This post is a response that I wrote in response to the following statement that a friend posted in the wonderful Scuttleverse:
I am trying to think about ecological succession as a metaphor for the evolution of socio-technical systems, particularly in relation to shifting community composition of soil micro-organisms (bacteria -> fungi). I guess the foundational question in my mind is: How do we grow forests out of ourselves and our technologies?
This was such a clear formulation of a question around something that has been brewing in the back of my mind for some time so I just had to formulate this response.
What’s different in forests?
It seems to me that increase in succession is a sort of increase in the capacity to facilitate and retain flows. As I understand soil biology in succession, there is a rather stable amount of bacterial biomass after say, pioneer perennial trees, while the fungal components really take off from there. Going from 1:1 ratios to 1000:1 or 10000:1 in some of the really intact old growth forests.
So what I feel is happening here is that most of that excess fungal biomass is doing the deep mining of rock needed to sustain these massive and wonderful tree species.
Given these really expansive root systems, fungal mining operations, broad leaf photosynthesis and vast water retention (and creation) capacities of the soil biology, there are orders of magnitude differences in flow of minerals, sugars, water and other vital flows in these tree systems as apposed to early succession systems.
What do humans flow?
What I am trying to illustrate there is the idea that, maybe, our expanding modalities for connectivity, conductivity, memory and processing are similar patterns of expanding human flows.
Unfolding of our socio-technical systems might be what is needed for our pioneer competitive species to transform into a slower growing but more “deep-rooted” hominid.
A question, that seems really interesting to me then, is to draw on the analogy of flows in a forest and ask: what type of flows are we then starting to root deeper into?
What are these connective, fungal-patterned, feedback pathways that we are developing allowing us to bring from the deeper essence of the biosphere? Creativity? Cultural expression? All this mind stuff of modeling, time and discernment?
For me it gets pretty trippy and psychedelic at this point, but I can’t help seeing some patterns that correlate with forest ecology succession.
Health to the connected?
Another thing that makes me pretty giddy when thinking about this stuff, is the massively cooperative (at least within individuals of a species) nature of a late succession forest ecosystem. The mycelial networks seem to me as much mutual aid networks as they are communications systems.
They give forests the ability to store water and nutrients that are made available to all of the individuals that are connected to the mycelial mats. They also share things like immune system responses which seem to increase the vitality of all connected individuals.
So if that is a model to go by, it seems reasonable to imagine that the socio-technical systems that we are developing are allowing the humans that are plugged into them much more resilience and mutual support.
Given the centralized nature of the systems we have been embedded in for some time (which I would love to hear if anyone knows examples of from other ecological perspectives! Only thing that comes to my mind is cancer), it seems reasonable that these connective benefits has only gone to power-center individuals. When we move more towards truly decentralized or peer-to-peer systems, this benefit should be more widely shared and our collective capacities improved.
It would be interesting to hear if anyone knows anything about if there are any patterns like “code-of-conduct” which are applied in forest ecosystems that determine whether or not the mycorrhizal connections are compatible with each other? Some sort of protein key or something? I think this could be intriguing to look at as we nurture our social ecosystems to health and protect ourselves from malicious behavior.
I would like to end this post by sharing one of the most exiting finds I’ve made in this area which is Elisabeth Sahtouris in an interview for the film “Money & Life”. She does a pretty spectacular job of describing species transition from competitive to cooperative from an evolutionary biology perspective.