Top Netflix recommendation for you. My Octopus Teacher. You have to watch this.
I can’t recommend this film enough. Actually left me speechless. Since reading the book Other Minds by Peter Godfrey Smith on the study of octopus intelligence I’ve been a secret octopus nerd. This film puts all that understanding into beautiful camera work and sensitive yet non-sensationalised storytelling. I was so moved by it.
My Octopus Teacher is a feature length documentary narrated by film maker Craig Foster and his personal experiences. It is a good watch for middle years children and older. My kids were as fascinated as I was.
My Octopus Teacher – what happens?
Craig Foster is an award winning cameraman experiencing burnout. He takes time off by the west atlantic coast in South Africa where he swims in a kelp forest everyday and befriends an octopus.
yes, I mean he really does.
This is a development over the course of about a year, swimming everyday. He summarises that he has been visiting for approx 80% of the octopus life cycle. This gives rise to the natural drama of an octopus’ life which entails food hunts and being hunted, playing with fish, piggy backing on sharks, dressing up and bearing children. Honestly you have to watch this to understand.
My Octopus Teacher – what does he learn?
“What she taught was to feel that you’re a part of this place and not a visitor…..that’s a huge difference”
He is left moved and humbled by what he learns from this octopus. He experiences a bond between what the octopus was going through and what he himself did, there was a natural parallel that emerged after being in the water so much.
Having learnt a gentleness as a result of thousands of hours in nature, he explains how the growing connection he feels between himself and the octopus changes the relationships he has with other humans.
“I’m getting so much from the wild and now I could give back”
Maybe its about maturing and having children, evolving from the younger man he once was and rebuilding after burnout but he talks of feeling that he is ready to give back to the natural world. He learnt this through taking the time to patiently observe just one small area of the atlantic ocean.
Octopus are known as solitary creatures, and he poses the question as to whether this Octopus needed the stimulation of this new human creature he presented.
Many scientific papers have had octopus intelligence as their subject. The phrase ’embodied cognition’ has been attributed to them. Embodied cognition is a psychological theory that bodies are actually encoded with information about the environment and how to respond to it. Meaning the body makes decisions and not the brain. Not everything is stored in the brain. And so it seems with the Octopus.
“In the octopus, the nervous system as a whole is a more relevant object than the brain: it’s not clear where the brain itself begins or ends, and the nervous systems runs all through the body. The octopus is suffused with nervousness, the body is not a separate thing that is controlled by the brain or nervous system”Peter Godfrey-Smith. ‘Other Minds – The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life’
Each arm of the octopus can think and act totally independently of the rest of its being. Can you even imagine having eight highly intelligent arms that think and act for themselves?! Bonkers.
Teacher of geometry
Octopus and their fellow Cephalapods evolved to carry skeletons outside of their bodies in the shape of shells etc. Except the Octopus took it one step further and doesn’t even have a shell. The body of the octopus is completely without solid structure. In the Octopus there are “no fixed distances between parts, no joints, no natural angles”. The Octopus can quite literally shape shift.
The only small, solid-ish part of an octopus is a drill which is used to penetrate the shells of prey. But the octopus must understand the spiralling structure of shells to determine the exact point of penetration in which to maim the prey and render dinner served.
The octopus spends their life studying the geometry of shells!
So having read the Other Minds book I fell in love with the pure alienness of the octopus and its smart thinking. Then My Octopus Teacher documentary puts beautiful visuals and a passionate experience of the wild into the mix. And to top it off, turns out the Octopus shares my love of geometry.
I mean really what’s not to like! I hope you make the time to watch it.