The internet is not what you think it is

From a superb essay by the incomparable Justin E.H.Smith:

The internet is not what you think it is. For one thing, it is not nearly as newfangled as you probably imagine. It does not represent a radical rupture with everything that came before, either in human history or in the vastly longer history of nature that precedes the first appearance of our  species. It is, rather, only the most recent permutation of a complex of behaviors as deeply rooted in who we are as a species as anything else we do: our storytelling, our fashions, our friendships; our evolution as beings that inhabit a universe dense with symbols.

Among other things the essay talks about fungi networks, the symbiosis between fungi and the roots of plans that reveal an intelligence we do not typically associate with such species. It reminded me of another essay I read recently about these networks. Here’s Ashutosh Jogalekar writing in 3 Quarks Daily:

The discovery that fungal networks could supply trees with essential nutrients in a symbiotic exchange was only the beginning of the surprises they held. Sheldrake talks in particular about the work of the mycologists Lynne Body and Suzanne Simard who have found qualities in the mycorrhizal networks of trees that can only be described as deliberate intelligence. Here are a few examples: fungi seem to “buy low, sell high”, providing trees with important elements when they have fallen on hard times and liberally borrowing from them when they are doing well. Mycorrhizal networks also show electrical activity and can discharge a small burst of electrochemical potential when prodded. They can entrap nematodes in a kind of death grip and extract their nutrients; they can do the same with ants. Perhaps most fascinatingly, fungal mycelia display “intelligence at a distance”; one part of a huge fungal network seems to know what the other is doing.