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Octopus arms ‘can make decisions on their own, without the brain’

Rob Waugh
Octopuses are like aliens (Getty)

If you’ve ever felt that your hands have a mind of their own (like when there’s a box of chocolates open nearby) spare a thought for octopuses.

New research suggests that octopus arms can actually make decisions on their own… without their brains.

It’s so alien that it could actually help us understand extraterrestrial intelligence, University of Washington researchers believe.

The research suggests that octopus suckers can make decisions from information from the environment, coordinating this with nearby suckers.

‘Decisions’ are made in the creatures’ peripheral nervous systems… without waiting on commands from the brain.

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Dominic Sivitilli of the University of Washington says that the octopus is as close to an alien intelligence as we can meet on Earth - and could help us prepare to meet intelligent aliens.

Sivitilli said, ‘It’s an alternative model for intelligence. It gives us an understanding as to the diversity of cognition in the world, and perhaps the universe.’

Octopuses are very, very different from vertebrates like humans.

Cephalopods, like the octopus, evolved multiple concentrations of neurons called ganglia, arranged in a distributed network throughout the body.

Sivitilli says, ‘The octopus’ arms have a neural ring that bypasses the brain, and so the arms can send information to each other without the brain being aware of it.

‘So while the brain isn’t quite sure where the arms are in space, the arms know where each other are and this allows the arms to coordinate during actions like crawling locomotion.’

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