Uplifting octupi: limitations?

Twink (neptune@mars.superlink.net)
Thu, 20 Nov 1997 19:28:47 -0500 (EST)

At Date: Thu, 20 Nov 1997 08:12:20 -0500 Michael Lorrey
><retroman@together.net> wrote:
>>I just saw a show on the Discovery channel on octopi. They showed that
>>wild octopi are freindly and even gregarious with divers. Squid, however
>>are rather predatory and only see a diver as another meal to drag down
>>to the depths.

I was reading _Invertabrates_ by Brusca and Brusca, a very large and
good book which has a small but informative section on cephalopods,
last night. It seems all cephalopods are carnivores. This should not
be viewed as a problem, since so are many human pets (dogs, cats)
and one variant of humanity (Eskimoes).

The octopus has the largest brain of all the cephalopods and from the
diagrams and text (they did not give any numbers), its brain appears
much larger than a squid's. The squid's brain does not even come
close -- more like comparing a human's brain to that of a mouse. This
is probably because of the phylogenetic relationship being very distant.

(Brusca and Brusca are big on phylogenetic classifications -- one
reason I bought the book.)

>>Octopi apparently need to keep their brains segmented so
>>they can squeeze through tight spots.

I don't know. The octupus brain is really not segmented in any insect
like sense. It is pretty concentrated, though split into a few lobes.

>>I think that this is probably the
>>major stumbling block to their natural evolution toward greater
>>intelligence. While their coral habitat enabled them to develop
>>excellent spatial problem solving skills, their need to squeeze through
>>spaces is an environmental limitation on further brain integration.

I'm not sure. I think that the separation between lobes is not the
result of this, but is merely an historical artifact. The octopus brain
is basically the mollusc brain that has become more centralized.
There is no reason, for now, to think that this process of
centralization is NOT ongoing -- i.e., that given enough time, the
octopus' descendants will have a more integrated brain.

At least, this fits well with my understanding of evolution, viz. as
basically a process which is very dependent on initial conditions
and, ergo, very conservative in this respect. If this is so, it may
only be necessary for us to tweak the parameters a bit to
cascade the octopus brain into something much more powerful.

>>Anyone developing greater intelligence in octopi would need to teach
>>them tool using strategies for fishing to overcome the expected mobility
>>reduction a larger more integrated brain would entail. Possibly weaving
>>nets with seaweed. squeezing a big brain through a small space would
>>probably cause as much brain damage as a heavy weight boxing

I would expect sentient octopi to switch behaviors to more efficient
ones. However, I am not sure if a larger brain or merely a more
integrated one would adversely affect their mobility. In other words,
I question Lorrey's hypothesis that a larger or more connected
brain would suffer damage in the usual contortions current octopi

Even so, if he is correct, I would expect that whoever does the
uplifting should try to be certain that the results (sentient octopi)
can survive outside the lab.

A more daunting problem is that octopi do not seem to care for
their young in the way that other proposed candidates -- e.g.,
chimps or dolphins -- for uplifting do. The problem of each new
octopi, if this seemingly nonsocial lifestyle is maintained after
uplifting, having to learn everything on its own would make for
some limits on their potential.

However, perhaps some form of socialization is possible, even if
only in adult life. How might this come about? Is it really
necessary? If the goal here is only to do experiments so that
humans can be better augmented, this is not a pressing concern.
If the goal is to create sentient octopi who can grow even further
and mingle with human and posthuman culture, then it might be
viewed as very pressing.

I say we just start doing it, and tackle each problem as it
becomes a limit to further advances. Thus, the first order of
the day is to learn more about octopi and start enlarging or
intergrating their brains. Worry about the rest later.

Daniel Ust