To give birth to the ancient in a new time is creation. . . .
The task is to give birth to the old in a new time.”
– C.G. Jung
Beneath the grass in your yard, tiny fungal threads run from your trees to the plants in your garden, to the weeds, to the wildflowers…
Creating an “Internet of fungus” through which the plants can communicate.
Fascinating but true:
Through this secret subterranean information superhighway, your plants share information with one another about the environment, help eachother out with resources, and even send toxic chemicals to kill unwanted plant invaders.
If a little treeling is suffering from a poor location, older, wiser, trees send carbon through this network to help the little guy out.
These networks help to boost the immune systems of vulnerable plants and protect them from infection.
Through this network, poplars and sugar maple trees have been shown to warn one other about worrisome insects.
It all happens with no central controller, via the hidden “body” of fungi…
And, as you’ll see, it has everything to do with why bitcoin, to conjure up Victor Hugo, is “an idea whose time has come”…
Fungi’s Sexy Bits
When we think of fungi, most think only of mushrooms.
But mushrooms are just a tiny portion of fungi.
Mushrooms, in fact, are just the fungi’s fully engorged sexy bits…
The glorious fruit, a signal of a job well done.
The “body” of fungi, called mycelium, is a vast network of threads, connecting every plant in the vicinity, sometimes stretching for miles. (Sometimes stretching further.)
Fungi, we now know, is the “who’s who” of the plant world.
The plants feed the fungi carbohydrates, so it can grow stronger and connect more plants to its network…
And, in exchange, the mycelium helps plants suck up water, acts as a delivery system for nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, protects the plants from infections, and allows for plants to share information about the environment.
It even lets plants from all roots of life band together and wage war on any enemies who refuse to cooperate and play by the rules.
Fungi acts as a distributed network for plants.
Our discovery of fungi’s crucial role in plant life was only fully articulated and accepted in the ‘90s…
Around the time, as it happens, a similar network, the Internet, began to grow legs.
Perhaps this discovery of an ancient, distributed network — and the creation of a new one — at this time is no accident…
They’ve emerged as our current mainstream social, political, and economic paradigm has reached its limit.
The paradigm of top-down decision making… and of a monomaniacal “cartelization of everything”…
A paradigm which reached its horrific peak in the 20th century, resulting in the bloodiest century in human history…
And a paradigm that’s now fighting tooth and nail against the inevitable:
Collapse under the weight of complexity.
The Cartel of Scientism
Social engineers are allergic to the idea that the world and its inhabitants would be much better off left alone.
And whether you know it or not, this paradigm permeates every cent that’s spent in the economy.
Consider, for example, science and its publisher cartels — those who choose what’s acceptable science and what isn’t.
On top of the ongoing “replication crisis”…
The scientific community is becoming increasingly aware of the shortcomings which come from relying entirely on scientific journals as a trusted third party for information…
And how it’s stunting science’s growth.
Using words like “open science” and forced obsolescence of the “publisher cartels”, stem cell researcher Martin Etzrodt is calling for “decentralized, trusted platforms for the dissemination of scientific information and attribution.”
(Martin Etzrodt makes a compelling case for decentralizing science here.)
He writes: “… we need to establish an entirely new paradigm of ‘trustless’ permanent publication, attribution and interoperability of scientific data.”
Increasingly, more and more industries are using buzzwords brought into consciousness by bitcoin.
And, bit by bit, the sentiment behind this “new”paradigm has been gaining steam.
Again, with increasing complexity, perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come. (Again.)
Distributed networks absent central control are ancient technology.
Fungi, which predates animals and plants, operates in a way that seems alien to the status quo — absent centralized command.
Mycelium is a network which gains power from non-rivalrous games between plants.
Any invasive plant which doesn’t want to play by the rules — wants to play a “winner takes all” zero-sum game — is pushed out.
And, perhaps to long-time sufferers of our daily missives, this concept sounds familiar.
Bitcoin vs. the Fed
On the other end of the table…
Bitcoin and its buzzwords — decentralized, trustless, permissionless — have been a target of no shortage of heckling by the droopened chins of the OId Guard.
While most economists, mired in academia, have dismissed bitcoin outright, the predictably unpredictable gadfly Nassim Taleb has offered a full-throated defense.
“We are,” he wrote in his foreword to The Bitcoin Standard, “as I am writing these lines, witnessing a complete riot against some class of experts, in domains that are too difficult for us to understand, such as macroeconomic reality, and in which not only the expert is not an expert, but he doesn’t know it.
“That previous Federal Reserve bosses, Greenspan and Bernanke, had little grasp of empirical reality is something we only discovered a bit too late: one can macroBS longer than microBS, which is why we need to be careful on who to endow with centralized macro decisions.”
Worse, he said, all central banks have operated under the exact same model, “making it a perfect monoculture.”
In the domain of complex systems, says Taleb, “expertise doesn’t concentrate.”
Only in dumb systems does such concentration proliferate.
As Hayek observed and articulated, economies that work really well do so in a distributed way. This was well before we knew much about “complex systems,” “game theory,” and “chaos theory”.
It was also well before we learned of the distributed “internet of fungus” running through soil, connecting the bush in your garden to all the plants, wild or contrived, in your yard.
The Intelligence of Idiots
It’s worthy of note:
“Distributed” doesn’t mean “democratic”.
“It doesn’t mean all participants have a democratic sharing of decisions,” Taleb writes. “One motivated participant can disproportionately move the needle (what I have studied as the asymmetry of the minority rule). But every participant has the option to be that player.”
Furthermore, as in the case of both plants and leafcutter ants (the latter being responsible for the second most complex societies behind humans), such a highly intelligent distributed system doesn’t actually require any great level of intelligence.
“Somehow,” says Taleb, “under scale transformation, emerges a miraculous effect: rational markets do not require any individual trader to be rational. In fact they work well under zero-intelligence –a zero intelligence crowd, under the right design, works better than a Soviet-style management composed to maximally intelligent humans.”
Knowledge isn’t the crux.
Nor is it even individual rationality.
All that’s needed is the structure… the architecture through which to make choices based on (ideally undistorted) received information.
“Which is why,” Taleb writes, “Bitcoin is an excellent idea. It fulfills the needs of the complex system, not because it is a cryptocurrency, but precisely because it has no owner, no authority that can decide on its fate. It is owned by the crowd, its users. And it has now a track record of several years, enough for it to be an animal in its own right.”
Even if Bitcoin fails, we still know how to do it.