Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Public Museum, Sy Montgomery, “The Soul of an Octopus”

On Friday evening, June 12th, we went to the Milwaukee Public Museum for the first of a new series of lectures, to be called “Science on Tap.” This inaugural program featured author Sy Mongomery, who would be speaking about her experiences working with Giant Pacific Octopuses that formed the basis of her new book, The Soul of an Octopus.

Given her lengthy career and past books such as Spell of the Tiger, about the tigers of Chunderbund, Bangladesh, and Journey of the Pink Dolphins, about the dolphins of the Amazon, I was expecting a rather more weather-beaten figure, someone like Jane Goodall, perhaps, but was surprised by her slim and elegant figure. She also doesn’t “lecture” in the conventional sense. Her style is very intimate and confiding, as though we were all gathered in someone’s living room, rather than a lecture hall with huge close-ups of octopuses projected on screen. This manner very well suits her fascinating and very personal narrative of interacting with the octopuses she has met, giving us no room to doubt that they were each individuals, and very intelligent, though wonderfully alien ones at that.

The octopus is stranger than I had imagined. A fifty-pound octopus can squeeze through a hole the diameter of an orange, if not smaller. Each of its hundreds of suckers can lift thirty pounds. The octopus brain can have seventy lobes, and some of its tentacles may be capable of not only independent action, but of having independent “personality” (as though your left hand were shy, but your right hand was outgoing--). The octopus tastes with all of its skin, but apparently does not hear. The eye of the octopus does not see color, but the octopus not only changes color depending on its emotions, it can change color and pattern to camouflage itself, matching its backgrounds. It is hard to imagine a creature more totally unhuman, yet octopuses are capable of recognizing and bonding with individual human beings.

Ms. Montgomery gave a very entertaining and informative talk, and I will definitely be reading her book (as soon as Georgie is done with it--). This was an excellent kickoff to the “Science on Tap” series, which is to include four programs a year, with the next one, on plate tectonics, to be in October.
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Tags: science
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