While it might seem implausible, one scientist asserts that mushrooms engage in communication, using a vocabulary of up to 50 words. In the study titled “Language of Fungi Derived from Their Electrical Spiking Activity,” conducted by Andrew Adamatzky at the Unconventional Computing Laboratory of the University of the West of England, this unconventional notion has stirred considerable debate.
Some critics, like comedian Jimmy Fallon, dismiss Adamatzky’s research as “talking shiitake,” but here at Treehugger, we’ve long been open to dialogue with organisms like slime mold and trees through the Wood Wide Web.
Adamatzky, previously known for his research on building fungal computers and crafting living wearables from slime mold and fungi, implanted electrodes into various fungi types, including ghost fungi, Enoki fungi, split gill fungi, and caterpillar fungi.
He observed patterns of electrical activity, akin to those found in many living beings. However, the fungi exhibited distinctive fluctuating activity patterns that might be construed as a form of communication.
In simpler terms, they seem to respond to their surroundings and share information about it.
The interpretation of “language” is subjective. Adamatzky discusses communication among creatures devoid of nervous systems via hormones, pheromones, and chemicals. It may not align with human language, but it underscores the significance of taking what trees and other organisms communicate seriously.
Adamatzky suggests, “A reimagined conception of plant language could lead to ‘the de-objectification of plants and the recognition of their subjectivity and inherent worth and dignity.'”
So, the question arises: Is the sequence of short and long electrical spikes a legitimate language? Listening to mushrooms requires patience, with fast-paced spikes lasting 2.6 minutes and slower ones extending to 14 minutes.
Comparatively, the Ents in Fangorn Forest are quite loquacious. When all the spike patterns were analyzed, Adamatzky identified similarities in spacing and gaps, resembling the structure of the English language. He concluded that the fungi indeed exchange words among themselves.
The study reports, “We recorded extracellular electrical activity of four species of fungi. We found evidences of the spike trains propagating along the mycelium network. We speculated that fungal electrical activity is a manifestation of the information communicated between distant parts of the fungal colonies.”
Analyzing recurring patterns, he determined that the “fungal lexicon can encompass up to 50 words, with a core vocabulary of 15–20 most frequently used words.”
Adamatzky concedes that different fungi species appear to converse using diverse languages of varying complexities. However, he admits to not comprehending the exact content of their dialogues. He emphasizes that decoding the language of fungi may take time, just as understanding cats and dogs has taken centuries of coexistence.
In a separate paper titled “Fungal States of Minds,” released concurrently but pending peer review, Adamatzky and his research team delve deeper, not just into fungal communication, but also into the notion of fungal cognition.
They question whether fungal organisms possess a level of awareness akin to that of animals. Their experiments reveal patterns of electrical activity resembling neuronal activity, encompassing low and high-frequency oscillations and chains of spike trains. This neural-like electrical activity is viewed as an expression of fungal intelligence.
At times, while reading this paper, one might wonder if Adamatzky’s speculation has been influenced by consuming certain varieties of his subjects, especially when contemplating the potential immortality and unique intelligence possessed by some fungi.
The discussion veers into pondering the possibilities of a consciousness that is immortal or exceedingly old, which may harbor an intelligence beyond our comprehension. Fungi’s morphology and extensive interconnections could embed entirely distinct computational frameworks into their consciousness.
Although these notions may appear far-fetched, it’s worth noting that they align with the sentiments of individuals like Breyer, who extol the intricate, hidden lives of trees and challenge our perspective on the world. Trees exhibit remarkable qualities such as counting, nurturing offspring, forming bonds, recognizing neighbors, forging friendships, and retaining experiences.
Upon revisiting Breyer’s insights, one may find qualms about promoting mass timber construction, and after perusing Adamatzky’s work, ponder the prospect of mushrooms no longer gracing our plates. Both perspectives compel us to reevaluate our position in the natural world.