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Summary

The scuba-diving philosopher and best-selling author of Other Minds 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.

©2020 Peter Godfrey-Smith (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Probably better read with your eyes than your ears

I was so excited to read this book I pre-ordered it. I loved Other Minds and this looked great. And it is very good - maybe not quite as accessible as talk of octopods, but still quirky and full of interesting facts. I know a tiny bit about some of the life forms from the Cambrian from TV projects I've worked on and was really looking forward to hearing the through line Godrey-Smith would bring. however, he's chosen to read the book himself, and is so very obviously reading the text it makes what is fairly interesting rather dull. HIs reading is breathy, you can hear when he turns a page or scrolls as he momentarily pauses and briefly loses context. It's endearingly human... but it makes a tricky-for-me subject into one that becomes opaque. There are great moments in here - a one armed shrimp makes repeated appearances, the authors obvious curiosity and interest in the topic - but overall it feels less open to the lay person than his previous book and definitely one to read as a book not audio.

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Another dive into the world of the mind

I intend to update my review once I have finished, but I wanted to jump in here to say, for what it's worth, that I disagree with complaints about the narration. Sure, the author's reading of his work is not as animated as a professional reader's would be, but it is clear and easy to follow. His writing style is lucid and engaging — even, at times, poetic. As for the content, so far (I'm on chapter six) it is a worthy sequel to Other Minds, full of a fascinating creatures and provocative ideas.