Did Paul the octopus predict his own death?

On first hearing the news that Paul the “psychic” octopus has died at his home at the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre in Germany, it is tempting to remark: well, I bet he didn’t see that coming. But for all we know he might have done. Maybe we simply didn’t ask him the question.

Paul’s predictive powers were only ever supply-led, based around choosing — by pawing with his tentacles — his favoured alternative between two possible outcomes lowered into his tank in separate boxes. Presumably, “are you about to die?” was never offered as an option. But if it was, the likelihood is that Paul would have plumped for yes, because on the face of it, his hit rate was extraordinarily accurate. This was the most peculiar thing about Paul, beyond simply the bafflingly peculiar nature of his global celebrity in the first place: he was pretty much always right.

It is hard to give shape to a public life through a mere montage of moments, particularly at a time such as this when Paul’s body still remains — let’s face it — pretty much as cold as it always was inside the small saline box in which his mollusc remains are being stored before burial (yes: burial). But these were probably his most devastating moments:

1. A career highlight: Paul correctly predicts that Spain will beat The Netherlands in the World Cup final. Here he moves immediately to the Spanish box and is thrillingly decisive with his tentacles. Clearly for Paul the issue was never in any doubt. In many ways this was the perfect swansong to a predictive career that took off two years earlier at Euro 2008: Paul announced his competitive retirement shortly afterwards.

2. A less happy moment: Paul would receive death threats shortly after predicting Germany’s defeat to Spain in the World Cup semifinals. Publicly he appeared completely unshaken by the experience and continued to carry out his duties with great professionalism. Privately, however … Well, privately nobody really knows the truth, although as an octopus he did have very little actual consciousness and an emotional range that remains unguessably limited.

3. A difficult moment: Paul refuses to be swayed by feelings of jingoistic loyalty and picks Germany to beat his native England in their World Cup second-round match. In the end, of course, Paul was right. Germany beat England 4-1 to advance to the next stage. Although there are of course those who might say you didn’t need to be a psychic octopus to see that particular result coming. – guardian.co.uk


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