Peter Godfrey-Smith 2021. Metazoa. Animal minds and the birth of consciousness. London: William Collins, 336 pp.

There are many encouraging review of this around, but to my own animal mind, this book about consciousness in animal minds failed to deliver much in the way of insights (this despite the author giving an interesting interview with Robyn Williams recently). Peter Godfrey-Smith makes a lot, too much, of being a SCUBA-diving philosopher - a lot of the book is a survey of the animal kingdom, especially as seen by divers, and with many anecdotes from the author’s diving experiences. This makes for an easy read, but very little of it is relevant to the stated aim of the book, to address “animal minds and the birth of consciousness”. The survey of the invertebrate part of the animal kingdom takes up the first third of the book in a way that would be useful for novices in the field of invertebrate biology and evolution. And there is some very basic material on consciousness research including Descartes and “what is it like to be a bat”. The most interesting discussions are those on dreaming, and on possible parallel consciousnesses in octopus with their distributed nervous system. The rest is very general, easy to read but not offering much novel. I guess I’m not the intended audience.

The author concludes that uploading human consciousness into a computer model of a brain is a fantasy since too much of what contributes to consciousness - the rest of the body - would be left behind. But this is a bit glib, it just means the computer needs a much more sophisticated model. Hardly a revelation.

The endnotes, however, provide a rich trove of further reading, quite a bit of which does address “animal minds and the birth of consciousness”.