What octopus camouflage tells us about the nature of reality and successful people

Octopus study

Biologist Roger Hanlon took a trip to the Caribbean a decade ago and ran into an octopus on the ocean floor. The thing is, the little eight-legged guy was able to make himself look exactly like the rocks and vegetation he clung to in order to hide from predators and nosy humans. Hanlon’s findings on cephalopod camouflage may make marine biologists giddy, but anyone interested in the nature of reality should take note as well. The lesson is simple: We are in the dark. Octopus ink dark. And 99% of the people out there who tell you otherwise are simply deluding themselves.

Here’s what Mr. Hanlon and Ms. Lichtman have to say about our cephalopod friends, those “masters of optical illusion.”

Roger Hanlon: “The are the animals best known to go anywhere and camouflage. No animal even comes close to the speed and diversity of appearances of this animal.”

Flora Lichtman: “And they have a few tricks at their disposal. Octopus and cuddlefish can change their skin texture.”

Roger Hanlon: “This is the only animal group that we know of that has fine control of its skin to create bumpiness.”

Flora Lichtman: “And they match their skin dimensionality on sight, not touch, which is…”

Roger Hanlon: “…a vexing visual perception question.”

Flora Lichtman: “And of course, they change color.” …

Roger Hanlon: “So the amazing thing is that these animals are colorblind, yet they are capable of creating color-match patterns, but we don’t know how.”

Flora Lichtman: “But of course Hanlon would like to. And one way he’s studying this is by looking closely at squid skin. …

Roger Hanlon: “[Super up-close] images of live, unanesthetized a squid [reveal interesting dots].”

Flora Lichtman: “And those dots of pigment are called chromatophores. They come in three colors.”

Roger Hanlon: “Yellow, red and brown. But there are reflectors under the pigments and the reflectors produce the short wavelengths. The blues and the greens.”

Flora Lichtman: “And as you can see the chromatophores can change shape to change the predominant skin color.”

Roger Hanlon: “Each one of those little spots can expand up to 15X its diameter.”

Flora Lichtman: “And these chromatophores seem to be twitching all the time.”

Roger Hanlon: “The camouflage all night long. They don’t sleep as far as we know.”

Squid skin close up

Flora Lichtman: “That’s because cephalopods with their squishy bodies, rely on camouflage as their main protection from predators. But of course camouflage is not just color; it’s also pattern. This is one on Hanlon’s major hypothesis.”

Roger Hanlon: “We found only three or four basic patters templates that they use to achieve all this camouflage.”

  • Uniform: Little or no contrast in the pattern.
  • Mottle: Small scale light and dark blotches.
  • Disruptive: To interfere with recognition of what the animal is.

Octopus skin texture

Flora Lichtman: “Based on lab studies, Hanlon says that the animals flash particular patterns based on a few visual cues they encounter in the environment. Hanlon wouldn’t call it a reflex because so much visual recognition is involved…”

Roger Hanlon: “But it is very fast.”

Octopus camo

Flora Lichtman: “The palate and pattern changes in less than a second. But just why these patters work is still kind of a mystery. Let’s take the octopus video again. Hanlon analyzed this video frame by frame, but he can’t tell you why you can’t see the animal.”

Roger Hanlon: “We can’t find any true statistical matches whether it’s brightness or color between the animal and the background, so camouflage is not looking exactly like the background.”

Flora Lichtman: “Camoflauge just means fooling whatever is looking at you, which suggests …

Roger Hanlon: We’re behind the eight ball as it were, if we think the world looks like how we see it. There’s much more information there, and other animals see it very differently.”


The level of hubris it takes to believe that through the human body’s five senses we could ever fully understand the universe would be hilarious if the consequences weren’t so destructive to the soul. As I said in June, your mind can not be trusted because you are not your mind.

‘The Incredible Shrinking Hand’ experiment seemed to highlight that nicely:

Last month, researchers at Oxford University announced the discovery of a powerful new painkiller: inverted binoculars. The scientists found that subjects who looked at a wounded hand through the wrong end of binoculars, making the hand appear smaller, felt significantly less pain and even experienced decreased swelling. According to the researchers, this demonstrates that even basic bodily sensations such as pain are modulated by what we see. So next time you stub your toe or cut your finger, do yourself a favor: look away.

What does all of this mean? It means that you should have an open mind. It means that you should reject anyone who tries to put you into a psychological prison cell as it pertains to what you can accomplish while you roam the earth. It means that you need to take off your mind-forged manacles and get to work doing what you know in your heart will make you truly happy.

The octopus can not see color, and yet it becomes that which it puts its eyes on. You can not see your future self, but you will become that which you focus on — so focus on success. Do so, and you will confound your critics just as the octopus confounds (while impressing) biologists.

What if you attacked your problems like Diana Nyad attacked her historic swim?

Sharks? Jellyfish? Storms? That’s no big deal for 64-year-old Diana Nyad, who just swam 110 miles from Florida to Cuba. Imagine what the world would look like if individuals attacked their problems like she attacked her fifth attempt at the historic swim.

The Associated Press reports:

KEY WEST, Fla. — Looking dazed and sunburned, U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad waded ashore Monday and became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage.

