An octopus scurried over the sandy sea bottom. She was deep in thought, wondering if such a thing as free will exists or if all behavior has a cause outside of individual control. As she contemplated the possible answers, a diver approached. He stopped right above her and dropped a jar in her path.
When she saw that the jar contained a shrimp, she realized her pondering was making her hungry. She wrapped her tentacles around the container and spent a few moments working at the lid while the diver observed. It was secured fast and after only a few moments, the octopus gave up and continued on her way.
Her eight legs swirled beneath her as they carried her home to her cave in the reef. She thought about the diver, wondering what kind of a stupid creature would keep a shrimp in a container that was impossible to open. She had several crabs waiting for her back home and they were easily accessible.
As she hurried along, she decided to shift her thinking away from the question of free will for a while. She considered herself more of a mathematician than an ethical philosopher and wanted to ponder the many practical applications of the Pythagorean theorem.
The diver, meanwhile, returned to his boat and met with his waiting companions. He reported that the octopus was unable to remove the screw top from the jar. He went on to suggest that octopuses were not as intelligent as originally suspected.
So what’s the moral of this story?
If you measured my intelligence by my ability to open pickle jars, you would think I am completely stupid (especially since I have opposable thumbs, unlike your average octopus).
However, if you took me out to coffee and spent some time speaking with me, you’d find me just as intelligent as anyone else.
The moral of this story is that scientists should spend time talking to their octopuses before judging them. Have you ever seen a scientist asking an octopus what she’s read lately? I haven’t. It’s infuriating.
I would also like to note that reading an octopus’s tweets is no substitute for a face-to-face conversation. Tweets should never be used to measure anyone’s intelligence.