What if an Octopus went to Mars
Assuming Octopi did not catch a ride on a meteor some 500 million years ago, the last common ancestor between humans and Octopi was likely a small flatworm.
In the succeeding few hundred million years, the vertebrates evolved complex brains. Unlike among the invertebrates, where only the octopus takes that claim.
Octopus brains “evolved completely independently from the mammalian brain.” An evolutionary path that offers a unique earth bound perspective into alternative ways of thinking. Dominic Sivitilli, speaking when still a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington notes, “The octopuses’ long, separate evolution toward cognitive complexity makes them a very appropriate model for what intelligence might look like if it evolves on a completely different planet.”
Octopi recognise individuals, throw things at their harassers, decorate their homes, develop defensive practices, play with fish, and contain a whole universe of other capacities which remain either unrecognised or unappreciated.
Octopi are people, in the moral and functional sense of the term. They have sufficient agency to exist as individuals, form complex social behaviour, experience pain - with the potential to evolve further complex and intelligent behaviour and social institutions over time.
Octopi’s distributed brain means a sense of autonomy and self-hood which likely fundamentally differs from ours. An old professor would ask their students each year to point towards where in their body they reside, where is their self and where is their soul, as differentiated from where our consciousness feels most physically “seated”. As surely most of us feel like little creatures seated in the head, controlling this body. Many point towards the head, but many too in the class pointed towards the stomach, the abdomen, as distinct from those who pointed towards the heart. Where would the Octopi point?
So what if Octopi joined humans on Mars.
Or on the extreme, what kind of settlement would emerge if Octopi and humans were cohabitating on Mars? Or indeed, what if Octopi were the technologically advanced species to settle on Mars, ahead of humans.
Surely at first, such co-habitation would mean an effective means of communication and collaboration. Otherwise, co-habitation would be either octopus as experiment or pet. But lets push towards assuming Octopi would be those going to Mars.
We have no evidence of architectural innovation per se, no constructed buildings, only repurposed environments. But we would assume the need for a fluid enclosed environment, highlighting the need for discovering water on Mars. Otherwise, to require a different means of exploration. And on and on the questions could emerge on the realities of such a species surviving the transit, the requirements of soft-body manipulation for construction and the need for an entirely different technology base. Would they expand out in more constricted tunnels? Would it be one singular undifferentiated and expanding environment, seen from space as a large enclosed disk expanding on the surface - within it hiding an artificial ocean. On and on, the questions can and should continue.
What we might ask further would be - would octopi replicate similar social, economic, and political challenges as we would. What would an Octopi civilisation look like anyways? Octopi are sometimes solitary creatures. Many species avoid grouping together, avoid interacting beyond mating. Other species of Octopi are wildly social. For instance, the story of “octlantis”, an “octopus city” discoverd in Jervis Bay, Australia around 2008. A wild description given the group dynamic numbered between 2 and 11, though such numbers serving as an indicator of how solitary these creatures have been seen as by humans. Though the story extends less into a burgeoning set of social cooperative behavior, and more a description of consistent semi-aggressive interactions.
Thomas nagel infamously asked in 1974, what is it like to be a bat, spurring the hard problem of consciousness - how to explain the fact that there are qualitative experiences. That such experiences are non-obviously reducible to physical descriptions of the universe. We do need reminders, both of the problem of consciousness along with the potential scope of different conscious experiences between different species.
What would it be like to be an Octopus building a civilisation on Mars?
https://eusci.org.uk/2020/06/22/an-alien-in-our-sea-a-look-at-the-intelligence-of-an-octopus/#:~:text=pod from 'foot'-,In terms of separation down the evolutionary timeline%2C the octopus,floor 750 million years ago.