Fungi and the Wood Wide Web

When I read Hope in the Dark1, there was this curious fact that stuck with me.

After a rain mushrooms appear on the surface of the earth as if from nowhere. Many come from a sometimes vast underground fungus that remains invisible and largely unknown. What we call mushrooms, mycologists call the fruiting body of the larger, less visible fungus. Uprisings and revolutions are often considered to be spontaneous, but it is the less visible long-term organising and groundwork – or underground work – that often laid the foundation. Changes in ideas and values also result from work done by writers, scholars, public intellectuals, social activists and participants in social media.

I thought the comparison was beautiful, but more than that I was amazed at this idea of mushrooms being just the visible tip of a much larger hidden organism underground.

Fast forward a year, and I just read The Hidden Life of Trees, which explains how trees stay connected to each other through a fungi network that interconnects their roots to exchange information and goods:

Over centuries, a single fungus can cover many square miles and network an entire forest. The fungal connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, helping the trees exchange news about insects, drought, and other dangers. Science has adopted a term first coined by the journal Nature for Dr. Simard’s discovery of the “wood wide web” pervading our forests

I thought the Wood Wide Web was interesting (and funny), but also there it was: the giant fungi again. And apparently, the largest known organism is a fungus “that occupies some 2,384 acres (965 hectares) of soil in Oregon’s Blue Mountains (…) and is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years, which would earn it a place among the oldest living organisms as well.”

It’s been a fascinating read, full of surprising facts about trees, and I definitely recommend reading it. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️


Featured image by Aaron Escobar

  1. If you can, buy directly from Haymarket. The paperback includes a eBook copy for free and their eBooks have no DRM. Just like it should be. 

On Human Rights

One of the first things she pointed out is that what was exposed by the refugee crisis of the last century was how so-called human rights were actually political and national rights. So you were only — you only had as many rights as were guarded by the country in which you happened to be born.

Once that country decided to decitizenize you, once it decided that you were no longer a citizen, once it decided that it had no more responsibilities towards you, you were rightless. She said the world — she said very famously, “The world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human.”

Lyndsey Stonebridge on Hannah Arendt in this episode of On Being: Thinking and Friendship in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt for Now.

Distributed concern

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011 I was in Austin for my first in-person company meeting. I remember being in the hotel lobby with my teammates an many other coworkers that had just arrived for SXSW. As we learned the news, many of them contacted some of our colleagues living in Japan and made sure they were fine. I had never felt worried about something so distant before.

One of the overlooked aspects of working for a distributed company like Automattic is that your circle of friends and acquaintances suddenly explodes geographically.

Since then, every time there’s a tragedy in the news I have to ask myself if I know someone there, and sometimes I do. I knew someone at a mass shooting in a school in Colorado, and several coworkers living in Paris during the 2015 attacks. A colleague’s parents lived in Cairo during the 2011 revolution. I’ve received Facebook notifications about friends being OK after a flooding in South Asia without even knowing they were there. And so many other times when I had to wonder again, do I know someone there?.

You see tragedies in the news every day. It’s so common that it’s sometimes hard to feel connected. It’s hard, I think, because if we cared as deeply about the remote tragedies as we do about the local ones, we would be in pain all the time.

I’m glad to know all those people around the world because that question has been very powerful. Most of the time I don’t know someone there, or if I know they’re fine. But then it’s easy to ask myself what if I did?. This isn’t just another segment in the news, this is real life, and real tragedy for many people.