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Long Before Trees Overtook the Land, Earth Was Covered by Giant Mushrooms (smithsonianmag.com)
253 points by myinnerbanjo 60 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments



When I read the title, I immediately thought of Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864). The flora are described as consisting of "...surrounded by a rocky coastline covered in petrified trees and giant mushrooms".


The obscure Japanese horror: "Mantango" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matango).


This links to a wikipedia page https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prototaxites

So they don't look like toadstools. (sorry)

I'm confused about how these fit in the ecosystem though. Are these still just the fruiting bodies? Are they permanent?


It doesn't sound very plausible to grow such sturdy and tall structure only for a fruiting body, so you can drop your spores from a bit higher. But a tree-like structure feels plausible, it they were in symbiosis with algae (which would make them lichens, technically) and they did photosynthesis.


I was wondering something similar. Why does fungus want to be tall? Trees are tall so they can reach the sunlight, allowing them to overshadow and kill plants that would grow under the trees if it wasn't so dark there. But fungus doesn't need light.


Perhaps as a means of distributing spores? The higher up the spores are released the further they will spread.


I was thinking on the same lines, although are they still mushrooms in that case? Plus there precedents for very tall flowering/fruiting spikes


I'm not clear from the Wikipedia page whether those illustrations reflect actual "we found branching specimen fossils" knowledge, or speculation based on "we think it's tree-ish so it must branch". The illustrations that show branching both appear to date from the 19th century.


giant asparagus monsters are good enough


Makes me think about that Tintin cover: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/711FqYcc7eL...




Or millions of planets from No Man's Sky.


Sounds like a mushroom bias in their prodecural algorithm.


The universe is biased in favor of mushrooms.


The (EXCELLENT) PBS channel Eons has video on this too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G64DagHuOg


PBS has many very good YouTube channels. I particularly like Space Time (physics) and Infinite Series (math).


Off-topic / website format: it's disheartening to see that even an institution like the Smithsonian must serve so much crud to deliver us what is essentially 14 sentences + 2 quotations worth of material...


Dollars and cents my man. I really only see this getting worse with IoT devices and more and more tracking. When they finally figured out a reliable way for direct brain to computer interface the human race may be in a dark place indeed.


Dream commercials like in Futurama could be a real possibility.


Subliminal messages are a more immediate threat.


With JS disabled, the page loaded in under a second on public WiFi and displayed just fine.


Re-post. Earlier discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6669659


The question is how large the organisms must have been under ground: http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141114-the-biggest-organism...


This TED talk was very interesting about some fungi facts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI5frPV58tY

On a side note, I thought this was an interesting take on Bitcoin in relation to fungi.

https://medium.com/@BrandonQuittem/bitcoin-is-a-decentralize...


A landscape populated with fungus-like spires of 6-8 meters tall. Amazing.

Makes me think of Omnivore (Of Man and Manta, #1) by Piers Anthony. A planet full of fungus, with fungoid animals.


What were the animals like?

http://www.earthexplodes.com/comics/070/



Odd that so many forms of life were a bit larger in the distant past. I gather physicists are sure that gravitational G is a constant (as opposed to a variable). I wish I'd studied more physics so I could evaluate how silly an explanation that would be.


Like the famous anime movie "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds"...?


The title should include "(2013)".

Edit: Maybe change this to https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/jan/16/strangest-th...


Or (350,000,000 BC)


As a side note, this came to mind when I opened the link. A sad state really..

https://www.reddit.com/r/web_design/comments/9pmqxb/typical_...


Mobile reddit brings my phone's browser to its knees. It takes ages to load, is unresponsive, and it also takes an extra 10 seconds to click the 8px font that dismisses their mobile app advertisment.

I can only assume that mobile app was the best solution they could come up with after they realized they made a horrible mobile site.


No, their mobile site was fine UNTIL they made a mobile app. Just like old reddit used to be, it was lightweight and responsive.

Once they released a mobile app to compete with the great mobile app offerings that already existed, they crippled the mobile site with all those ads.


I think you've got it backwards. The mobile site is deliberately shitty to drive you towards the app.


