Healing Stones

"What we think, we become"


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Fungal behavior

In the case of Ophiocordyceps, an infected ant's behaviour car be thought of as fungal behaviour. The death grip, summit disease, these are extended characteristics of the fungus, part of its extended phenotype. Can the alterations in human consciousness and behaviour brought about by psilocybin mushrooms be thought of as part of the extended phenotype of the fungus? The extended behaviour of Ophiocordyceps leaves an imprint in the world in the form of fossilised scars on the underside of leaves. Can the extended behaviour of psilocybin mushrooms be thought of as leaving an imprint in the world in the form of ceremonies, rituals, chants and the other cultural and technological outgrowths of our altered states? Do psilocybin fungi wear our minds, as Ophiocordyceps and Massospora wear insect bodies?

Terence McKenna was a great advocate of this view. Given a sufficiently large dose, he asserted, the mushroom could de expected to speak, plainly and clearly, talking 'eloquently of itself in the cool night of the mind'. Fungi have no hands with which to manipulate the world but with psilocybin as a chemical messenger, they could borrow a human body, and use its brain and senses to think and speak through. McKenna thought fungi could wear our minds, occupy our senses and, most important, impart knowledge about the world out there. Among other things, fungi could use psilocybin to influence humans in an attempt to deflect our destructive habits as a species. For McKenna, this was a symbiotic partnership that presented possibilities 'richer and even more baroque' than those available to humans or fungi alone.

As Dawkins reminds us, how far we're willing to go depends on how far we're willing to speculate. How we speculate in turn depends on how we arrange our biases. 'You think the world is what it looks like in fine weather at noon day,' the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once observed to his former student Bertrand Russell. 'I think it is what it seems like in the early morning when one first wakes from deep sleep.' In Whitehead's terms, Dawkins speculates in fine weather at noon day. He takes pains to ensure that his speculation about extended phenotypes remains 'disciplined' and 'tightly limited'. He is clear that phenotypes can extend beyond the body, but they can't be too extended. By contrast, McKenna speculates at dawn. His requirements are less stringent, his explanations less tightly limited. Between the two poles lies a continent of possible opinion.

Merlinerlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, And Shape Our Futures