Octopus changes color while asleep, possibly dreaming

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/30/octopus-changes-color-while-as.html


What cephalopods dream of


Do Cephalopods dream in electric deeps?


Aren’t they beautiful creatures?

Just don’t gamble with them





Seems dangerous for an animal to give away its position while slumbering. Hopefully the ones in the wild are well hidden!

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Maybe we just haven’t discovered the rave section of the ocean yet.


Why are people so reluctant to admit that non-human animals dream? What makes it so controversial?


Octopi are some very smart cephalopods. And I think dreaming happens in many orders of animals. My dog dreams all the time: he woofs and whimpers, low growls and twitches like he is running, maybe finally getting that awful SQUIRREL. I’ve seen cats dream as well. Maybe as the brain prunes and replenishes itself during the rest phase the consciousness plays out various bits and pieces of every day life and creates a sort of undirected scene or narrative. I have recurring dreams where I learn to fly: I just keep leaping up and getting higher and higher. It’s the landing safely that is tricky in that you have to leap in the opposite direction to decelerate for landing. Learning this in the dream world was not pleasant! Landings hurt and then I’d wake up, my heart racing.

edit to add: fun fact is that the Octopus has its brain in a ring around its base where all the arms join. And iirc the brain extends a bit into each arm.


My dog sometimes barks at full volume in his sleep. The first time it happened, I turned on the light, convinced someone had broken into our apartment. Maybe someone had, but only in my dog’s dream.


Yeah, I’m a little confused as to why we’d be looking for “evidence” that octopuses dream. I’m not saying that I’d dismiss evidence that they don’t dream, but isn’t that where you’d think the burden of proof would be?


I wouldn’t say that it’s reluctance, it’s just that it’s a very difficult phenomenon to prove. We only know that other humans dream because they have the language to tell us so, so the question “how do we know if animals dream?” is inherently difficult and interesting.


Normally they’d be in some crevasse, rather than in the open ocean.

Scientists are reluctant to assume that certain processes in other animals work the way they do in humans. It’s reasonable to a large degree, as anthropomorphizing blinds one to acknowledging the different, distinctive nature of that creature (and turns it into a lesser kind of human instead). But there’s also the tendency, of religious origin, to put humans on a pedestal as a special, distinct entity unlike other animals. We still have scientists, despite all the evidence, denying that gorillas can actually do sign language, for instance, because non-humans having those cognitive processes is too threatening.

Dreaming gets mixed up with our conscious experience of it, so an animal dreaming implies it experiences dreams like we do (and, by extension, all the things we metaphorically also call “dreams”). Which is a mistake even for humans - we can’t really separate the dream state itself with our - potentially separate - conscious processing of it. (There’s evidence that dreams are only shaped into the semi-coherent narratives we experience in the moment of waking, with them being fairly random synaptic events before that.)

It seems pretty clear that octopus is dreaming (for some value of “dream”).

I’d say both. It’s hard to know how much of it is one versus the other. Also complicated by the fact that we don’t really understand, and can’t really define, “dreaming” in a lot of ways, either. Our conscious experience of dreams may have little to do with the actual process, so it’s unreliable.

What’s interesting about them is that they’re clearly “smart” but in a way that’s pretty alien. As you say, their brain is more distributed than our own, for example, not working at all like ours. Since our definition of smart is entirely anthropocentric (and social), it challenges our very idea of what constitutes “smart,” while making it difficult to recognize their intelligence.


Am fairly sure this was why Heidegger created the term ‘dasein’ to use instead of merely saying ‘human’.


@Shuck is right there.

Also, this one’s “safe” in captivity. Assuming the octopus senses (or KNOWS) that, then perhaps…


Either way, it has to sleep.

I wonder how stressful it is to be exposed in the lab like that, though, even if it does recognize that it’s safe from predators.


Agreed :slightly_smiling_face: :octopus:

There are cases of octopuses displaying playfulness, boredom, mischievous, higher-order thinking, etc. Yet who can ever know an octopus’s dreams… or if it does at all.

What I can say about myself is that my dreams (sometimes episodic) reference things I go through and worry over (and I’m one of the lucky ones who does recall at least some portion of them every night).



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