Cobo book club: Entangled life
Our Five Key Takeaways
1. Fungi Make The Largest Living Organisms On Earth
Most people don’t know or underestimate fungi’s abilities. At the heart of their power lies mycelium networks, a web of delicate filaments that connect plants and fungi in ways we could never have imagined. Sheldrake recounts the story of a fungus named Armillaria solidipes, which spreads over 2,200 acres, making it the largest living organism on Earth. This revelation highlights the immense impact fungi have on shaping entire ecosystems.
2. Mycelium Networks Facilitate Communication Between Plants and Trees
These intricate webs of connections bind all living organisms as information superhighways that enable communication and resource-sharing between plants. For example, similar to how plants utilise their networks to transmit warning signals in the event of insect attacks, researchers have discovered underground mycelium networks enabling trees to exchange information and resources in forests.
3. Fungi Can Change Our Minds
Sheldrake talks about the mind-bending adaptations of fungi. He introduces readers to the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, or zombie-ants fungus, which manipulates the minds of ants, forcing them to climb to elevated positions before releasing spores so the fungi can reproduce.
On a more positive note, he explains how psilocybin has the power to tame our Default Mode Network, or the brain regions “activated when individuals are focused on their internal mental-state processes, such as self-referential processing, interoception, autobiographical memory retrieval, or imagining the future.” The DMN is also active when a person is not focused on the outside world. To put it succinctly, psilocybin can open our minds and, as a result, free us from overthinking and even treat depression. Last month, Parliament debated access to psilocybin treatments, proving how far the acceptance of the use of “magic mushrooms” has come.
4. Embracing the Mycelial Mindset Can Save Our Planet
Sheldrake encourages readers to adopt the mycelial mindset—an ethos of collaboration, adaptability, and resilience inspired by the intelligence of fungal networks. He highlights examples of the collaboration between humans and fungi in the field of mycoremediation, where fungi are utilised to clean up polluted environments. They include the use of fungi to create sustainable building materials, such as mycelium-based bricks, and using fungi to clean up oil spills in the Amazon.
“Entangled Life” offers glimpses of fungi’s potential to transform our world but also demonstrates how scientists around the world are applying this collaborative mindset to address real-world challenges.
5. Mycology Is At The Forefront Of Citizen Science
The majority of research in fungi comes from amateur mycologists because investments in research remain low. At the forefront of citizen science, mycologists have widely contributed to scientific discovery and can even reach stardom. Take Paul Stamets, who explained in a TED Talk how fungi could be used to “save the world” by cleaning polluted soil, replacing toxic insecticides and even treating viruses – with nearly 1 million followers on Instagram, his own Wikipedia page and a character named after him in Star Trek Discovery; he and others have raised the status of mycology to more than an obscure hobby. Tempted?
We were not sure what to expect with “Entangled Life” but were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the book. Fungi are everywhere, and their potential uses, from mental health treatments to mycoremediation, are fascinating. One thing particularly stayed with us – We couldn’t help comparing the mycelium networks with the other networks we live in, such as family, society, and even web technologies, and noticing that we are just reproducing images of what nature spontaneously creates.