Recent scientific research on mycorrhizal networks brings a whole new layer of meaning to the Rumi quote above.
These networks – made up of the fuzzy stuff that surrounds root systems of trees and other plants – have finally been getting the attention they deserve. It turns out that there’s not just a transactional trade of carbon for nutrients underground, as had long been thought. Mycorrhizae help trees to exchange carbon itself, at the root level – even when the trees are not directly connected. Woah.
This means that forest communities are “driven not only by competition, but by cooperation,” notes Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia, lead researcher for the 1997 experiments that started this line of inqury. Woah again.
This point highlights a fundamental limitation of most of our finance and business tools, where we assume cooperation takes place only when there is evident and immediate “utility” to the cooperators. What if it’s not so evident, not so immediate? Woah once more.
Loyal Honeybee readers will know that mycorrhizal networks are my favorite way to explain what a healthy financial system might look like (yep, really). We’ll be examining this biological research and the theme of cooperation in more depth in future Honeybee publications.
In the meantime, for more detail on the scientific studies and the amazing “wood wide web” beneath our feet, I recommend these pieces from the Atlantic, the New Yorker, and Radiolab.