In Polynesian legend, the octopus spirit is soft yet powerful, hidden yet aware, quiet yet quick. It guards secrets and treasures of the deep. One secret is, where do octopus keep their smarts. They don't really have a brain. Yet everyone who has studied octopus, put them through mazes and tests, say these 8-legged beasties are one of Sea's most canny creatures.
They are wonderful camouflage artists, able to assume almost any shape, even altering the texture and color of their skin to blend imperfectly, invisibly, with the sea floor. They talk to each other and to fish by color signals washing through their satin soft skin. They know all about subterfuge, puffing out a murky cloud of ink like a magician puffs out a plume of smoke to vanish behind. I even saw one throw a decoy crab shell to win a live crab from a determined queen trigger fish. Octopus eat crabs, shrimp, and clams.
With a little imagination you can teach an octopus nearly any trick at all. A German agricultural expert in Samoa became curious about the flexibility of octopus. How small a hole can an octopus slither through? He set up an aquarium divided by a sheet of clear plastic. A glass tube connected the two halves of the tank. He put a crab in one, an octopus in the other. The Octopus saw the crab, quickly ran its tentacles over the Plexiglas wall, discovered the glass tube and slid through it to get the crab.
Smaller tube. The second time the octopus didn't waste time fiddling around. It immediately slithered through the glass tube. The researcher put in another plastic barrier with a smaller tube, and the octopus oozed through. Then a smaller tube until the hole was just about as small as the diameter of the octopus' eye. He made a movie of his octopus going through the glass tube and it looks like a pink worm with a big eye on one end.
The Seaquarium in Miami Florida had a display of Florida lobsters. The lobsters kept vanishing and the manager thought, perhaps, one of the employees was making off with them. Or maybe somebody was sneaking in over the fence at night and stealing them. The Night watchman himself was one of the suspects and was determined to catch the thief if only to clear himself. Again and again the lobsters vanished but he couldn't catch anyone doing it. One night he went about his rounds as normal and then slipped back into the main display area and waited. After 30 minutes he thought he saw something happening in the lobster tank and he turned on all the lights. A big octopus was in the lobster tank. The watchman ran around to the walkway above the tanks and as he entered the area he saw the octopus lugging its captive lobster along the walkway, hell bent for its own tank. When they checked the octopus tank they found the empty shells of the stolen lobsters buried under the rocks. Octopus can obviously learn new tricks all by themselves.
Some memories are genetic, recorded in the large, complex DNA molecules found in every octopus cell. These tell the cells how to go from one fertilized egg cell to the billions of cells that form and are an octopus. They store important memories about how a baby octopus should crawl, swim, disguise itself, communicate with rainbows in its skin, mate, reproduce, lay eggs and protect them and die. These are tricks the canny octopus learned over the hundred million years or so it has been prowling the seven seas. Ancient memories.
Then there are very short term memories, such as the ability of a cell to remember conditions existing a fraction of a second before, so it can compare incoming perceptions with the prior condition and thus respond. These are erased almost immediately and involve changes in simple protein structures.
And there are memories that the octopus stores for its rather short (one year) life. The wonderful discoveries each octopus makes during its life are stored in some secret place, maybe in RNA scattered everywhere in the octopus body. They are not passed along to their young. octopus never get to see their own offspring. The female does not eat while guarding her eggs. She dies when they hatch out and swim into the sea.
There are some very peculiar aspects to memories. Single celled creatures, like protozoa, or bacteria can be taught to respond to certain signals. When the cells divide, the progeny keep the recorded memory.
Scientists in the mid fifties taught flatworms to curl up when a bright light was turned on. The flatworms were cut into hundreds of tiny pieces and fed to untrained flatworms. Yes indeed, the cannibalistic flatworms received and used the memory leading researchers to believe the memories were somehow stored in proteins.
How about this. Take a green sponge and a red sponge. Mash. Separate the cells by straining through a nylon sieve. Mix. The sponge cells change into little amoebas, collect together and form up again into a green sponge and a red sponge.
This is something like a human corporation that is rebuilt even if a fire or bomb destroys the entire physical plant and all the corporate records. The corporation remains because the people, if not destroyed, too, remember a pattern of mutual intercommunications, and can put their act together again. None of the individuals have the complete story, but each knows how to relate with each other to get the job done.
Interesting? Here's another and this is really strange. The ability to do all this remembering, especially genetic remembering, is stored in the DNA molecules. Take a colony of radiation resistant bacteria. Blast them with radiation until they fragment, keep blasting until their DNA molecules fragment. Mix. The bacteria, along with their DNA molecules reassemble themselves. How can this happen if the DNA is supposed to organize the construction of the bacterium? How does DNA, once fragmented, put itself back together again?
The miraculous radiation resistant bacteria are not unique, either. It seems all DNA can repair itself. Again, the system must have a kind of central organizing system to even know part of its coded information is messed up and, it must have some way of repairing the problem correctly and in sequence.
There is only one model that fits these events;
Memory is the result of the flow of information in specific patterns. It easily reforms into these patterns so long as the "concept" remains in the perception, memory, and response of some portion of the whole association.