If this is philosophy, it works, because Godfrey-Smith is a rare philosopher who searches the world for clues. Knowledgeable and curious, he examines, he admires. His explorations are good-natured. He is never dogmatic, yet startlingly incisive. His refreshing guidance invites us, allowing breathing room, to consider, occasionally to respectfully disagree.
Godfrey-Smith has rolled his obsessions into one book, weaving biology and philosophy into a dazzling pattern that looks a lot like the best of pop science ... Godfrey-Smith relates dramatic stories of mischief made by captive octopuses and spends a delightful chapter exploring cephalopods’ sophisticated color-changing abilities, but this is not narrative nonfiction about the secret life of cephalopods, along the lines of Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus. This is a gifted philosopher and historian of science doing philosophy with octopuses. His project is no less ambitious than to work out the evolutionary origins of subjective experience ... he delivers philosophy wrapped even more firmly in the glittering cloak of popular science. The result is an incredibly insightful and enjoyable book.
At times, the science of this book is daunting, but its study subject is so amazing, it’s hard not to be drawn along, just as Godfrey-Smith was when he extended a hand to an octopus and it reached out to return his touch, echoing his interest.