Distributed Nervous System, Disunified Consciousness?: A Sensorimotor Integrationist Account of Octopus Consciousness

Journal of Consciousness Studies 27 (1-2):149-172 (2020)

Authors
Bas Van Woerkum
Radboud University Nijmegen
Abstract
What is it like to be an octopus, one of those eight-armed, infinitely flexible sea creatures with a nervous system distributed over head, eyes and arms? One interesting approach is to argue that octopuses, because of their distributed nervous systems, are likely to possess disunified consciousness (Carls-Diamante 2017). However, this supposed isomorphism between a “unified” nervous system and “unified” consciousness is problematic, since the term “unity” is taken as a “given” even though it is far from clear what it means. I will argue that explaining the structure of consciousness requires a prior explanation in terms of how it is achieved by the organism through sensorimotor integration. On this account, the structure of an organism’s consciousness is explained partly by what the external world is like, and partly by how the organism’s body, senses and nervous system enable the organism to interact with the external world.
Keywords Consciousness  Octopus  Externalism  Animal minds  Animal cognition  Sensorimotor theory
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