By Kai Teo
Plants communicate with their surroundings using biochemicals. And they’re sending a message of survival that the world needs to hear.
About 1,300 million years ago, the first fungi appeared on land. 600 million years later, land plants popped up. Since then, they have evolvedto dominate the planet as a major driving force of the climate and the foundation of all life on land.
The planet was fine for a long time, aside from a few mass extinctions caused by volcanic activity and asteroid impacts. The last catastrophe happened 65 million years ago, where 76% of life on the planet was wiped out, including our beloved T-rex. But since then, a dazzling array of all kinds of lifeforms have emerged in the ecosystem, including us, the humans.
So you see, the planet’s no stranger to climate change, shit loads of stuff dying, and colossal explosions. But for the first time in its waking life, it is bearing witness to the most destructive species of life ever – me and you. We are the first animals to discover the use of fossil fuels, introduce industrial farming and fishing, and destroy everything in our path in the name of progress. With the dawn of industrialisation, we have also defined our kind as nothing more than a mere plague.
All other living beings on earth, consciously or unconsciously, somehow obey the laws of Mother Nature. This means that they all live their fates, predator or prey, in a highly evolved intra-dependent ecosystem, where every creature behaves according to a way that doesn’t upset the delicate balance of the global community. Just like our bodies consist of billions of cells working together to create a functioning system, the planet is one giant organism that requires all its agents to cooperate seamlessly and harmoniously in order for its continued survival.
But modern humans, the young immigrants of this planet, emerged and breathed our firsts gasps of air less than 200,000 years ago. We learned quickly, perhaps too quickly, and instead of obeying the laws of nature, we created our own legal systems. We invented machines that could defy gravity, and built bombs that could wipe out millions of our own kind, and today, we’ve even sent our shit to Mars.
Yes, this could be explained easily by Darwin’s theory of “the survival of the fittest”. We’re doing everything it takes to eliminate threats, ensure that there’s enough resources for ourselves, and create safe homes for our families. Our individuality, wit, and our power tools, have proven to be of immense value for a long time. But in the timeline of the planet, this stage of human evolution is a short-sighted, short-termed one. The state of mind that had been our blessing, fuelled by the raging fires of modern machinery, had turned into a cruel behemoth that would kill millions of plants and animals just because “we like the taste of beef”.
Ok, right, so far, I’d assume that everyone is on the same page about evolution. What we’ll try to do next is to realise that the process is still going on, and we’re not the “complete product” yet. In other words, humans can still evolve. The question is, what’s the next stage? How is the neo-human gonna behave, think, and live? Now, here’s where the plants and fungi come in. Particularly, the entheogens that contain dimethytryptamine-DMT (the Ayahuasca vine) or psylocibin (“Magic” mushrooms and cacti).
As discovered by anthropologist Jeremy Narby, archaeological finds in Ecuador show that indigenous Amazons have been using the Ayahuasca root to tap into other states of consciousness for about 5000 years (that’s way before Jesus and Buddha walked the earth). Murals found in the Sahara Desert in Southeast Algeria depicted the ritualistic use of magic mushrooms, dating back to 9000–7000 BC.
And across these cultures, those who had the privilege of tapping into the collective, evolutionary wisdom of the plants, had been hailed as shamans, healers and wise sages. Today, the use of these entheogens have spread to a wider audience consisting of spiritual seekers, yogis, psychologists, artists, writers, musicians and even ravers. In fact, with the popularised synthetic psychedelic LSD-25, first created by Dr Albert Hoffman in 1938, the modern human population is now ever more in contact with entheogens. So anyone on the street could be invited to take a glimpse into the wisdom accumulated over billions of years by plants on this planet.
It’s really not a coincidence that most people who have tried psychedelic substances report that they experience feelings of oneness with the universe, an urgent and overpowering need to preserve all forms of life, and an abundance of love. The chemicals in these plants and fungi trigger a decrease in blood flow to certain parts of the brain, reducing their ability to function individually and causing them to communicate with one another, triggering the appreciation that we are part of a bigger cosmic picture. But why would plants and fungi want us to experience this oneness?
It comes down to survival and the evolutionary tactics that have come about to ensure that. It’s kinda like how flowers develop bright colour pigments to attract pollinators, but on a much grander scale – a global scale. The chemicals and the feelings and revelations they trigger could very possibly be a survival SOS signal sent out to all other living beings. A powerful message to tell us that we all belong to the same planet and we’re all responsible for it. The forests die, we all die. The oceans die, we all die. Too much global warming, we all die. The “oneness revelation” is an invitation to the next stage of human evolution, one that would make us finally realise that we need to take care of the environment in order for our future generations to continue existing. Science! My friends, science!
But of course, the message wasn’t catered specially for humans. The perfect harmony and balance of all elements in our ecosystem has been the blueprint of survival of the planet ever since it came into existence. And this very blueprint is imprinted in our plants and fungi. And of course, in us, waiting to be triggered just in case we got lost along the way and decided to drop bombs instead of dropping acid. And these scheming plants and fungi even have a backup plan – just in case we didn’t get the big message the first time because we were too distracted by how bright the colours appeared, these substances also trigger our serotonin and dopamine receptors and make us feel fucking good, so we’d want to try it again. And maybe this time, we’d see the bigger picture.
There we go, the message is simple. We are one. So humans, what are we gonna do about it?
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Narby, J. (1998). The cosmic serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge. New York, NY: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam.