Octopuses as conscious exotica, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Science (2018)
The problem of understanding alien minds is not limited to fiction. It has occupied philosophers and scientists for millennia. For as long as we have tried to grasp the mysteries of human consciousness, we have tried to understand nonhuman consciousness and, crucially, how to identify it when we see it. Contemporary research in cognitive science is no different. Cognitive scientists have asked whether scrub jays have vivid memories of the past, whether chimpanzees infer the experiences of others, and whether mice experience fear. Our desire to understand nonhuman consciousness, however, does not end with those animals with which we share an evolutionary history. Indeed, today the question of alien thought is attracting more attention, as artificial agents not only succeed in tasks historically achieved by humans alone, but also exceed humans in those tasks.