An embodied view of octopus neurobiology

Curr Biol. 2012 Oct 23;22(20):R887-92. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.001.


Octopuses have a unique flexible body and unusual morphology, but nevertheless they are undoubtedly a great evolutionary success. They compete successfully with vertebrates in their ecological niche using a rich behavioral repertoire more typical of an intelligent predator which includes extremely effective defensive behavior--fast escape swimming and an astonishing ability to adapt their shape and color to their environment. The most obvious characteristic feature of an octopus is its eight long and flexible arms, but these pose a great challenge for achieving the level of motor and sensory information processing necessary for their behaviors. First, coordinating motion is a formidable task because of the infinite degrees of freedom that have to be controlled; and second, it is hard to use body coordinates in this flexible animal to represent sensory information in a central control system. Here I will review experimental results suggesting that these difficulties, arising from the animal's morphology, have imposed the evolution of unique brain/body/behavior relationships best explained as intelligent behavior which emerges from the octopus's embodied organization. The term 'intelligent embodiment' comes from robotics and refers to an approach to designing autonomous robots in which the behavior emerges from the dynamic physical and sensory interactions of the agent's materials, morphology and environment. Consideration of the unusual neurobiology of the octopus in the light of its unique morphology suggests that similar embodied principles are instrumental for understanding the emergence of intelligent behavior in all biological systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Nervous System / anatomy & histology
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Octopodiformes / anatomy & histology*
  • Octopodiformes / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance*