A giant pacific octopus has around 250 suckers per arm that it can use to manipulate small items. If theoretically, one of these animals was given human intelligence, and of course proper medical training, would they be able to do something as delicate as surgery?

The surgery takes place in a low gravity room out of water as so the soft-bodied octopus inst crushed by its own weight. The octopus is also given a proper respirator as to breath out of water.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking about "plain vanilla" octopus body, or the body that is enhanced for dexterity and fine manipulations? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Feb 18, 2020 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ The only concern I would have about this idea is whether an octopus would be capable of sufficient precision and fine motor control for this kind of activity. I haven't been able to find much in the way of research or testing on this topic, but without the structural rigidity of the fingerbones I just intuitively feel like an octopus would have a hard time with a scalpel. EDIT: Some interesting reading on this topic: oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/… $\endgroup$ Feb 18, 2020 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ Also: If I've got an octopus with human intelligence in space, I don't want him doing surgery on my crew, I want him as my maintenance chief. An octopus would be VASTLY superior to a human in cramped maintenance spaces. $\endgroup$ Feb 18, 2020 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like a premise for a game crossover of Octodad and Surgeon Simulator. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 19, 2020 at 7:13

1 Answer 1


I don’t believe an octopus could use scalpels and other tools build for human hands with sufficient precision to perform surgery.

But, I think there could there be tool designs that would give the octopi sufficient control that they could be effective surgeons.

I’m of the opinion that designs accommodated three or more tentacles would let them have proper control. My reason is that the range of motion of a single tentacle is kind of like one of our fingers but they don’t have a rigid point of flexion like the palm and wrist. So the tools provide that.

A surgeon can control a blade in six to twelve degrees of freedom — (x,y,z roll, pitch, yaw, etc) — complex objects can move in space at 6N degrees of freedom, where N is the number of linkages in the system. But, an octopi tentacle is more limited, its curls between more than fingers, since it more contracts or elongates rather than flex and extending bounded by the bones in our fingers.

We can hold our fingers in fixed rigid position, whereas octopi either are relaxed, contracted, or elongated. But, tentacles can be moved in opposition to one another. So as along as the tool lets them balance the forces precisely, I think that they’d have control good enough for surgery.

And, in a world where they can be in space with lower gravity, there would be robotic surgical tools like we have today. I think the controls would be different for an octopus surgeon, like more knobs, but they’d work just as good for humans as for octopi.

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    $\begingroup$ This was my thinking too. They'd need one of those fancy robotic waldos that surgeons use for microsurgery. $\endgroup$ Feb 18, 2020 at 21:14

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