You’re all aware of the kingdom that is fungi which, in many cases, reveals itself as mushrooms. But mushrooms are just the last step in the growth stage that is mycelium. It’s mycelium that is the true creature, the organism that is a fungus. Mushrooms are the small fruiting nodes of a vast and long lived mycelium.
Mushrooms popup, often overnight, using the fuel and structure that the mycelium may have been building for months if not years.
Humanity, like mushrooms, are the fruit of animal evolution that has popped up, seemingly overnight (evolutionary speaking).
Here’s why this is an important analogy. Without the multi-billion year establishment of an immense base of evolutionary progress and of a multi-billion year process of oxygen generation and just as importantly, the deposition of enormous caches of easily harvested energy (fossil fuels), humanity, like mushrooms, would not have had the vast body, like mycelium, from which to spring forth.
Imagine an abbreviated story of humanity.
- At 500my after accretion, cyanobacteria evolves and starts producing oxygen.
- 500my later, life emerges from the sea and begins to evolve.
- 500my later, life has evolved into all the myriad species we see today.
- None of the extinctions occurred. All of the most efficient paths to evolving a sentient, environment manipulating being (humans) were taken and approximately one and a half billions years after Earth formed, humans evolved to where our own species (us) were about 100,000 years ago on our own planet.
Then what? Then humanity bumbles along as we did for 80,000 years.
If a Holocene equivalent period doesn’t show up, if ice ages, and volcanism continue to limit humanity’s expanse. If they don’t get a really-nice-window-of-pleasant-weather, they might never progress past a primitive but intelligent species.
But let’s say on this other Earth, a Holocene does arise. Humanity discovers and optimizes farming using grasses and draft animals. They figure out chemical reactions (soda, potash, lime) and build cities and sailing vessels. They progress, as a species and a society, up to about our own 1600ce. This agricultural based mushroom of humanity is small, low and not that impressive.
Then things change. There is no access to vast, nearly free energy sources. There is no coal, oil or natural gas. The technologically funded agricultural based population explosion never happens. No coal for textile mills or steam engines or steamships. No oil for autos, trucks, airplanes, ships, fertilizers. The mushroom that our human species spawned — through the leveraging of the massive quantities of fossil fuels — never happens for this other humanity.
BUT! Humanity is resilient, tenacious and creative. This other human set keeps at the growth of technology that we had, say, between 1400 and 1700. Within a few thousand years, this other humanity eventually discovers nuclear power, the silicon circuit, space travel, artificial intelligence, advanced medicine. It takes them much longer to do so but, if they survive all the plagues that will continue to befall them for the duration of their societal evolution, then they will get to where we are today — eventually.
AND, if they survive, might actually be wiser, more tolerant, more homogeneous a species than we will ever be.
Maybe our mushroom like explosion of technology and population is our down fall.
OR, maybe that is the ONLY WAY that a species like us can ever hope to evolve. To take the long road, without fossil fuels to spring us quickly from wood burning homesteads to colonizing Mars, would doom any species to extinction due to calamity.
Maybe intelligent sentience can only arise like we did, like a mushroom.