What is the World Like for an Octopus?


The world provides us with many sensory experiences, and we sometimes think that these are universal. But no, every species samples some modalities, dimensions and experiences, and octopuses’ are somewhat different from ours. Octopus eyes and human eyes are structurally very similar, but the use of vision is not always parallel. We have colour vision, they see the plane of polarization of light. We self-monitor visually, they use visual information for camouflage matching. Both of us, though, navigate around our world with visual input. We have specialized perception of mechanical distortion of air through hearing, they have widespread monitoring of movement of denser water. We have limited and localized perception of chemical cues, whereas octopuses have precise chemical and touch perception in all of their hundreds of suckers. We are the same but different, and I will also show how these abilities are adapted to our particular environments.


A fascination with seashore animals as a child led me to a focus on animal behaviour, a background in Biology and Psychology to center on the complex and versatile octopuses. Both wide observation of octopuses in the field and closely-focused investigation of particular problems in the lab are necessary to paint a complete picture, though I have been fascinated by the cognitive capacity of cephalopods, in areas such as problem solving, play and personalities. Lately, realizing that these intelligent animals are nonetheless poorly regarded and protected, I have begun to work in welfare and ethics.