The real sad state is why is that site uploaded as a reddit video? Instead of linking to the original content it's a video of someone else clicking through? As for the Smithsonian site, I've got AdBlock, uBlock, and ScriptSafe running so I didn't get anything too obnoxious, but it is pretty pitiful that we need that many add-ons just to browse the web.


The one time I wish there was an artist’s rendering...


Same here --- i manically scrolled looking for a mushroom-covered earth...but alas.


Paging Terrence McKenna... :)


Completely unsupported thought:

Could the ancient mushrooms and some of the theories about how mushrooms were the reason we became conscious be linked?

https://mic.com/articles/14276/magic-mushrooms-how-they-play...


I'm always very skeptical of people who make these kind of claims about psychedelics. One of the effects of psychedelic drugs is that they make people see things as significant or important even where there is nothing significant to be found (in the same way that drugs like MDMA increase mood, even when none of the normal mood-increasing things are present in the environment).

This is fine, and can be useful so long as you keep it in mind. But also leads to some users of psychedelics who believe in all sorts of crackpot theories that they think they have discovered through something that seems akin to divine revelation, and are so utterly convinced of their truth that it goes beyond all reason.


Me too, however unless one think there is some magical component to consciousness then couldn't it be as good an explanation as many others?

I am a pretty skeptical person when it comes to these things too (doesn't even believe in god) but it doesn't strike me as such a far out explanation although as I said I have no base other than what is out there. It's at least a contender that should be taken seriously IMO.


> One other interesting item of note about McKenna; his research led him to conclude that human consciousness would undergo a dramatic shift around the year 2012. He predicted this back in the late 1980s. I’m not sure how logically or scientifically valid his theory about “time wave zero” is, but there can be no denying that humanity is about to undergo some major socio-economic and political changes. The bond bubble has yet to blow, and when it does, it will take the entire machinery of the state down with it. The state's present spending trajectory is unsustainable.

This is pretty darned crackpot.

As to "as good an explanation as many others" - it really really isn't. We're getting into Lamarckian, inheritance-of-acquired-characteristics territory here, where this theory is positing a) that mushrooms being an aphrodisiac increases reproductive fitness of people who take them, and b) somehow this means the effects of the drug are passed on??

This is junk science.


Oh yes that is crackpot but that doesn't mean everything is crackpot just like a scientific theory can be wrong in many ways and still right about something more fundamental.

I am not supporting any single interpretation I am just saying that in this area we don't really have anything firm to grasp on to and given that mushrooms where here before us I am not going to rule out that there is something to this even though it might not be McKennas theories.

I don't know how it can be junk science when it's not even science. I am asking a question there are more people than McKenna (people who didn't have any opinion about 2012) who have theories. Those theories will need to be testable to be science I don't think we have any test even by most rigorous scientific standards that allow us to test this area, at least not yet.

Right now I am just speculating not putting forward any specific theory but just to repeat. Mushrooms were here before us apparently covering the planet. So whatever was here originally we are a part of and that's at least to me worth exploring a little more than just calling it junk science.


Not really?

If we assume that consciousness arises out of brains somehow, then we have a relatively good understanding of how psychedelics affect consciousness: they (roughly speaking) disrupt the normal pathways that electrical signals take in the brain, and cause different (pseudo random) pathways to be taken. This of course leads to all sorts of unusual thoughts and experiences. But this explanation doesn't apply in the case where there is no consciousness in the first place.

Personally I think consciousness is super-interesting. Once you realise that we have no real explanation as to how consciousness arises from the brain, and also that reactions to outside stimuli can occur without conscious awareness, it suddenly becomes much more plausible that things like trees or even rocks could have some kind of consciousness. I'm not saying I live my life as if this is true, but we really have no evidence that it's not the case...


>"It must be changing something about the internal communication in my brain. Whatever my inner process is that lets me solve problems, it works differently, or maybe different parts of my brain are used, " said Herbert, 42, an early employee of Cisco Systems who says he solved his toughest technical problems while tripping to drum solos by the Grateful Dead – who were among the many artists inspired by LSD.

>"When I'm on LSD and hearing something that's pure rhythm, it takes me to another world and into anther brain state where I've stopped thinking and started knowing," said Herbert who intervened to ban drug testing of technologists at Cisco Systems.

