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The Octopus as National Security Adviser?

In 2010, Paul the Octopus famously seemed to predict the outcome of eight out of eight World Cup games. But alas, he passed away soon after, depriving the world of his predictive powers. However, this past week at an AAAS talk we were given another reason to pay attention to these intelligent cephalopods. Rafe Sagarin, marine ecologist at the University of Arizona’s Institute of the Environment and author of a new book “Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorism, Natural Disasters, and Disease,” argued that the octopus can teach nations a lot about how to keep themselves secure, based on its long record of successful adaptation. He identified four transferable lessons from the octopus, and some other of nature’s most adaptable organisms, showing that these organisms:

–        Have a decentralized organization

–        Use [creative] redundancy to be able to solve many types of problems

–        Use symbiotic partnerships to vastly increase adaptability

–        Learn from success

In connecting these concepts to national security policy, Rafe Sagarin highlighted examples such as the in-adaptability of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the high adaptability of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, who learned to mitigate and adapt to the risks of IED attacks well before heavily-armored MRAP vehicles were deployed to solve the problem. National security planners may also benefit from some of these insights when determining how best to adapt to the effects of climate change. To explore the concept further, see an interview with Rafe Sagarin at Scientific American, and also watch his slideshow presentation at Prezi.


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