NOW SERVING Psychedelic Culture

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“It’s completely silly to search the galaxy with radio telescopes for a radio civilization. In my mind, it’s as chuckleheaded as deciding you’re going to search the galaxy for a decent Italian restaurant.” –Terence McKenna

If it had been up to him, Terence McKenna wouldn’t have built satellites or mechanisms to search the expanse of the universe for extraterrestrials. He would have rummaged around Earth to find them first. Given the complex and mysterious nature of fungi, McKenna thought they he had.

McKenna believed that mushrooms were extraterrestrials designed to “travel across the gulf between the stars.”

Across the Universe

Fungi, according to McKenna, “look sort of manufactured.” 

Taking McKenna’s theory seriously, mushrooms seem to be high-tech bio-design. Their spores are so electron-dense that they’re actually closer to being metal, which shields them from the vacuum of space and from radiation. The outer layer of their spores has a purple hue, which naturally allows them to deflect ultraviolet light.

Their cell walls contain chitin which is the same material that makes up the hard shell of insects, butterfly wings, and a peacock’s plumage. If you were to look at butterfly wings under a microscope, they would look like a series of plates layered on top of each other the roof of a house and glow the colors of the rainbow. Regardless of whether we use telescopes that project us into space or microscopes that show us the most inner innards of life itself–everything is connected. We’re all doing the same thing.

We’ve only been studying DNA since the 1950s so we are just at the beginning of understanding the structures of life and how they function. Extend those few back over hundreds, even thousands of years. Fungi seem to be engineered to be the perfect way to travel. So, let’s take a trip across the universe through the perspective of a mushroom. 

The Imaginary Line Between Earth and Outer Space

No definitive boundary exists between the atmosphere and outer space. It just gradually gets thinner and fades away. This “imaginary boundary” is called the Kármán line.

Studies of the biology of the upper atmosphere date back to the late 1800s. They were done by releasing balloons, a rather whimsical image ripe for an imagination like Fornasetti’s considering who they floated amongst. The organisms that the balloons gathered included fungi and spore-forming bacteria. 

Using meteorological rockets instead of fanciful balloons, later studies found basic life forms as high as 77km, the highest altitude from which we have isolated microbes. Which means that fungi spores are hanging out in the atmosphere.

The Hidden Kingdom 

Hidden kingdoms unto themselves, Paul Stamets, a well-known mycologist, claims that there are an estimated two million species of fungi and only 150,000 of them form mushrooms. What we see above ground are the reproductive bodies of a larger network underground. They shed about three million spores a minute for two weeks.

Mushrooms transmit information across the underground mycelium network using the same neurotransmitters that our brains do: the chemicals that produce our ability to think. “They’re sentient, aware, and highly evolved,” says Paul Stamets. He calls this network the earth’s internet.

This network could be the foundation for all life, including our own.

We Evolved from Mushrooms

One of the big differences between animals and fungi is that we have stomachs inside our bodies. About 600 million years ago, the “branch of fungi leading to animals evolved to capture nutrients by surrounding their food with cellular sacs–essentially primitive stomachs.” As our little organism ancestors evolved, they developed outer layers of cells–skins!–to keep in moisture and protect the organism.

Without fungi, life would not have persisted on earth.

As we know it, life on earth, as we understand it, largely evolved from two asteroid impacts, one that occurred 250,000 years ago and 64 million years ago that supposedly cleared out the entire kingdom of dinosaurs. Fungi were thriving. The life forms that teamed fungi survived and flourished.

In other words, fungi were the world’s first superhero.

Lithopanspermia

We understand there to be seven microbes (microorganisms), fungi being one of them, that might have crashed to Earth on safe containers. The idea that life originated due to asteroids, stardust, planetary fragments, etc., is not new. But let’s suspend our disbelief and imagine that life crashed to Earth from outer space at a time when planets and stars were in closer proximity than today.

Coming from the Greek words for “all” and “seed,” panspermia is a hypothesis that life exists throughout the universe and distributes itself on space dust, meteoroids, asteroids, comets, planetoids, and even on spacecraft. There are a few different subcategories of theories stemming from panspermia, but lithopanspermia proposes that organisms traveled to other planets on rocks through interplanetary or interstellar space.

Why build a spaceship when you already have flying objects everywhere?

Research from Princeton University published in 2012 confirms a high probability that life might have spread during our solar system’s infancy at a time when all of the planetary and star bodies lived more or less in the same condominium. The evidence put forth by the study is the strongest support of lithopanspermia to date which would mean basic life forms like fungi could have traveled across the universe on material like planetary fragments. One could even call these fragments “vessels.” 

The logistics aside, which concern velocity, researchers reported that our solar system and its neighbor could have swapped material 100 trillion times over.

A paper in 2009 determined that microorganisms could survive in space on solid matter depending on its size. They could endure approximately 12 to 500 million years. 

Now, we suppose that life on Earth happened after surface water miraculously also came into existence. If that is the case, “…there were possibly about 400 million years when life could have journeyed from the Earth to another habitable world, and vice versa. Life on Earth may have originated beyond our solar system.

Kármán line

Somewhere in the universe of 1967, in the wee hours of the morning, John Lennon was in bed and irritated. After having an argument with his wife, she had drifted to sleep. Lennon, however, could not. In-between wakefulness and sleep, words flooded into his consciousness “like an endless stream.” They wouldn’t stop, drove him out of bed, down the stairs–“Words are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup, They slither while they pass”–to put them down on paper before they slipped away “…across the universe.” 

We’re in space, already. The line between the outer and inner is imaginary.

“Hey guys, we are the vehicle, get it? We call it consciousness–the ultimate technology.” –Love, The ‘Shrooms

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