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Can the Octopus Oracle, Psychic Paul, Really See the Future? Science Debates

by Tanya Thomas on July 15, 2010 at 10:23 AM
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 Can the Octopus Oracle, Psychic Paul, Really See the Future? Science Debates

At the 2010 soccer World Cup, the Spanish win was understandable. But wasn't there another hero that night? Paul, the seemingly psychic cephalopod - could the octopus really see into the future?

"Particularly among invertebrates, octopi are very intelligent, but that intelligence can be defined in different ways," Discovery News quoted Alan Peters, invertebrate curator at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, as saying.


He added: "Predictive power I don't think is part of that."

According to Peters, octopi are visually oriented and can be trained and stimulated with food and objects. And while Paul had to make a choice between two identical boxes containing mussels, since both boxes contained food, it could not have been the deciding factor.

Peters said: "Maybe there's some similarities on all the flags that the octopus chose. You could really dig into this deep if you wanted to tease out why this happened."

The flags could help uncover the mystery - Octopi can detect differences in shapes and patterns, as well as colours, said Peters.

He said: "They don't see colour like we do but they can tell the differences between different colours. It's just that their brain doesn't say 'red here and yellow there,' it says 'these two things are different.'"

So may be the design of the German flag (and other similarly patterned flags) helped Paul to make a choice.

But there is certainly room for more explanation. Peters believes it may be something to do with the way people train animals; they inadvertently make movements or sounds that an animal uses as stimuli. However, without a control environment, it would be hard to establish what that cue was in Paul's case, he said.

But could it be that the octopus can really predict after all?

Peters said: "I don't think so. But I mean, how accurate are we in picking winners?"

It could have been just random luck. However, that in no way means these animals are not intelligent in ways we still have to understand.

Peters said: "And to me that's what's cool about it. You start to realize they are in a different world, and live in a different world, and interact with it differently than us. And then we try to impose our world on it. So they're always sort of surprising us."

Source: ANI


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