Metazoa: Animal Minds and the Birth of Consciousness

By Peter Godfrey-Smith

The follow-up to the BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week Other Minds

A Times and Sunday Times Book of the Year

A Waterstones Best Book of 2020

The scuba-diving philosopher explores the origins of animal consciousness.

Dip below the ocean’s surface and you are soon confronted by forms of life that could not seem more foreign to our own: sea sponges, soft corals and flower-like worms, whose rooted bodies and intricate geometry are more reminiscent of plant life than anything recognisably animal. Yet these creatures are our cousins. As fellow members of the animal kingdom – the Metazoa – they can teach us about the evolutionary origins of not only our bodies, but also our minds.

In his acclaimed book, Other Minds, Peter Godfrey-Smith explored the mind of the octopus – the closest thing to an intelligent alien on Earth. In Metazoa, he expands his inquiry to animals at large, investigating the evolution of experience with the assistance of far-flung species. Godfrey-Smith shows that the appearance of the first animal body form well over half a billion years ago was a profound innovation that set life upon a new path. He charts the ways that subsequent evolutionary developments – eyes that track, for example, and bodies that move through and manipulate the environment – shaped the lives of animals. Following the evolutionary paths of a glass sponge, soft coral, banded shrimp, octopus and fish, then moving onto land and the world of insects, birds and primates like ourselves, Metazoa gathers these stories together to bridge the gap between matter and mind and address one of the most important philosophical questions: what is the origin of consciousness?

Combining vivid animal encounters with philosophy and biology, Metazoa reveals the impossibility of separating the evolution of our minds from the evolution of animals themselves.

Format: Paperback
Release Date: 08 Jul 2021
Pages: 288
ISBN: 978-0-00-832123-9
Peter Godfrey-Smith is a distinguished professor of history and the philosophy of science at the University of Sydney. He is the author of five books, including the bestselling Other Minds, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Royal Society Science Book Prize and Natural Selection, which won the 2010 Lakatos Award for an outstanding work on the philosophy of science.

A Times and Sunday Times Book of the Year -

A BBC Science Focus Book of the Month -

”'This gentle approach won a wide readership for Godfrey-Smith’s last book and deserves to do the same for this. But perhaps his exploratory style is well-suited, not just to the general reader, but to the problem of consciousness itself” - Times Literary Supplement

”'Enthralling … A rather winning combination of not once ever making readers feel as if they are being lectured to; rather, it is the sensation of joining a wise, ever-patient friend on a time-traveling tour of the cognitive experiences of animals … Metazoa brings an extraordinary and astute look at our own mind’s essential link to the animal world” - Aimee Nezhukumatathil, New York Times

”'A profound scientific drama, in which the lives of quite un-human creatures illuminate deep mysteries about the nature of sentience, and what it means to possess a mind … In Metazoa, the scuba-diving historian and philosopher of science tackles these questions with eloquent boldness … As in Other Minds, Mr Godfrey-Smith recounts close encounters with marine fauna, gleaned from years of diving off the Australian coast. These have an electric immediacy … Evocative [and] gripping” - Barbara Kiser, Wall Street Journal

”'Peter Godfrey-Smith's new book Metazoa is, like his last one, not only deeply interesting but beautifully written. Also, it finally taught me how to pronounce 'cnidarian' properly” - Philip Ball

‘Peter Godfrey-Smith writes and thinks like no one else that I know of. He’s well immersed in the science of life, a deep-diver into the philosophical implications of the factual world - -

”and a writer so skillful he can give a reader chills. Metazoa is his deepest dive to date on what life is” - Carl Safina, author of Becoming Wild