---

I can't find the original article I read years ago, but there was one article where they claimed they came up with BGP on LSD...

https://www.wired.com/2006/01/lsd-the-geeks-wonder-drug/


>One of the effects of psychedelic drugs is that they make people see things as significant or important even where there is nothing significant to be found

Do they really? Or do they provide significant or important insights that are there anyway, but we can't reach them in our regular state?

This is like saying amphetamine provides an alertness that wasn't there in the host (who was, e.g. tired before taking it). Sure, that doesn't mean it's a bogus alertness.


>Or do they provide significant or important insights that are there anyway, but we can't reach them in our regular state?

Compare how many important insights that changed the world were obtained on psychedelics to how many were obtained not on psychedelics.

Psychedelics most likely simply trick the brain into thinking things are insightful, while dulling one's sense of reason and accuracy, making such insights fade once reason and accuracy return.


>Compare how many important insights that changed the world were obtained on psychedelics to how many were obtained not on psychedelics

Those could simply be insights of a different nature.

Technical insights you need to sober to come up with. Artistic and philosophic insights can benefit from psychedelics (and have for millennia).


If that were the case, then those insights would be remain insightful when taught to someone who isn't on the drug. And if it isn't teachable, it's neither demonstrably true nor valuable.

Alertness is a state of mind. Insight is not.


>Alertness is a state of mind. Insight is not.

Says who? Insight in general is not the same as information.

Even without drugs a person can understand something instinctively but be totally unable to convey the notion to others (I'm reminded here of St. Augustine: "What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know").

Besides, all kinds of artists, writers, thinkers and even a few scientists, have gotten interesting insights while on psychedelic drugs which remained tangible (in the form of songs, writings, etc) when they got off the drugs.


The kind of insight that we value is obviously not a state of mind. Let's not nitpick verbiage and risk missing the point.

Valuing different states of mind and interesting artwork is not the same as valuing insight. Just because psychedelics produce value does not mean the value is indicative of insight.


>The kind of insight that we value is obviously not a state of mind. Let's not nitpick verbiage and risk missing the point

I'm afraid the nitpick is necessary. For example, nobody said or implied that an LSD user comes out with full schematics for a CPU or some new laws of mathematics.

So, to avoid further confusion:

1) I wasn't referring to some technical or quantifiable "insight that we value" and that is "obviously not a state of mind".

2) While not on par with the discovery of calculus or the internal combustion engine, I (and many others I presume) also value the kind of insight people do get with psychedelics (and several other means, including philosophy). Even if it doesn't arrive in a readily communicable form.

3) That doesn't mean there's also no mere sentiment manipulation done by these drugs. But, even though those are there too, people have used them to come to significant personal and artistic etc insights for millennia.

4) That said, other drugs, have helped people (including scientists and engineers) achieve actual technical insights of the "kind we value", and perform impressive feats of concentration etc (amphetamines etc).


>I (and many others I presume) also value the kind of insight people do get with psychedelics (and several other means, including philosophy). Even if it doesn't arrive in a readily communicable form.

I hear what you're saying, but I don't understand why you're calling it insight. You can spend an hour talking to a AI chatbot about philosophy and value the experience. That doesn't mean the bot has some special insight.

This is especially true if you're talking about things which can't be communicated effectively. If you're finding patterns in word salad, markov chained sentences, or the rantings of doped up philosophers, the insight still needs to be demonstrated independently.


Insights do not have to be demonstrated in some scientific sense they just have to be useful. Some will be demonstrated some will be used, some are kept secret and many will be ignored.

Even dreams will provide you with insights or melodies or perspectives or ideas because it frees up your pre-conceived thinking about a certain subject matter or even a whole set of subject matters.

Insights aren't some scientifically testable hypothesis, they are utilitarian.

You asked me to look it up.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/insight

It's pretty obvious that insights aren't as rigid as you seem to imply.


>Insights aren't some scientifically testable hypothesis, they are utilitarian.

"Utilitatian" in the sense of demonstrating value, which requires the utility of said insight to be communicated. I didn't imply any rigidity. I'm saying that the only way to know if your psychedelic ruminations are insightful is to communicate something of value to someone else... a feat which requires other people to see the value -- using their own capacity for insight. There's no point in being a brain-in-a-vat whose every thought is a brilliant revelation who nobody else shares. There's no reason for anyone else to call that insight or value.

