Ep. 26: Entangled Life - How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures (feat. Merlin Sheldrake)


Today on Mushroom Hour we have the pleasure of speaking with Merlin Sheldrake, author of the groundbreaking fungal narrative, Entangled Life. Merlin is a biologist and a writer with a background in plant sciences, microbiology, ecology, and the history and philosophy of science. He received a Ph.D. in tropical ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama.   

Our voyage begins in the fertile jungles of Panama, teeming with biodiversity of all kinds. It's here that we find Merlin studying mycoheterotrophic plants and unlocking the secrets of the seemingly infinite web of mycelium that skeins out underneath the forest floor. His work in Panama captures our imaginations and peels up the edges of many key concepts that pop up again and again through the pages of his book.   

It becomes apparent that as our collective understandings of ecology and biology advance, we can no longer examine organisms in a vacuum, without understanding their complex relationships. Fungi so easily embrace this "intimacy of strangers" and have a seemingly unparalleled ability to form entangled relationships with other living things. Why are fungi in particular such potent scions of symbiosis?   

Riding tips of hyphae through rotscapes and the wood wide web, we'll marvel at the paradox of mycelium-based intelligence - living labyrinths that are seemingly processing information everywhere at once, and nowhere in particular. It is able to make decisions, it recognizes the limits of its physical form and it can adapt to changing circumstances, all without the help of a brain. Do analogies relating mycelium structures to our own brains aid or hinder our understanding of them? Why should we be careful when we examine fungi through an anthropocentric lens?   

Human society has been perpetually guided by fungal influences - both in our physical relationships with them and in the stories we tell about them. When we imbibe or ingest fungi, we participate in this ancient relationship as the fungal consciousness influences our human experience. And whether it was psychedelic entheogens that opened up doors of perception or invisible yeasts that magically created bread, beer or wine, the myths and rituals we developed around fungi also shaped the course of civilizations. How will fungi continue to influence the course of humankind? Where can we find hope in fungal solutions to human problems?   

Our wizened, fungal wizard Merlin beckons us to descend into the earth and find communion with our favorite, more-than-human organisms on their terms - and learn something about ourselves in the process.   

Thanks for listening and Mush Love!   

Directed, Recorded, Produced by: Mushroom Hour
(@welcome_to_mushroom_hour)   

Music by: Ancient Baby (https://peckthetowncrier.bandcamp.com/)   
Art by: Wyn Di Stefano (http://www.wyndistefano.com/)   

Episode Resources
Merlin Sheldrake's website: https://www.merlinsheldrake.com/   
Merlin Sheldrake's IG: https://www.instagram.com/merlin.sheldrake/   
Entangled Life (Book): https://bookshop.org/books/entangled-life-how-fungi-make-our-worlds-change-our-minds-shape-our-futures/9780525510314

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