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Learning from the mushrooms

“I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature...(that infuses) habitats with information-sharing membranes...(that are) aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind.” [Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World]

The premise of Biomimicry (or as we prefer, bio-inspiration) is that humans can learn so much from the incredibly long history, experience and learned techniques of the other species that inhabit this planet with us. Rather than dominate what we, incorrectly, call “nature,” we, at MycoMesh, believe that all of us should treat non-human species as co-habitants, “neighbors” if you will, who have much to teach us. Every aspect of the mycoPLACES Ecosystem reflects a combination of bio-inspiration and human experience.

Probably the longest-lived of those other species is the mycelium, known to us commonly as the mushroom family. As the mycologist and author, Paul Stamets put it in his book, Mycelium Running, “There are more species of fungi, bacteria, and protozoa in a single scoop of soil than there are species of plants and vertebrate animals in all of North America. And of these, fungi are the grand recyclers of our planet, the mycomagicians disassembling large organic molecules into simpler forms, which in turn nourish other members of the ecological community. Fungi are the interface organisms between life and death.”

For MycoMesh, Stamets' insightful thoughts on the architecture of mycelium were particularly striking and useful as we developed our model for places and spaces and ad-hoc cooperation and collaboration. As he said,

“Nature tends to build upon its successes. The mycelial archetype can be seen throughout the universe: in the patterns of hurricanes, dark matter, and the Internet. The similarity in form to mycelium may not be merely a coincidence. Biological systems are influenced by the laws of physics, and it may be that mycelia exploit the natural momentum of matter, just like salmon take advantage of the tides. The architecture of mycelium resembles patterns predicted in string theory, and astrophysicists theorize that the most energy-conserving forms in the universe will be organized as threads of matterenergy. The arrangement of these strings resembles the architecture of mycelium…

When the Internet was designed, its weblike structure maximized the pooling of data and computational power while minimizing critical points upon which the system is dependent. I believe that the structure of the Internet is simply an archetypal form, the inevitable consequence of a previously proven evolutionary model, which is also seen in the human brain; diagrams of computer networks bear resemblance to both mycelium and neurological arrays in the mammalian brain (see figures 3 and 4). Our understanding of information networks in their many forms will lead to a quantum leap in human computational power (Bebber et al. 2007)."

Stamets also warns about the human inclination to be “ecological disrupters," and against the wanton destruction of our life-support ecosystems. Instead he suggests that it is the time to “ensure the future of our planet and our species by partnering, or running, with mycelium.” We suggest reading his fascinating book and forming your own opinions on his diagnosis and prescription.

In the meanwhile, we find mycelium to be a powerful ecological metaphor for humans to use to re-envision places and spaces that not only exist in harmony with other species on our planet, but also enable and support human local and global action, collaboration and community. Using this powerful metaphor puts us back in partnership with the rest of the planet while still empowering and enabling humans.

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