>You asked me to look it up.

I asked you to look it up because you kept conflating insight with value. They are not the same thing, but you kept asking questions which presume they are. Gold is valuable. Gold is not value.


>"Utilitatian" in the sense of demonstrating value, which requires the utility of said insight to be communicated. I didn't imply any rigidity.

Such an insight can have utilitarian value to the person experiencing it (to the point of improving their life etc) -- it doesn't have to be communicated to have utilitarian value.

(Even more so it can have non-utilitarian value, e.g. they can derive enjoyment out of it).

Besides, an insight that turns into a work of art, a song, etc, a philosophical rumination, etc, is still communicated, and depending on one's stance can be said to have utilitarian value (for a base example, many a drug-inspired songs have put food on the table for their songwriter).

>I'm saying that the only way to know if your psychedelic ruminations are insightful is to communicate something of value to someone else... a feat which requires other people to see the value -- using their own capacity for insight.

Well, the value millions of people have attributed to writings from people like Terrence McKenna, Huxley, Timothy Leary and so on, is enough to cover this, no?

(We can of course argue of their "actual" value, but as concerning the "requires other people to see the value -- using their own capacity for insight", that's pretty much covered).


No an insight does not have to be communicated to someone else it can purely be for my own benefit.

Insight and value IS two sides of the same coin, that's the point.

You try to make them separate but insights without value are per definition not insights. It's the very point of insight that it has some value:

1 : the power or act of seeing into a situation : PENETRATION 2 : the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively

OTHER things can have value too but insights cannot not be valuable unless you don't mean the ability to see into a situation or understanding the inner nature of something is valuable.


There are valueless insights. Especially if you don't communicate them.

If you're on an imploding submarine on the bottom of the ocean and you get a flash of insight about how to do cold fusion... there's no value there. You're dead. It's just a shame you didn't figure out something relevant to your situation, rather than someone else's.


You just defined the value and utility of it thus it is valuable whether he dies or not.

Your argument is like saying that understanding cold fusion has no value because no one has communicated a valuable understanding of cold fusion.

It might not be possible but if you by your own definition figure out how to do cold fusion then that is a valuable insight, whether or not it comes to fruition or the person dies.

Insights cannot not be valuable, they don't have to be implemented to be valuable which is easily demonstrated by a simple thought experiment.

If you had a time machine and could go back in time on that submarine right after he gets the idea on how to do it, extract that information and leave before he dies, would that be valuable? Of course it would.

Getting an insight in the shower or getting an insight on drugs/mushrooms doesn't change the value of the insight whether it gets implemented or not.


How can it not be indicative of insight if it produces value? Isn't insight value to begin with?


I don't understand the question.


You said this.

"Just because psychedelics produce value does not mean the value is indicative of insight."

What is insight if not value?


I think a dictionary could answer that question for you fairly easily.


it can explain what you mean?


It can be very difficult to teach someone something they are actively repressing.

There might be lines of thought that are repressed normally that when on a psychedelic are allowed to enter the conscious mind.

I think psychedelic research has been repressed by society at large and I can only guess at why... But there is some positive findings that we ought to pursue around depression and addiction. I hope we can make some progress here.


> There might be lines of thought that are repressed normally that when on a psychedelic is allowed to enter the conscious mind.

And how do you know that those lines of thought aren't repressed because they're total garbage and make no sense at all?

Just because something feels true when you're on psychadelics doesn't let you skip the scientific method and assert its universal truth, fie on the unenlightened who says otherwise


>And how do you know that those lines of thought aren't repressed because they're total garbage and make no sense at all?

Because we have carried some of those drug-induced lines of though (and poems, melodies, and insights, etc) out of drug trips for millennia, and people still care for them without drugs.


People care for all kinds of nonsense.


I mean, you can argue that’s essentially what religions are. One person goes off, hallucinates, ...


And blam! They create civilization from what was essentially an animal pack.


Sleepyness is a kind of thing that can be affected by chemical processes. Truth isn't.


Truth is effected. Not whether a given statement is true or not, but whether it can be discovered (finding truth is NP-hard [0]), verified (finding a proof for a truth is NP-hard), or even hope to be noticed (heuristic of solving the previous two).

