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From the human being to the octopus, the shark to the humble sea squirt, all animals are physical beings made up entirely of cells. And yet they can think, to varying degrees. How did this come to be? How did a mind first grow from the matter that is the body? And at what stage did that clump of cells become a ‘self’?
In Metazoa, Peter Godfrey-Smith, author of the bestselling Other Minds looks beyond the octopus to the complexity of the whole animal kingdom, exploring the origins of consciousness and grappling with the greatest mystery of evolution. Metazoa (the biological term encompassing all animals), covers, with various degrees of detail, the main stages in animal evolution: the long period of life before animals, the enigmatic period known as the Ediacaran, in which the first animal fossils were laid down, then the Cambrian, the period that rapidly gave rise to most of the familiar animal forms. Then, in a few distinct evolutionary lines, the appearance of bodies with a set of unusual capacities: bodies with eyes and other senses that can track objects in space, bodies that can freely move and bodies with tools for the manipulation of objects. And the bringing together of these capacities would have pivotal consequences for the evolution of the brain and hence the evolution of consciousness.
There is much to marvel at in the natural world. But take a moment to wonder at the fact that we can marvel at all.
Praise for Other Minds:
‘Entrancing and profound’ Financial Times
‘Startlingly incisive’ New York Times
‘The beauty of Godfrey-Smith’s book lies in the clarity of his writing; his empathy, if you will. He takes us through those early stirrings in the seas of deep time, from bacteria that sense light and can taste, to cnidarian jellyfish, the first organisms to exhibit nervous systems, which he describes wonderfully.’ Philip Hoare, Guardian
‘Fascinating and often delightful … This book ingeniously blends philosophy and science to trace the epic journey from single-celled organisms of 3.8 billion years ago to the awakening and development of cephalopod consciousness.’ The Times
‘As poignant as anything you will read this year’ Mail on Sunday
‘In Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher, skilfully combines science, philosophy and his experiences of swimming among these tentacled beasts to illuminate the origin and nature of consciousness.’ The Economist
About the author
Peter Godfrey-Smith is a distinguished professor of history and the philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. He is the author of five books, including the bestselling Other Minds, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Royal Society Science Book Prize and Natural Selection, which won the 2010 Lakatos Award for an outstanding work on the philosophy of science.