Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

This narrative nonfiction story reveals the author's scientific study, care, and love of octopuses mainly at the New England aquarium. Her passion for the invertebrates is obvious and drew me into the story from the get-go. I learned more than I ever thought about how difficult it is to transfer and keep these Houdini-like creatures in their cages, as well as, their range of colors, ability to play, and unique senses and neurons that are in their arms. Some passages are very scientific but the density is lightened by the author's narration making for good pacing most of the time. The end narrative text started to sound a bit repetitive with the diving in the wild and the octopuses getting old and dying as it happens several times throughout the text, but overall it is an excellent book. If you like science and animals then I recommend it.

The author's passion for animals shows in that she tries to prove that the intelligent octopus creature has a soul. I thought the argument as a whole in the book weak. She does mention philosophers and different theories. They are spread throughout the book so none of it is overwhelming and she recognizes that to define a soul is really not possible; that some say it is an inner being that gives people senses and intelligence, others it gives life meaning and purpose. "Perhaps none of these definitions is true. Perhaps all of them are. But I am certain of one thing as I sit in my pew: If I have a soul-and I think I do-an octopus has a soul, too." Her stance is clear from the start, but she doesn't get into the different theories much. Maybe that is a good thing considering the target audience.

Her writing reminded me of "The Secret Garden" where Colin is so moved by nature that he is miraculously healed in his soul and stands up to recite the Doxology. The author is so moved by octopuses that her emotional descriptions show a passion that is deeply felt: "Perhaps, I muse, this is the pace at which the Creator thinks, in the weighty, graceful, liquid manner-like blood flows, not like synapses fire." She has terrific writing with plenty of similes and metaphors to help readers picture the creatures and their environment in the aquarium or wild.

The book does explain mating and covers the loss of beloved animals either as pets or from an aquarium's caretaker's perspective. I learned more about scuba diving than I expected and she describes the tight friendship she developed from working at the aquarium and diving. These friendships add a human element that is a nice balance to the scientific narrative. I did not know anything about octopuses before reading this book and a knowledgeable reader might have a completely different reading experience than me.

4 Smileys

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