Mr. Nature: Do Starfish Think?

Hi, Mr. Nature here! As you can see from this video, starfish can do things, albeit slowly. And that’s pretty remarkable, because a starfish doesn’t have a brain.

It’s a fact: no brain. It has a complicated nervous system; it can move, reproduce, respond to changes in the water, and hunt its prey; but it has no brain. (Note me laying off the wisecracks!)

So the question I have is this: can a starfish learn? And of course, to learn anything, you have to have some kind of memory. So we want to know if a starfish can remember anything.

I have been looking for answers to this question for years without ever having found one. You would think some marine biologist would be curious enough to do an experiment. If it were discovered that starfish can learn, and that without a brain, it would open up fascinating vistas of investigation.

If God did create the starfish with an ability to learn without a brain–wow!

About leeduigon

I have lived in Metuchen, NJ, all my life. I have been married to my wife Patricia since 1977. I am a former newspaper editor and reporter. I was also the owner-operator of my own small business for several years. I wrote various novels and short stories published during 1980s and 1990s. I am a long-time student of judo and Japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu). I also play chess, basketball, and military and sports simulations. View all posts by leeduigon

5 responses to “Mr. Nature: Do Starfish Think?

  • UnKnowable

    I will resist the temptation to mention any politicians by name. 🙂

    Obviously, something governs the actions of the starfish. Perhaps it has a distributed nervous system instead of a central nervous system and its “brain” exists throughout its body. This is not without precedent. Our intestines have the second greatest concentration of nerves in our body and I have heard that 90% of the traffic in our vagus nerve flows towards the brain. Obviously, our digestive system and especially our intestines, have quite a lot to say. They also have quite an effect upon our mood.

    So, perhaps, the starfish “thinks” out along its arms and tube-feet. When it senses a delicious mussel the signals from the periphery are strong enough to influence the entire body and the starfish acts with resolve, even though it does not have a central brain.

    Medical science does not fully understand consciousness. It is thought by some to extend to each and every cell in the body. No one fully understands how consciousness “clocks”, but obviously we somehow synchronize the flow of information which is fundamental to having any sort of ordered consciousness. The starfish has to be doing this too, or the sensations which tell it of the presence of a food source would be meaningless. What good is it to know that there’s something to eat if there is no sense of “now”. Trying to eat yesterday’s mussel would do no good whatsoever.

    At some level, we have to recognize that the Creator’s work exceeds our understanding.


    • leeduigon

      Starfish do have a complex nervous system, but what I can’t seem to find out is whether they have any means of storing information for future use.


      • UnKnowable

        Possibly not for future use, but there has to be some persistence of memory from one instant to another, or it would forget what it was in the process of doing and never be able to nourish itself.


  • Linda Sorci

    Interesting. I suppose I’ve never thought of it in terms of ‘thinking’ It seems that everything living must have consciousness of some sort and an awareness of their circumstances. Otherwise, how would they survive?


    • UnKnowable

      I remember reading a scientific article about research into consciousness some years ago. The bottom line was that they really don’t know all that much about it.


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