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Can a Human Really Be Friends with an Octopus?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2022

Using My Octopus Teacher as a jumping-off point, Ferris Jabr writes about what we know of octopus intelligence and social habits and wonders if humans and octopuses can actually form friendships.

On first viewing, it’s easy to perceive these interactions as a form of genuine companionship — an impression encouraged by lingering close-ups and swelling music. The apparent emotional connection between Foster and the octopus is precisely the aspect of the film that provoked such a strong response from audiences and critics. Upon further reflection, however, the true nature of their relationship becomes more ambiguous. Only one member of the pair speaks directly to the camera. Any conclusions about the octopus’s subjective experience are based entirely on interpretations of her often-enigmatic behavior. Maybe what looks to us like tenderness is mere curiosity or bemusement. Perhaps an ostensible embrace is actually a deflection. No doubt some people are extremely fond of octopuses, but can an octopus really be friends with a human?