Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind Review

The scuba-diving philosopher who wrote Other Minds explores the origins of animal consciousness

Dip below the ocean’s surface and you are soon confronted by forms of life that could not seem more foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals, and serpulid worms, whose rooted bodies, intricate geometry, and flower-like appendages are more reminiscent of plant life or even architecture than anything recognizably animal. Yet these creatures are our cousins. As fellow members of the animal kingdom—the Metazoa—they can teach us much about the evolutionary origins of not only our bodies, but also our minds.

In his acclaimed 2016 book, Other Minds, the philosopher and scuba diver Peter Godfrey-Smith explored the mind of the octopus—the closest thing to an intelligent alien on Earth. In Metazoa, Godfrey-Smith expands his inquiry to animals at large, investigating the evolution of subjective experience with the assistance of far-flung species. As he delves into what it feels like to perceive and interact with the world as other life-forms do, Godfrey-Smith shows that the appearance of the animal body well over half a billion years ago was a profound innovation that set life upon a new path. In accessible, riveting prose, he charts the ways that subsequent evolutionary developments—eyes that track, for example, and bodies that move through and manipulate the environment—shaped the subjective lives of animals. Following the evolutionary paths of a glass sponge, soft coral, banded shrimp, octopus, and fish, then moving onto land and the world of insects, birds, and primates like ourselves, Metazoa gathers their stories together in a way that bridges the gap between mind and matter, addressing one of the most vexing philosophical problems: that of consciousness.

Combining vivid animal encounters with philosophical reflections and the latest news from biology, Metazoa reveals that even in our high-tech, AI-driven times, there is no understanding our minds without understanding nerves, muscles, and active bodies. The story that results is as rich and vibrant as life itself.

Title:Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind
Edition Language:English

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    Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind Reviews

  • Petra-X Off having adventures

    Small update I was reading other reviews, and those who don't like philosophy mixed in with their science don't like it so much. But thinking about consciousness - it's one of those things we know for...

  • D

    A bit superficial and too long. I learned some interesting concepts related to consciousness: experience, subjectivity, agency, sentient etc. And how these applied to various animal species. But no de...

  • Peter Tillman

    Best review of this one I've seen yet, by an actual biologist, who's been a pretty reliable reviewer for me: https://inquisitivebiologist.com/2020...Excerpt:"Compared to Other Minds, Metazoa dives dee...

  • Carl Safina

    One of my newly favorite authors and thinkers returns again to consider what consciousness is and what creates the ability of an entity to experience sensations. We know that much of our brain and bod...

  • Lata

    The author poses some really interesting questions about cognition by taking us from the development of single-celled creatures all the way to mammals. The author has an engaging style, and makes his ...

  • Dan Graser

    I was pleasantly surprised by this volume from philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith in that it brought some welcome clarity to the issue of consciousness and the origin of what we know to be the mind in th...

  • Janne Sinkkonen

    (Listened, not read, which may affect my impressions.)I have read both "Philosophy of Biology" and "Other Minds" from the author, and like his style, which is non-combative, often searching for a midd...

  • Travis Rebello

    Diving into the waters of the mind once moreMetazoa is simply a stunning book. A mix of evocative underwater scenes, evolutionary storytelling, and philosophical exploration, it has got to be one of t...

  • Stephen

    Epistemology is one of my many weak points. There were places in this wondrous book that waxed too philosophical for me to follow and I confess got skimmed. The new paleontology, the biology, the neur...

  • Ben Rogers

    I enjoyed this one. Great scientific book. I feel that, although this book was great, I would recommend instead these books instead:The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of ...