The gigantic mushroom world is home to beings “on the border between life and death,” wrote biologist and scientific philosopher Merlin Sheldrick.
They shine and enlighten us. They heal and kill us. It tastes good and disgusts us. We’re talking bioluminescent creatures, whose ghostly light illuminates the darkness of submarines and miners, mind-expanding substances like LSD and psilocybin, antibiotics and deadly poisons, truffles and mushrooms.
Merlin Sheldrick, a biologist and philosopher of science at Cambridge University, has explored its vast universe for decades. Sometimes he digs for the microfibre web with his bare fingers between tree roots, and sometimes he exposes himself to the effects it is having on his brain in subjective – medically controlled – experiences. He describes what he has experienced in an exciting and knowledgeable way. For a long time, biologists considered fungi to be plants, but today we know that, along with these animals, they form their own system of living things. In fact, heredity and metabolism make it more closely related to animals – and therefore to humans – than to plants.
The diversity of their species and their functions in an ecosystem is just beginning to be explored. Sheldrick describes how mushrooms communicate with one another, discusses the extent to which mushrooms can be called “intelligent”, how some function as an indispensable supply system for forest trees, and how others cut down entire forests as deadly parasites. Some destroy valuable crops, but without others there would be no beer, bread or cheese. Some types of mushrooms eat oil and are used to clean the environment, while others, as a toxic mold, make homes permanently uninhabitable.
The mushroom kingdom is always an ‘plus’. As Sheldrick writes, they are beings “on the line between life and death.” Page after page gradually he leads his readers to see nature from below, from the perspective of mushrooms. And it opens up a whole new way of looking at the world that wouldn’t exist without mushrooms.Jurgen Nakot
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