Mycelium 2.0

The cornerstone of this project was an agent well-known to virtually all ecosystems of Earth known as mycelium.  Mycelium is a thread-like microscopic mat that inhabits the first 4-6 inches of nearly all the topsoil on this planet and is in many ways responsible for the diversification and capabilities of life as we know it.  To the right is an electron-micrograph of mycelium magnified to 500x.  To the left is a graph of a section of the Internet compiled in 2005 by Matt Britt.  In the late 1990’s, mycologist Paul Stamets suggested that mycelium was in fact Earth’s natural internet: a decentralized network of microscopic, biological network cables that connected various species of plant life throughout the soil.

For over an estimated 1 billion years, mycelium has traversed the landmasses of Earth, connecting different species, recycling dead and dying organisms, and sprouting mushrooms as fruitbodies.  Mycologists hypothesize that it was in fact this microscopic fungus that came up with the idea of the stomach when they marched from the ocean onto landmasses.  In the event of coming across potential sources of nutrients, mycelium formed cellular sacs that excreted enzymes and other digestive nutrients.  We are more related to the fungi kingdom than any other kingdom, a fact that makes us wonder if what makes us human, is in fact not human at all.  For an 18 minute introduction from one of the world’s foremost experts on the topic, watch this TED Talk by Paul Stamets recorded in February of 2008:

Trying to understand the Internet as an expression of nature became my main focus, and not without good reason.  Overtime, I slowly began to realize the subtle, yet enormously significant connections between electronic communications and ecological organization, ultimately easing me further into the mindspace inhabited by indigenous people.

When studying American Indian Politics in Policy, I came across a term that was used to describe how native American people viewed the world.  The term was “living sphere” and it served as a tremendous reminder to see all the contents of this planet as one.  “Living sphere” suggested that matter wasn’t the lumpen, static entity  – a definition bequeathed to us by modern science.  Rather, Earth and its ihabitants – organic and inorganic – is a living, breathing, vibrating system of which each component is inextricably linked from the next.

Incorporating Stamets’ view of the Internet and mycelium became easy once discovering the roots of the personal computer.  In the 1950’s, computer research was on high and the United States at the time dominated the landscape.  Between the U.S. government and the Massachusettes Insitute of Technology, America was leading the way in the development of computers.  These computers, however, were the size of classrooms – and the idea of them being in the hands (let alone the pockets) of civilians was absurd.  It wasn’t until researchers and engineers travelled West that dream of personal computing began to take form.

In California, specifically around what is known as Silicon Valley today, Stanford University broke ground on a new school of computer science headed by Doug Engelbart, that wasn’t as engrained in the government’s agenda.  In the aftermath of WWII, the United States officials and policy makers were heavily influenced by a military/industrial complex ideology that was primarily concerned with the amelioration of communist and fascist regimes..  The Bay area, however, was steaming with notions of new paradigms and progressive culture.  From the beat/international scene in San Francisco to the student activists at the University of California at Berkeley, the Bay area was becoming inoculated by a never-before seen shift in thought and lifestyle.

Interestingly, one of the more influential factors in the cultivation of this tremendously fertile soil was the influence of psychiatric medicine that was legal at the time but in the subsequent years, suddenly became one of the most dangerous substances in the eyes of the United states government.  These medicines included LSD-25, a compound discovered by Swiss-chemist Albert Hoffmann (January 11, 1906 – April 29, 2008), as well as psilocybin, a psychointegratory component inherent in hundreds of different mushrooms species from around the world.

One of the most prominent advocates of LSD-25 and other psychointegratory agents such as mescaline, was British author Aldous Huxley.  Huxley was already well known for his 1932 dystopian novel Brave New World, but soon broke ground on what would become an extensive fleet of psychedelic literature with the publication of The Doors of Perception in 1954.  Huxley tried to remind the public that the use of these substances was for mature audiences and that they penetrated the very foundations of human life and the consciousness experience, ultimately leading him to suggest to members of the psychiatric/psychological community to try administering the medicines to prominent actors of society: writers, scientists, engineers, politicians – people established, mature, and capable of integrating the insights of psychedelic experiences into consensual reality.  This position opened the doors for hundreds of electrical engineers – including participants in Stanford’s Computer Research Institute – to experience these substances and try to apply elements of their experience to predicaments they faced in the development of computer technology.

One of the more famous stories regarding the use of LSD in California was Apple Inc. founder and current CEO, Steve Jobs.  Jobs, a dropout of Reed College, wound up in Silicon Valley and while under the influence of the substance found himself composing classical music in his own mind.  This experience solidified Jobs’ dream to create machines that could help humans tap into the furthest reaches of their imaginations, just as LSD had done for him.

Taking a look at the roots of personal computing helps illuminate Stamets’ claim because LSD and psilocybin are mysterious agents from this planet that seem to catalyze more extensive levels of awareness.  Furthermore, since mushrooms are the fruitbodies of the mycelial network, it is at this point important to mention that for perhaps 90% of our species’ existence we have had what appears to be a symbiotic relationship with these materials and only in recent history has our umbilicus been cut.  Today personal and inner exploration is often substituted for commercial goods constructed out of the bones of a dying world.

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The Internet appears to be a mycelial-like, ever-evolving network engineered to hold together and aerate the fertile soil that is human-generated, multi-medial information. Internet technology finds itself on an exponential wave of growth, and the common question is for what purpose? Much of these developments have shattered the costs of production as defined by the industrial models of the 20th century, creating a business and economic landscape that is no longer focused on efficiency or productivity, but in fact creativity. Similarly, enterprises such as open-source software, the blogosphere, and Wikipedia automatically deconstruct traditional hierarchical modes of production by virtue of their design, illuminating the tremendous potential of self-organizing organizations. This deconstruction, if viable, offers many keen insights on how future systems of business, economics, and governance may be designed in order to best suit the needs of the digitally sophisticated and organically situated human being.

“The planet has a kind of intelligence, it can actually open a channel of communication with an individual human being. The message that nature sends is, transform your language through a synergy between electronic culture and the psychedelic imagination, a synergy between dance and idea, a synergy between understanding and intuition, and dissolve the boundaries that your culture has sanctioned between you, to become part of this Gaian supermind”. – Terence Mckenna

The Internet is a mycelial-like, ever-evolving network engineered to hold together and aerate the fertile soil that is human-generated, multi-medial information. We will look at the Internet from the perspective of it being an organically grown technology that possesses a specific ecological purpose not unlike the mycelial network itself. Internet technology finds itself on an exponential wave of growth, and the common question is for what purpose? Much of these developments have shattered the costs of production as defined by the industrial models of the 20th century, creating a business and economic landscape that is no longer focused on efficiency or productivity, but in fact creativity. Similarly, enterprises such as open-source software, the blogosphere, and Wikipedia automatically deconstruct traditional hierarchical modes of production by virtue of their design, illuminating the tremendous potential of self-organizing organizations. This deconstruction, if viable, offers many keen insights on how future systems of business, economics, and governance may be designed in order to best suit the needs of the digitally sophisticated and organically situated human being.

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