What makes this book shimmer and shine is Godfrey-Smith’s exploration of marine life (drawing on his vast and extensive diving knowledge and field experience) to illuminate the ways in which the animal mind works—and the thoughts and experiences that give it shape ... He does this in vivid and scenic prose ... The book is filled with riveting anecdotes and research, interspersed with charming and informative illustrations of various time periods such as the Ordovician (when plants first arrive on land) so we can imagine just for a moment what a sampling of inhabitants during that period looked like ... Godfrey-Smith has an elegant and exacting way of urging along our curiosity by sharing his own questions about animal cognizance ... But perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia ... Metazoa brings an extraordinary and astute look at our own mind’s essential link to the animal world.
... the scuba-diving historian and philosopher of science tackles these questions with eloquent boldness ... Godfrey-Smith recounts close encounters with marine fauna, gleaned from years of diving off the Australian coast. These have an electric immediacy: He’s often as much observed as observing ... The passages in Metazoa on those dynamic features, such as synchronized 'electrical breathing' in neurons, are gripping—as are the discussions of pain in hermit crabs, split-brain cognition and REM sleep in cuttlefish. The sheer number of exploratory pathways, the author admits, give the book a 'tentacular' form. I also found one or two of the philosophical passages somewhat viscous—like mud-wrestling an octopus.
This is no dry, academic treatise; Godfrey-Smith takes care to keep the work accessible by summarizing key points, explaining the work of relevant scientists and philosophers, and punctuating the text with memorable facts. The book is enlivened by the wit and affection with which the author often regards his subjects of study ... An astonishing range of creatures are considered and a fascinating argument advanced about how evolutionary innovations can give rise to animal minds ... This is popular science writing at its best, offering uncanny reach to a swath of readers with varying degrees of interest in evolutionary biology and philosophy of mind.
Godfrey-Smith mixes his theoretical themes with first-hand accounts of often surprising animal behaviour ... Godfrey-Smith brings on a large cast of other animal characters, including sponges with glass skeletons, hermit crabs that place poisonous anemones on their shells, and blind cave fish that steer by sonar. At the same time, his philosophical target has also expanded. This time he is aiming to understand not just intelligent behaviour, but also consciousness itself ... Godfrey-Smith holds that we find ourselves in these theoretical tangles only because we are thinking about consciousness in the wrong way. Consciousness isn’t a matter of some supercharged brain processes somehow turning the lights on. Rather it hinges on the existence of subjects, integrated beings for whom brain processes provide a perspective on the world ... Along with Peter Godfrey-Smith, I’m not inclined to insist on anything. But my own bet is that he is right.
... a rich look at the existence of consciousness in the animal kingdom ... [Godfrey-Smith's] evolutionary approach is rich in biological detail and nicely complemented by vivid details of the animals he encounters while scuba diving ... Godfrey-Smith’s passion both for the philosophical subject he tackles and the organisms he visits and discusses comes through clearly in his fascinating work.