Review: Entangled Life – How fungi make our worlds, change our minds and shape our futures by Merlin Sheldrake (2021) Assessment 9 out of 10

This is a beautifully written book with a wonderful cover and colour illustrations. My only reservation about marking it 10 to 10 was that I knew little about the subject so was unable to assess its originality. After reading Entangled Life , I hope I know more

It is concerned with ecology the relationship between living things particularly symbiosis between species which benefits both or all those involved. The book is deeply philosophical questioning the language and belief system of the individual.

The central concern is with fungi. Plants photosynthesise, making their own food, animals find food, digesting then absorbing it. Fungi enter their world & absorb it. The more they touch, the more they can absorb.

A long timeline is of fungi, algae, lichens, plants, and animals. In five great extinction events 75-95% of species were eliminated, fungi providing environmental clean up.

Lichen are an amalgam of fungi and algae, different from their constituents, the earliest appearing 400m years ago. I in 5 fungi form lichens, which has happened multiple times. The black streak along the sea edge is a lichen, starting where seaweeds stop, seaweeds algae which depend on fungi not to dry out. Our bodies are dwellings of nested life, immune systems controlling resident microbes as much as external attacks. We are all lichens

Algae were only able to move onto the land by allying with fungi, algae eventually developing into plants. The earliest plants didn’t have roots, which evolved to contain fungi, providing nutrients and water, plants food, the plant engaging with light and air, fungi with the earth. When roots first developed the association was 50m years old.

Mycelium is the network of fungal threads or hypha. Without a brain it behaves like a swarm. Walking across the desert, we choose the route to take, fungi choose all possible routes at once, control taking place everywhere at once and nowhere in particular. Hypha filled with water can become mushrooms, so there is more than appears. Hyphal tips are the parts of the mycelium that grow, change direction, branch and fuse. There is a similarity between hypha which live through their hyphal tips and our lives looking forward, living in the present but with consciousness, if not remembrance, of the past.

Fungi can reproduce both sexually and asexually by sideways transfers of genes. I am unsure that Sheldrake explained this or, if he did, that I understood it.

Mycelium are networks of electronically excitable cells, so too are brains, which have synapses where signals combine with other signals, a living circuit board. Brains didn’t evolve from scratch but from something more ancient. Most nerves in octopus aren’t in their brains but in the tentacles which explore & taste

Humans use flexible networks, fungi are flexible networks. There are similarities between the two, connectivity based on nodes. Reference is made to the wood wide web connected by mycelium. Although not the same you think of Tolkein’s Ents.

A book to change your world view.

One thought on “Review: Entangled Life – How fungi make our worlds, change our minds and shape our futures by Merlin Sheldrake (2021) Assessment 9 out of 10

  1. Dear Peter (and Anne)
    I read your review and spoke about it to a couple of friends -it turns out they knew Merlin’s parents. In fact he used to call Jill Purse (M’s mother) his girlfriend. Jill authored The Mystic Spiral!!



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