Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind

Farrar. Nov. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9780374207946. $28. SCI
Combining science, philosophy, and his own observations gleaned from “watery hours” spent scuba diving, Godfrey-Smith (history, philosophy of science, Univ. of Sydney; Theory and Reality) examines the origins of animal consciousness. In his acclaimed work, Other Minds, the author focused on octopuses; here, the book’s “tentacular form” shows him considering several animal groups as he investigates the puzzle of how subjective awareness came to exist. This is no dry, academic treatise; Godfrey-Smith takes care to keep the work accessible by summarizing key points, explaining the work of relevant scientists and philosophers, and punctuating the text with memorable facts. The book is enlivened by the wit and affection with which the author often regards his subjects of study. Arthropods seem to hold particular charm. He writes, for example, of the arthropod way of evolving (“when in doubt, add some legs”) or the mantis shrimp’s odd appearance (“a head festooned with golf clubs and party lights”). An astonishing range of creatures are considered and a fascinating argument advanced about how evolutionary innovations can give rise to animal minds.
VERDICT This is popular science writing at its best, offering uncanny reach to a swath of readers with varying degrees of interest in evolutionary biology and philosophy of mind.
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