Sunday, 6 November 2011

Octopus Cognition

A wonderful article at Orion Magazine on the consciousness and cognitive abilities of octopuses (HT Sentient Developments). 
Octopuses have the largest brains of any invertebrate. Athena’s is the size of a walnut—as big as the brain of the famous African gray parrot, Alex, who learned to use more than one hundred spoken words meaningfully. That’s proportionally bigger than the brains of most of the largest dinosaurs.

Another measure of intelligence: you can count neurons. The common octopus has about 130 million of them in its brain. A human has 100 billion. But this is where things get weird. Three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are not in the brain; they’re in its arms.
“Octopuses,” writes philosopher Godfrey-Smith, “are a separate experiment in the evolution of the mind.” And that, he feels, is what makes the study of the octopus mind so philosophically interesting.

“I think consciousness comes in different flavors,” agrees Mather. “Some may have consciousness in a way we may not be able to imagine.”

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Bees, Meditation and Biofuel

There is an interesting post by Phil Hart at The Oil Drum, inspired by Mark Magill's Meditation and the Art of Bee Keeping.  The piece explores an analogy between the production of ethanol and the creation of honey by bees. 
One calculation has it that 450g (1 lb) of honey represents visits to two million flowers.

So the next time you're spreading a teaspoon of honey on your toast, think about the visits tens of thousands of bees made to a hundred thousand flowers, just to bring you something you can devour in a couple of mouthfuls.

And the next time you put a gallon of gas in your tank, think about just how much effort and energy is required to replace it with a gallon of biofuel grown, gathered and processed from crops.
The argument is that one should, pretty much, value them similarly, although this might - albeit this is not the article's aim - entail rejecting the human use of both.