not physical or we could c it

  2. I enjoyed this post and was a good summation of the whole octopus/visible language rap.

    Perhaps a step in the right direction is something akin to this technology? At the moment it only works in binary, but if this can be used to communicate then I feel it has the potential to allow a higher level of communication.

  3. "Octopus" is a Greek word, not a Latin one. Therefore, the plural is "octopodes."

  4. holy shit.....on my 21st I tripped out, listened to the universe and saw it was a giant orange octopus and we were in it with many multiverses that can be accessed through membranes! wahhhhh