In the dark of night, a canny octopus escaped from his tank, gobbled up fish from a neighbouring tank, and returned – as though nothing was out of the ordinary. Another octopus, scientists report, escaped, wandered across the laboratory floor, and slithered down a drainpipe that, fortunately for him, led directly to the sea. Octopuses have learnt to squirt jets of water at tank bulbs, short-circuiting tank power supplies, and are also known to squirt water at keepers they don’t like. The octopus knows when it is in captivity and behaves accordingly – in other words, badly.
Scientists point to these behaviours, interestingly, as indicative of the octopus’s big, complex brain. Recalcitrant behaviour, stealing, escaping, adventuring from one shelter to another – these are signs of its special intelligence.
Interestingly, when similar behavioural patterns are noticeable in the human being – the recalcitrant child, for instance, or the rebellious teenager – these traits are regarded as signs of abnormality, defects even, but certainly not intelligence. Today, right around the world, tens of millions of children and young adults are diagnosed with significantly milder behavioural patterns than the ‘overly-intelligent’ octopus. The 21st century solution? Medication.
It leads one to question: Why do we applaud the clever octopus, yet we’re so quick to pathologise human behaviour?