Cyborg Earth and the Technological Embryogenesis of the Biosphere

Humongous Fungus, a specimen of Armillaria ostoyae, has claimed the title of world’s largest single organism. Though it features honey mushrooms above ground, the bulk of this creature’s mass arises from its vast subterranean mycelial network of filamentous tendrils. It has spread across more than 2,000 acres of soil and weighs over 30,000 metric tons. Yet I would contend that Humongous Fungus represents a mere microcosm of the world’s true largest organism, a creature that I will call Cyborg Earth. What is Cyborg Earth? Eastern religions have suggested that all life is fundamentally interconnected. Cyborg Earth represents an extension of this concept.

All across the globe, biological life thrives. Quintillions upon quintillions of biomolecular computations happen every second, powering all life. Mycoplasma bacteria. Communities of leafcutter ants. The Humongous Fungus. Beloved beagles. Seasonal influenza viruses. Parasitic roundworms. Families of Canadian elk. Vast blooms of cyanobacteria. Humanity. Life works because of complexity that arises from simplicity that in turn arises from whatever inscrutable quantum mechanical rules lay beneath the molecular scale.

All creatures rearrange atoms in various ways. Termites and beavers rearrange larger bunches of atoms than most organisms. As humans progressed from paleolithic to metalwork to industrialization and then to the space age, information revolution, and era of artificial intelligence, they learned to converse with the atoms around them in an ever more complex fashion. We are actors in an operatic performance, we are subroutines of evolution, we are interwoven matryoshka patterns, an epic chemistry.

Thermodynamics and memetic natural selection juggle our civilization while riding a unicycle along a path to an as-yet unknown destiny. Because of humanity, technology represents a fundamental part of the biosphere. Computers, airplanes, factories, shipping routes. All of it is natural. This does not mean it is good or bad. Simply that it comprises part of the great biological conversation. This is Cyborg Earth. The world’s largest organism is the biosphere itself, including all of the remarkable ways that its constituents have reshaped its body.

Cyborg Earth has always been a uniquely gleaming gem in the cold vastness of the cosmos. But I believe that Cyborg Earth still resides in an embryonic state. As we hurtle into the expanse of the infinite future, Cyborg Earth will grow and change. We must realize that we are all connected by the electric dance of atoms. As a constituent species within Cyborg Earth, we currently possess an enormous power and a tremendous responsibility to properly steward our world’s embryogenesis.

Cover image modified from “Confocal 3D-image of a fungal network with reproductive spores containing nuclei” by Vasilis Kokkoris, source.

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