A recurring theme among psychonauts is being able to speak with the spirit of the mushroom. It turns out there may be something to these strange theories. New research into mycelium networks has some fascinating implications. Keep reading and find out more.
The ability to relay information is an essential tool for any animal. From the basic clicks of insects to the complex linguistic systems we humans employ, communication is widespread in the animal kingdom.
There are three prerequisites for communication. First, you need a way to gather external data. Second, a means of processing it in an intelligible form. Finally, you must turn that evaluated information into a response or action.
Unlike mushrooms and fungi, sensory organs and nerves gather data about the external environment in the animal kingdom. The nervous system then sends that information to the brain, where it’s processed. Once evaluated, the brain sends a response signal back through the nervous system.
This same process governs more advanced communication systems such as speech and language. When we talk, we subconsciously obey a complex series of “orders” sent from our brain through our nervous system.
These electrical impulses form a nervous “language,” and the patterns they develop are reasonably well understood by scientists much more intelligent than us.
It’s not only animals that communicate. Plants also show signs of “talking” to one another to transmit data about environmental factors. While they don’t possess a nervous system, they have other means to relay information.
Plants communicate in three main ways; through the use of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), via electrical signaling, and through mycorrhizal networks. If both plants and animals have the ability to communicate, what about mushrooms and mycelial networks?
A recent study published in Royal Society Open Science seeks to answer this question. The article, “Language of fungi derived from their electrical spiking activity,” was published by a computer scientist from the University of the West of England.
Adam Adamatsky, the director of the Unconventional Computing Laboratory, carried out a study of mushrooms from four fungi species. The idea was to determine if there was any “meaning” to the electrical spiking observed in the mushrooms.
Previous research revealed that the number and frequency of electrical signals increased when mushrooms and fungi encountered new food sources. The researchers suggested that these signals may be a rudimentary language among fungi.
Scientists have previously drawn similarities between mycelium networks and nervous systems in animals, but our comprehensive understanding remains limited. Adamatsky’s research attempts to shed more light on this fascinating subject.
For this new study of mushrooms, Adamatsky placed electrodes on the hyphae of four species of fungi. The four he chose were caterpillar fungi (Cordyceps militaris), split gill (Schizophyllum commune), ghost fungi (Omphalotus nidiformis), and enoki (Flammulina velutipes).
Hyphae are the thread-like filaments that form a mycelium network in the substrate. This network facilitates communication between individual fruiting bodies and symbiotic relationships with other plants.
The electrodes measured the activity of the mushrooms and fungi over a period, and Adamatsky logged the data for further study. The information was subjected to probabilistic analysis using advanced algorithms.
An interpretative process rendered the electrical data into readable patterns, which were then analyzed from a linguistic standpoint. Adamatsky found that the signals often occurred in groups or clusters of spikes that somewhat resemble human vocabulary.
Each electrical signal was grouped and analyzed according to its frequency and amplitude. Viewed through a linguistic lens, these signals bear some resemblance to how syllables in speech work.
Running with this hypothesis, Adamatsky organized the fungal “syllables” into “words.” He found that the clusters of electrical signals formed a vocabulary of around fifty words. Curiously, these words are similar in length to ours, averaging 5.97 “syllables” long.
The study showed that of those fifty words, the mushrooms used a core group of about 15–20 far more frequently than others. Interestingly, Adamatsky reports that the ghost fungi and split gill seemed to create more diverse sentences than the caterpillar fungus and enoki.
Does this mean we’ll be chatting with chanterelles shortly? The answer, it seems, rather disappointingly, is probably not. Adamatsky said it’s impossible to ascribe a relationship between these signals and human speech, despite the observed similarities.
While the research shows that mushrooms and fungi produce non-random groupings of electric signals, their function and meaning remain unknown. Adamatsky suggested that they could function similarly to animal calls but also admitted that they could be meaningless.
Other scientists have applauded Adamatsky’s creativity but urged readers of this study of mushrooms to curb their enthusiasm. Dan Bebber, a mycologist from the University of Exeter, suggested that the spikes could be related to nutrient pulsing in fungi.
It’s clear that there’s still much to be learned about mycelium networks and their function. Despite its speculative nature, Adamatsky’s research poses some intriguing questions that, hopefully, further research could answer.
One can’t help but wonder what the results of a similar study of mushrooms with psychoactive properties might show. Until more conclusive data comes in, the mushrooms will have to continue talking amongst themselves.
This latest study of mushrooms seems to have reignited interest in these intriguing organisms. While the top minds have yet to reach a consensus, it’s certainly a fascinating topic to ponder and discuss.
Mushrooms having a language of their own might seem far-fetched, but we wager stranger things have happened. Why not grab some high-quality spores and carry out your own research? Who knows, some light conversation could be just what your shroom spores are lacking.