The 64-year-old Nyad swam up to the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after starting her journey from Havana on Saturday. As she approached, spectators waded into waist-high water and surrounded her, taking pictures and cheering her on.

“I have three messages. One is, we should never, ever give up. Two is, you’re never too old to chase your dream. Three is, it looks like a solitary sport, but it is a team,” she said on the beach.

Diana Nyad, positioned about two miles off Key West, Fla., Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, is escorted by kayakers as she swims towards the completion of her approximately 110-mile trek from Cuba to the Florida Keys. Nyad, 64, is poised to be the first swimmer to cross the Florida Straits without the security of a shark cage. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)

The New York Times provides an important addition to the commentary:

Ms. Nyad’s success was built on her failures — the first in 1978, when she was 28, and the most recent last year at age 62. After each attempt, she improvised, learning what to adjust, whom to consult and which new protective protocol to consider.

“Diana did her homework,” said Bonnie Stoll, Ms. Nyad’s friend and chief handler, shortly after Ms. Nyad completed her swim.

1. Never give up. 2. You’re never too old to accomplish amazing things. 3. You are never alone. 4. Success is often like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of failure.

When I was a kid, there was a time where I prided myself on not falling on my skis during winter vacation. My uncle told me that I shouldn’t be afraid of falling because a.) I would push myself harder and b.) I would learn from my mistakes. Whether you are long-distance swimming, skiing or just trying to map out your life, it’s sage advice to follow.

What if, instead of blaming others for our failures, we just looked at them as just a temporary delay to a future reality already determined? What if we didn’t spend so much time assigning blame for the obstacles in our path and instead spent more time figuring out how to turn them into stepping stones to our next big accomplishment?

Diana Nyad failed multiple times — at the peak of her physical ability. It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but she didn’t. Her victory over the seemingly insurmountable swimming distance between Florida to Cuba speaks volumes about what the human spirit is capable of.

Jellyfish sting because that’s what they do. Jerks are jerks because that’s who they’ve decided to be. Whether you’re trying to accomplish a task in the middle of the ocean or trying to navigate your way through professional life, the “Why me?” approach is simply a waste of time. “Why did I have to run into those stupid jellyfish and why did they have to sting me? … Why does my coworker not like me now matter how nice I am to him? … Why did that guy appear to give me a dirty look?” Answer: Who cares?

You have complete control over your will to succeed, and it can not be broken if you make it so. An indestructible will is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and once you realize that you are well on your way to securing the vast majority of your hopes and dreams. Diana Nyad deserves a round of applause for reminding us of this truth in her own special way.

The is no ‘spare’ time because there is only time

Yesterday I was eating lunch at Panera, and next to me were two men, one of which was trying to sell the other on some sort of pyramid scheme. The seller said at one point: “Don’t you want to make some extra cash in your spare time?” l generally had a depressing lunch because I thought of all the people like them who don’t realize that there is no such thing as “spare” time because there is only “time.”

Every moment of every day you are either moving closer or farther away from fully realizing who you were meant to be. How you spend your time when you aren’t working is just as integral to living up to your potential as what you do at your place of employment. Your friends and your associations matter. Do you exercise to relax, or do you drink? Do you make time to read a good book once in awhile, or do you play video games? Do you get adequate rest on Saturday and Sunday, or are you out all night trying to fit as much fun as possible into the weekend? All of these things matter. I am not passing judgement on one activity or another. I am merely stating that everything requires self examination.

You could die ten minutes after you read this blog of a heart attack. You could die a few days from now in a car accident. Or, you could die many years from now in your sleep simply due to old age. That is why every second counts.

What kind of person wants to spend their life chasing after spare change like they were Mario or Luigi from Super Mario Bros.? No one should ever have to do that unless, for whatever reason, that is what their spirit truly desires to experience during its time on earth.

The person who goes around thinking of “spare change” in their “spare time” will generally just lead a life where they’re only just getting by because all of their energy is focused on just getting by. On top of that, people who are always looking for spare cash usually tend to do so because they want to buy “things”; it’s a good indicator they are way to concerned with filling up their life with gizmos and gadgets and clothes, and when you lead a life chasing after earthly pleasures you will never be satisfied.

Look at some of the most successful Hollywood stars out there, sports figures and politicians who have enough money to buy anything they want. They have closets and mansions and garages filled with “stuff.” They don’t need “spare” change, and yet, if you follow that person in the news it’s not long before the writing is on the wall that many of these people are absolutely miserable.

But I digress. That’s another issue for another blog post.

The point is, one of the keys to finding happiness is asking the right question. Instead of saying “how can I make some spare cash” one might ask: “How can I be financially independent by age 50?” Or they could ask: “How can I make $100,000 a year and enjoy what I’m doing?” The brain is a supercomputer, and if you ask it the right questions it will come up with answers for you. However, if you put garbage in, you will get garbage out.

There is a reason why people say they need to “focus like a laser.” That’s because the human body is pure energy. Your thoughts and your feelings and everything that makes you “you” — when you dig deep enough down — is pure energy. So it stands to reason that if you focus your mind and your body and your spirit in one direction, that energy will begin to carve out the reality you desire.

You might think the Catholic guy is getting all New Age at this point, but he’s not. Regardless, I hope this post will do its little part to help get you focused on what you need to do to attain true happiness.