My favorite life form, my cockatiel Pearl, poses with one of my favorite new books, Sy Montgomery’s “The Soul of an Octopus.”

So do they?

Or perhaps a better question might be, do invertebrate animals have souls? Or do you only get a soul if you have a spine?

Or are souls just reserved for homo sapiens with spines (well, technically, all homo sapiens have spines, although I can think of a couple that can make me wonder sometimes….)

In 2012, a very wonderful event occurred. A group of scientists and other professionals with titles I can’t pronounce got together and drafted a document called “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness.”

This document directly addressed all of the above questions and answered with a definitive, “We think so!”

I think so too.

It seems like every time I read a book about a new type of animal, I fall in love with that animal. I want to go visit it wherever it lives. If I can’t manage that, I typically buy a stuffed animal version of it to cuddle and love and admire.

I had just finished coping with the reality that I am probably never going to own a baby sheep when author Sy Montgomery’s new book, “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness,” crossed my path.

And….well, shoot. Now I’m in love with octopuses.

In her book, Sy goes into great detail about what it requires for a home aquarist to maintain and care for a captive octopus, as well as the thousands upon thousands of dollars that enterprise requires.

So I suspect a cuddly octopus stuffed animal is also in my very near future. 

That aside, the older I get, the more piercingly aware I become that my generation (or, at the latest, my young niece and nephews’ generation) might be the last to feel that awe and wonder of watching our non-human planet-mates living in wild natural spaces in their natural habitats.

For example, by the time my niece grows up and has kids of her own, will zoos be the only places left where homo sapiens can commune and connect with other Earth-bound life forms?

Or, as Sy Montgomery states on her website,

We are on the cusp of either destroying this sweet, green Earth—or revolutionizing the way we understand the rest of animate creation…It’s an important time to be writing about the connections we share with our fellow creatures. It’s a great time to be alive.

But no pressure or anything.

(For the record, I personally feel increasing amounts of pressure.)

Every time I fall in love with a new animal, I think they are the most wonderful animal ever. I marvel at their intelligence, their creativity, their street-smarts. I want to tell everyone I know all about them.

For example, did you know that octopuses have neural matter (basically, brain material) in each one of their eight legs as well as in their head-mantle? This means they are basically one big brain.

In her book, Sy Montgomery states that researchers have observed how, when an individual octopus leg gets severed from the main animal – for example, by a hungry predator that attacks but then gets spooked and abandons its octopus leg snack – that leg continues to function independently to a point where the leg is seemingly not aware it has been disconnected.

The leg will continue to forage, explore, capture prey….until eventually it runs out of neural sustenance and at last expires.

Even as new breaking research shows that homo sapiens has a second viable “brain” in our gut that contains millions upon millions of neurons and can function independently of our main head-brain, we have yet to discover any neural matter in our legs or arms or elsewhere.

In its own way, it could be that the invertebrate octopus, a distant relative of the simple and delicious mollusk, is smarter than we are.

Octopuses also have lots of cool features homo sapiens lack. They have a beak like a parrot. They can eject ink to make themselves disappear. And they are venomous. Plus there are the nine brains and three hearts and eight legs and a series of exquisitely sensitive and strong suckers on each leg that can lift items weighing hundreds and potentially even thousands of pounds.

Oh, and they can fit their whole big bodies through teensy tiny holes and even create their own on-the-spot disguises when ink alone isn’t enough.

But most importantly, they are here. They live on this planet with us. They can’t talk with us using our language, and we can’t talk with them using their language. But we can tune in to our first brain to notice the copious easily recognizable signs of shared intelligence that both wild and captive octopuses display.

And we can tune into our second brain – our “gut instinct” – to consciously recognize a kindred spirit when we meet one, barriers of language or species or natural habitat or physical construction aside.

Personally, I believe we have only just scratched the surface of defining what “life” really entails, how it manifests and what has it (as well as what doesn’t, if anything).

If, as Einstein so famously stated, matter is neither created nor destroyed, than whatever the stuff is that makes up all of us seems like it must basically be the same stuff, and it just gets redistributed around as bodies wear out and souls stay fresh and viable.

I learn so much from reading about and watching and living with animals. Often, I feel like I learn more from them than from members of my own species, perhaps because they don’t muddy up the instructional waters with extra steps or verbal embellishment.

It is their directness and simplicity I find most compelling. They showcase Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at its finest: our basic needs must first be met before we can seek fulfillment on any other level. Once our basic physical needs are met, we can then seek fulfillment for our mind and psyche. Once both our basic and psychological needs are met, we can then seek fulfillment on a self-actualization/full potential level.

Here, I feel like maybe the journey is shorter for non-human species, who don’t get so confused by too many choices. Fully belly? Let’s go look for a mate. Full womb? Let’s go look for nest. Full life? Let’s get creative and go take a look at those strange beings in flippers wearing bubbling tanks and masks who keep stopping by to look at us.

Today’s Takeaway: I am not sure I really have a point here, except to share the marvelous octopus facts I am learning with you! Do you have a favorite non-human creature that inspires you, challenges you, motivates you and mentors you to achieve your own full life potential? I’d love to hear more about your favorites!