Dear Merlin Sheldrake,
At the opening of the chapter on Radical Mycology in your new book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape our Futures, your naked body is immersed in a mound of decomposing wood chips. I yelped out loud when I read that sentence. Immersed in wood chips on purpose!! I personally know two dozen people who would choose swimming with hungry sharks over a wood chip bath. Oh, how I want to introduce you to Julie Reymeyer, author of Through the Shadowlands; A Science Writer’s Odyssey into an illness that Science Doesn’t Understand. Julie has a wood chip story for you to beat the band.
Your keen and voraciously curious young mind! Your book is an absolute delight. What a confluence of inspiration, good fortune and spectacular parenting with a top-notch education. While you can tell I am squarely in your fan club, I am writing to tell you why your book disappointed me, just a little.
No, I am not of the 4% of curmudgeons that give any perfect item a bad review. While your mind seems to effortlessly perceive from the perspective of fungi, and, much like Paul Staments and the Radical Mycologists, you have somehow become a human translator between two worlds, there appears to be a giant, gaping hole in your awareness of fungi.
Perhaps I am mistaken and you are all quite aware of what I am referring to, but not compelled (yet?) to write about it for various reasons. There are a great many brilliant minds who understand, in depth, the biochemistry of the effect that fungus and mycotoxins have on human health and will therefore have on the future of human civilization. You see, there are a great many of us who can feel fungus, long before we perceive it with other senses. We are fungal X-men.
Oh what I would give to watch you have a conversation with Dr. Daniel Cagua-Koo and see Paul Stamets sit down with Dr Ritchie Shoemaker. I want to watch you discuss Candida Auris. What would it take to have these two fungal societies un-silo their knowledge and merge like mycelium? Each of these fungal societies has its own conferences, its stars and pariahs, visionaries and egos. If I were to design a conference to introduce the Radical Mycologists to the X-men, I would invite you and Paul Stamets and Peter McCoy and maybe half of the people listed in your Acknowledgements section.
On the X-men side, Oh the choices! So many brilliant minds! Dr. Mary Ackerley, Dr Keith Berndtson, Dr Jill Carnahan, Dr Neil Nathan, Dr Peg diTulio, Dr Mark Su and the rest of the ISEAI network as medical experts. But then Star X-men and citizen scientists Julie Reymeyer, Jen Brea, Sarah Riley-Mattson, Brian Rosner, Brian Welsh, Corinne Segura, Lisa Petrison and, of course, the grand poobah himself, Erik Johnson. Erik would need to be on stage by himself, to finally have his moment and present his vision to posterity. He is feeling a bit gruff after 30 years of being right and feeling ignored. And yet he has personally saved countless lives, including my own.
Surely you are experiencing accolades along with resistance to your challenges to the status quo scientific understanding. Some scientists get so grumpy when the status quo gets upended, as it always does, eventually. It reveals their egoic lens. But the paradigm one employs matters when one is trying to not die. Conventional medical paradigms fail to help people who are x-men, and then blame it on them.
There is nothing that makes you interested in human health quite as much as being a parent. There is a moment in every parent’s life when they become aware of the terror of mortality of this creature they have just created and love more than anything they thought was possible. After becoming a parent, it is becoming sick yourself (or loving someone who is sick) that makes one take a keen interest in how one might manage to stay alive (and preferably without much pain.) So this paradigm shift that is underway is interesting to those of us who are already in the next paradigm. May you be blessed someday by loving a mold avoider. May the world be so blessed.
Merlin, I think you would very much enjoy this conversation between two American doctors who understand this paradigm shift— they discuss how soil health translates to human health in a very direct dance of interrupted cell signaling. It’s fascinating and hopeful.
In a way, it would sound absurd to have named each individual woodchip in your fermenting tub, and then lamented its demise once its form had succumbed to the fungi. We are all just melting back into the whole again. But make no mistake– from the point of view of the individual, it is quite clear that the fungi would like to decompose our bodies right now. Given the ubiquity of fungi, you can understand how this might trigger emotions in those who can feel that signal.
Our bodies, these teeming mash-ups of collaborating and competing cells from various DNA lineages, with consciousness that conflates the conceptual sense of “self” with “reality.” (Oh how I wish Terence McKenna were still around to be on a panel at my dream conference.)
Because, yes, the fungi-world view on both sides of the conference involves a reckoning at the deepest levels of what it means to be human. Why is it that our awareness is the only thing that doesn’t change, while everything else is constantly seething and popping and teeming in transformation, like a ferment? What is the nature of knowing? Of Being? How can mushrooms simultaneously try to kill us and guide us to our own innate fearlessness of death? What a fascination.
Somehow this body can feel the biome. Each page of your book rang bells. You beautifully articulated what I already know in my bones. My copy of your book is very dog-earred and underlined. Your book will change the scientific paradigm and bring it into a better alignment with what is actually going on.
Right now there is an infection in my environment that is forcing me to live in my vehicle again. It is requiring that I update my paradigm to try to understand how I can co-habit with this new outdoor organism without pain, insomnia and rampant inflammation.
One of the strategies, besides mold-avoidance and medical treatment, is brain retraining. This is designed to dismantle the body-mind’s pattern recognition system, which, sort of like morphic resonance, favors responses to stimuli that it “remembers” having. There’s a conditioning that occurs that can sometimes be dismantled, thereby interrupting what would lead to an experience that is similar to a previous experience. (It doesn’t always work, and if it does, it may interrupt deepening conditioning without removing the biological sensitivity.) Is conditioning the “self?” By dismantling conditioning, are we dismantling “self?” Your line of inquiry about “what is an individual, really?” is ultimately the very same question. Somehow dissolving the “concept” of self can actually facilitate healing.
So while I was crackling with excitement about your debut oeuvre on fungi and plants– that it had such breadth and vision and wisdom– I hold out hope that you get curious at some point about the huge body of next-paradigm scientific understanding about the impact of the Fungal Kingdom on the Animal Kingdom. Maybe next book? I can’t wait to follow your mind’s unfolding.