See this person? She’s the biggest, most ignorant idiot at the Discovery Institute, which says a lot, since she’s in competition with Michael Egnor.
Denyse O’Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.
She occasionally pops up on
Evolution News & Views with articles that are stunning in their stupidity and written in the style of a third grade book report. Her latest effort is titled Will the Octopus Ever Find Its Place in the Evolutionary Tree?
Here you go, Denyse. Here’s its place in the evolutionary tree.
That turns up in less than 30 seconds with a google search. Scientists know where the octopus fits in the evolutionary tree. Really, Denyse is a clueless moron.
She then continues to throw out a series of non sequiturs based on her total ignorance of the subject she is writing about.
Just why the octopus — a short-lived, solitary, invertebrate exotherm — should seem as intelligent as a monkey has become quite the puzzle in recent years. Typical evolutionary explanations don’t really work. The octopus’s biological inheritance is precisely the type that we don’t associate with intelligence. For one thing, it is much more closely related to clams than to monkeys.
Uh, right. That’s true. Cephalopods are more closely related to clams than to monkeys. So? People are more closely related to hagfish than they are to cephalopods. This means absolutely nothing.
What about the fact that the octopus has nine brains? Well, do nine invertebrate brains add up to more intelligence than one? That’s a question worth asking because it probably wouldn’t work with grasshoppers or worms. That is, both types of life form have brains but it isn’t clear how an installation of nine of them in a single individual would be any smarter than just one.
The octopus does not have 9 brains. It has a network of distributed ganglia in addition to a central ganglion.
Our nervous system is more concentrated in a large brain, but we also have a substantial network of ganglia, an autonomic nervous system, and an enteric nervous system. Grasshoppers and worms also have a chain of ganglia. What is her point? I don’t think she knows.
Naturally, the octopus has been singled out for a lot of research attention and a recent genetic find has attracted attention: A detailed genetic analysis found that the common octopus has 2.8 billion base pairs of genes…
For comparison, humans have about three billion. Chimpanzees have about the same. Is a large genome a necessary factor in advanced intelligence? It’s too early to be sure but the researchers hope to advance investigations into “more distantly related molluscs such as clams or snails” — species hardly known for intelligence. That might provide a more focused comparison.
Again, what is her point? We have 3 billion base pairs in our genome, so do chimpanzees, so do mice. Axolotls have 32 billion base pairs. There is no correlation between number of base pairs and intelligence. She hasn’t done the most basic, crude level of research to answer the question.
Some other finds about octopus intelligence in recent years give us some sense of why one researcher wondered if the species had an extraterrestrial origin. As PBS tells it,
The unique nature of octopus intelligence has sparked a rather peculiar debate recently: A group of researchers … has suggested that an octopus’ mind might seem so foreign because it may be alien. The hypothesis, published in 2018, states that octopus evolution may have arisen, in part, because of a retrovirus (a type of RNA virus) delivered to Earth by an asteroid during the Cambrian explosion about 541 million years ago.
Oh god. She’s digging deep into the fringe, loony brigade — she’s citing sources from the panspermia mafia, which are not at all credible. When you’re citing people who claim Squids are from SPAAAAAAAAACE!, you lose.
Now she’s just going to throw more shit at the wall, but nothing is going to stick.
Anyway, here are some of the other finds researchers puzzle over:
Many sources have noted that each arm of an octopus can communicate with other arms, bypassing the brain. But, says behavioral neuroscientist and astrobiologist Dominic Sivitilli (who does not think that octopuses are aliens!), it’s even more complex than that: “There are tens of thousands of both chemical and mechanical receptors in each sucker,” he says. “To put that into perspective, each of your fingertips has a few hundred mechanical receptors.”
So octopuses have a well-integrated nervous system and a rich sensory repertoire, therefore…what? We’re supposed to be surprised that they exhibit complex behaviors? I don’t even know what she’s arguing anymore.
Such a system of information-gathering seems fundamentally different from that of the intelligent mammals we know. That raises a question. Are comparisons in intelligence between octopuses and, say, mammals even meaningful?
Another factor that may be linked to high cephalopod intelligence is gene editing…
Hey, I just finished a week of lecturing to my students about post-translational and post-transcriptional modification of gene products. Every organism does it. Cephalopods have one flavor of post-transcriptional modification that they use extensively, which is interesting, but not the game changer Denyse imagines, and it has nothing to do with differences in intelligence. I don’t think she has any idea what’s going on in molecular biology.
In February of this year researchers got a look at octopus brain waves and found out, in one reporter’s words, that their brains behave in an “alien” way…
This is what scientists like to call an “active research area.” It is anyone’s guess whether the octopus will ever find its way into a tidy evolutionary tree. Perhaps it’s not wise to wade in with that goal foremost in mind.
I already did that, see the top of the post.
I am totally mystified about why the Discovery Institute continues to promote someone as obviously dumb and uneducated as Denyse O’Leary — she can’t even write well, despite her degree in English. My current hypothesis is that they keep her around because her existence is an affront to intelligent people everywhere — you know, the
Darwinian thought police like P. Z. Myers. Alternatively, a simpler hypothesis might be that all the people managing the Discovery Institute are just as stupid as Denyse O’Leary, she’s simply worse at masking it in front of the public.