It is difficult to imagine what an animal as different from us as the octopus ‘thinks’, but we can make some progress. In the Umwelt or perceptual world of an octopus, what the lateralized monocular eyes perceive is not color but the plane of polarization of light. Information is processed by a bilateral brain but manipulation is done by a radially symmetrical set of eight arms. Octopuses do not self-monitor by vision. Their skin pattern system, used for excellent camouflage, is open loop. The output of the motor system of the eight arms is organized at several levels — brain, intrabrachial commissure and local brachial ganglia. Octopuses may be motivated by a combination of fear and exploration. Several actions — a head bob for motion parallax, a ‘Passing Cloud’ skin display to startle prey, and particularly exploration by their arms — demonstrate the presence of a controlling mind, motivated to gather information. Yet most octopuses are solitary and many are cannibalistic, so they must always be on guard, even against conspecifics. The actions of octopuses can be domain general, with flexible problem-solving strategies, enabling them to survive “by their wits” in a challenging and variable environment.

Author Biography

Jennifer Mather is Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Lethbridge. She has published many articles on cephalopod behavior and intelligence and is regarded as an authority on ethics with regard to cephalopods. Website





Article Thread

Mather, Jennifer (2019) What is in an octopus's mind?. Animal Sentience 26(1)

Favela, Luis H. (2019) Octopus Umwelt or Umwelten?. Animal Sentience 26(2)

Gutfreund, Yoram (2019) Who needs a mind when you have thousands of fingers?. Animal Sentience 26(3)

Schwartz, Bennett L. (2019) A community of minds. Animal Sentience 26(4)

Guerra, Angel (2019) The ingenuity of cephalopods. Animal Sentience 26(5)

Vonk, Jennifer (2019) Octopi-ing a unique niche in comparative psychology. Animal Sentience 26(6)

Browning, Heather (2019) What is good for an octopus?. Animal Sentience 26(7)

Mallatt, Jon (2019) The octopus: A beautiful (but disorganized) “mind”. Animal Sentience 26(8)

Pellis, Sergio M. (2019) The ‘Thing’ from this world. Animal Sentience 26(9)

Lee, Phyllis C. (2019) Are octopuses special? Mind, sociality and life history. Animal Sentience 26(10)

Aitken, Kenneth J. (2019) Are our ideas about octopus life too anthropomorphic to help?. Animal Sentience 26(11)

Mehrkam, Lindsay R. (2019) A behavior-analytic approach to understanding octopus “mind”. Animal Sentience 26(12)

Corcoran, Andrew W. (2019) Cephalopod molluscs, causal models, and curious minds. Animal Sentience 26(13)

King, Barbara J. and Marino, Lori (2019) Octopus minds must lead to octopus ethics. Animal Sentience 26(14)

Porcher, Ila France (2019) The perfecting of the octopus. Animal Sentience 26(15)

Schnell, Alexandra and Vallortigara, Giorgio (2019) ‘Mind’ is an ill-defined concept: Considerations for future cephalopod research. Animal Sentience 26(16)

Carls-Diamante, Sidney (2019) The octopus mind: Implications for cognitive science. Animal Sentience 26(17)

Godfrey-Smith, Peter (2019) Octopus experience. Animal Sentience 26(18)

Jacquet, Jennifer; Franks, Becca; and Godfrey-Smith, Peter (2019) The octopus mind and the argument against farming it. Animal Sentience 26(19)

Amodio, Piero (2019) Octopus intelligence: The importance of being agnostic. Animal Sentience 26(20)

Packard, Andrew (2019) Keeping hold of Nurse. Animal Sentience 26(21)

Correia Caeiro, Catia (2019) What we don't know about cephalopods and how to define it. Animal Sentience 26(22)

Adamo, Shelley A. (2019) Octopus: Multiple minds or just a slow thinker?. Animal Sentience 26(23)

Noël-Guéry, Alix (2019) Octopus sentience: Three criteria. Animal Sentience 26(24)

Krebber, André; Riedinger, Maike; and Watt, Yvette (2019) Aesthetics and imagining the octopus’s mind. Animal Sentience 26(25)

Mather, Jennifer A. (2019) What and where is an octopus’s mind?. Animal Sentience 26(26)

Thys, Tierney M (2020) Exploring eight-armed intelligence through film. Animal Sentience 26(27)

Cecconi, Benedetta; Annen, Jitka; and Laureys, Steven (2020) Can human neurological tests of consciousness be applied to octopus?. Animal Sentience 26(28)