We have intruded on the forest system, causing a stir, so we look for a place to sit and let the murmur of alarm die down.
Here we find a good spot, beneath one of the oldest trees, one with the many rings of memory, a large network connecting Sky and Earth, many symbiotic partners, many descendants and thus a main communications hub in this local expression of the Forest Goddess System.
Slowly the sounds change as some creatures forget we are here. Others aren’t alarmed as long as we remain still. Listen to the sounds, creatures large and small singing their songs, shouting their location, crying the news of their neighborhood. Close your eyes and let the sounds wash over you in waves of meaning. “Here I am, Life is good, Let’s get it on”, repeated over and over, in countless forest dialects.
And everybody is listening as well. One creature’s mating call sounds the dinner bell for another. This wall of sound is just one level of the communication going on in the forest. And we humans can hear only a very narrow band of sound vibrations at that.
Then take color. Here is a totally different spectrum of communication. Color has meaning by itself; it is used for identification, signaling ripeness, time for mating and other environmental cues. Another instance of only a narrow band of vibrations being available to our consciousness. The communications continue up and down the scale in wave lengths invisible to us.
The air around us is filled with molecules of fragrance and stench, pheromones attracting and repelling. On every level the forest is a sea of information woven into a tapestry of meaning: alerting, selecting, advertising, camouflaging, promising and deceiving.
On the microscopic level, every cell of every life form communicates with the cells around it. They respond to messages brought to them by hormones through blood streams, electric impulses from nerves and by way of their wireless connections. All input is compared to its history. Every action is remembered, every failure flagged, every success reinforced. That’s going on at the cellular level in all living things. The process is reflected in behavior at the creature level as well. Every physical entity within an ecosystem compares their input to their history and remembers their successes and failures. So do the symbiotic relationships.
Our brain works the very same way. Our neurons communicate with other neurons, respond to neurotransmitters and fire in waves that we interpret as experience. Communication is a fundamental aspect of living things.
Because language seems to set us apart from the animal world, we have concluded that it is only the advanced human brain that can create and communicate information. That’s our claim to fame as intelligent beings, we communicate. However, its is intelligent communication that makes all living systems alive. Communication is fundamental to biological systems.
Besides the communication networks we can see and hear all around us, there are more. Beneath our feet the soil is laced with bacterial and fungal growth intertwined into a multilevel communications network. This thick mat of interwoven microbial fibers interconnects trillions, upon trillions of nodes, in a complex network of neuron-like connections. Modern science claims that plants do not have a nervous system because they can’t find anything that looks like one. If what it looks like is to be our criteria, then we must consider the possibility that this bacterial/fungal mat acts like the nervous system for the forest.
Recent experiments have shown that this underground network passes information throughout the forest. What could the microbial underground have to talk about? For one, when a tree is attacked by a species of beetle, neighboring trees begin taking protective measures, secreting substances that repel the pest. Another example, if you were to die here in the forest, this CSI team would take you apart cell by cell, and report to the system exactly what you are made of.
In fact, the information gathered by every living thing in the forest eventually ends up being deconstructed by the microbes dominating the forest floor and soil beneath. When there is a fatality or someone defecates, it is the microbes who dismantle the fallen and investigate the internal information stored in their tissue and memory. When we plot the feedback loops active in the forest system we find they all cycle back through this microbial mat.
For example, one loop begins with water and nutrients being provided to the roots of a tree by the microbial mat. This mat is the combined growth of fungi and bacteria that services the roots of all plants
The tree pumps the solution up to the leaves where photosynthesis occurs. Light energy is used to make sugars which are transported to building sites, where growth takes place. The leaves eventually die and fall to the ground where they are disassembled by the fungal mat, completing one loop. Some of the sugars are used to entice and feed pollinators, while still more sugars are used to build fruit and seed. The fruit entices and feeds the seed distributors. All of this activity produces a steady stream of leaves, flowers, bark, feces and dead bodies that fall to the forest floor. This litter is a constant flow of information about the state of the forest that is disassembled and analyzed by the microbial mat. Each bit of litter carries the information of its path through the system. The mat furnishes the input and then analyzes the output of each loop.
An important note: About 65% of the energy gathered by the leaves ends up nourishing the microbial mat. If you are familiar with the “follow the money” concept in economics you will notice that following the energy serves the same function in an ecosystem. The idea that this layer of decay on the forest floor was composed of scavengers that depended leftovers for their livelihood is not completely accurate. Not only does this microbial mat benefit the more from photosynthesis than any other segment of the forest, they were here first. It is as if the entire forest was created to build a beneficial habitat for the mat. As we go on, i will show that this underground network is made up of a system of control mechanisms that manages the forest ecology.
This is where the story of humanity begins. Science and religion agree that this was a turning point in the history of the human kind. The transition from a relatively carefree existence within a biological Eden to the harsh life of a hunter gatherer on the savanna undoubtedly took place. It is easy to say that the shrinkage of the forests was the cause, but there is more to the story. Beside human beings there were countless other species of plants, animals and microorganisms that also underwent profound changes during this transition. Long established symbiotic relationships were broken and new ones forged. We didn’t make the changes alone. We were then, and are now, members of a community.
Our story begins deep in the forest, immersed in a sea of information. Our every action involved an interaction with another forest species. All of our food, shelter and stimulation were provided by the forest. Then, for reasons unknown, the forests began to shrink.