[0] Forgive the informal reference to formality. To me, this is intuitively feels like how thinking goes - finding an answer is essentially inductive/indeterministic, while checking that answer is deductive/deterministic.


You don't need to affect truth, just to find it. People have discovered all kinds of truths (including scientific and technical discoveries) while on drugs.

And not all insights have to be truth-related. An interesting way to play music can come as an psychedelic induced insight, or a different way to look at the world, which can still be interesting and important, even if not true.


“users of psychedelics who believe in all sorts of crackpot theories that they think they have discovered through something that seems akin to divine revelation”

You’re aware that psychedelics have been used extensively for millennia by many cultures in religious ceremonies, right?


You're reinforcing his statement.


I felt like the statement was suggesting that it was a modern phenomenon of psychedelic users since the 60s.


Which is precisely why we need to gather a whole lot more empirical data about their use in clinical settings, as well as conduct more rigorous analysis of their use outside those settings. They're clearly something our species has an interesting history with, and religious orders aren't always so reliable in the way they document events.


If anything, that supports GP's point.


What was his point? That he’s an atheist? It seems like it inappropriate place to debate that.


> You’re aware that psychedelics have been used extensively for millennia by many cultures in religious ceremonies, right?

So has animal and human sacrifice. What's your point?


Sure, I’d say the same if there was an attitude that human or animal sacrifice was a novel behavior.


"Millennia of religious ceremonies" are not a source of scientific truth. Rather the opposite.


I don’t have a problem with that. I just feel like the comment made it seem like he feels like it’s this crazy new thing that drug users are doing, when it’s related to major religions. As far as whether you believe in spirituality and it’s relation to scientific truth, that’s none of my business.


Actually serious- have scientists tried given study participants psychedelic drugs specifically to understand the mechanisms underlying people's sense of what is significant or important?


It's an interesting idea, but these giant mushrooms went extinct millions of years before the development of land vertebrates, much less mammals and primates.


Sure but how much of them went extinct?

I am not strong on early stage primordial soup and what went on there but I find it a little hard to believe that something went completely extinct and then something completely new appeared. Surely there must be something that survived no?


> I am not strong on early stage primordial soup and what went on there

Clearly, since the "giant mushrooms" and "primordial soup" were separated by 3 billion years (75% of the earth's existence)

> I find it a little hard to believe that something went completely extinct and then something completely new appeared. Surely there must be something that survived no?

Yes, they're called "offspring". You are basically assuming that an organism has the same eye color as it's 800 millionth great grandparent.


I am aware of the difference between primordial soup and mushrooms :) dont think im assuming something, just trying to think through whether the emergent complexity process started way back or if its something that evolved more recently.


That’s like trying to understand the gravitational effects of dark matter without knowing basic maths.

Rather pointless.


How is the pondering of historical occurrence of events that are normally considered part of evolution and thus connected to some extent pointless?

I understand the basic "math" so to speak but congrats one scoring some cheap points.


There's no need to be a dick to someone who's trying to educate themselves.


Extinction is an absolute term. There is no difference between `slightly` extinct and `completely` extinct - quantifiers are meaningless here. It means 0 organisms of the taxonomical group in question (for this particular discussion, species) are alive. If you are arguing against the possibility of extinction, then be clear, and actually do that.


Whats up with the attitude of people commenting on this? I am just speculating here, those semantic details arent important for the larger discussion i was trying to start.


Not probable. Slugs aren't conscious and eat much more mushrooms in variety and weight than we eat. Even very poisonous mushroms that could kill easily a human.

On the other hand, there is not much (chemically speaking) in a mushroom that plants can't do. If the humans had achieved conscious eating "X", X could be anything. There is not need to fill the gap in this hypothesis with a mushroom.


One of my favorite science blogs had a short write-up on this five years ago, it's a fun read:

http://www.maryanningsrevenge.com/2013/12/awesome-dead-shit-...


TL;DR: we found these things years ago, one group says they're mushrooms, the other group says they're something else. The first group just published something saying they are so, neener.



Came across this after the Paul Stamets episode on JRE :)


Stupid ads and notifications prevent me to read this article.




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