Reading: The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

When I heard about The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler, I knew I had to read it. A book about AI and octopus intellegence grounded in neuroscience definitely hits a bunch of my interests. I’ve been fascinated by the octopus brain for a long time, both because my daughter growing up had a stuffed octopus that she loved and we saw them in the National Aquarium here in Baltimore.

Several years ago I read Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith which made the case that the octopus, with its convergent evolution of eye and brain, was a real example of an alien non-vertebrate intelligence. I understand my puppy’s behavior by analogy. Not so the octopus. I wasn’t surprised to see Other Minds acknowledged by Nayler at the end of the book.

The describes the meeting of man, a cognitively advanced colony of octopodes and an AI self conscious android. the AI description is a nice creation, building on current neural network concepts, but does have a bit of mind transfer magic through connectome mapping. Oh well, I always surrender my predjudice at the door as the price of admission. Plenty of SciFi is build on the plausibly impossible and mind transfer seems plausible but is impossible.

Also, some nice reflections on complex systems and ecology. Nayler also cites How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human by Eduardo Kohn as an prime inspiration from the book. So that’s now on my list to read. I had thought about it after finishing Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy last year which is a meditation on being present that owes much to the idea of deep ecology and the emergent reality of environment.

A well written first novel that’s heavy on the philosophy and neuroscience and not deep in character building or plot. For me, a compelling read.

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