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This is for a novel I'm writing. The basic premise is that massive networks of mycelium running under the soil combine to form a decentralised intelligence that has been managing life and conditions on the planet for hundreds of millions of years. Think Gaia theory, but way weirder. Humans occasionally making contact with the mycelial intelligence explains much religious and supernatural experience in my world.

The big conflict/mystery of my novel is that the mycellium have decided humanity have outlived their usefulness and engineer a population cull. But what I need to explore further is: how if at all might what in essence amounts to entire ecosystems acting with self awareness impact humanity?


Edited to add: Thank you for all the responses. Its given me a lot of food for thought.

My thinking is the mycelia is "magically" intelligent as a result of its current biology. We already know that mycelia will link up, share resources and communicate, so its not too much of a stretch.

MY thinking is that the mycelia doesn't have much ability beyond what actual mycelia has. They mostly manage the ecosystem by nurturing certain plants, or feeding them particular chemicals in order to achieve specific changes.

In terms of knowledge and psychology, i'd see them as having extensive ecological knowledge, but a very poor understanding of anything that happens at human timescale - not none, but little. We're talking immensely long-lived intelligence. They're quite happy to invest a few decades into a plan, since thats a trivial length of time for them.

As for methods, I see them going for something subtle and targetted. They don't need to wipe out humanity completely - a 90% population drop would be more than sufficient. And I imagine their preferred method would be to have us do it to ourselves somehow, preferably in a way that would keep collateral damage to other species or wider ecosystems to a minimum. My thinking is drugs that undermine critical thinking, and promote the kind of psychology that would breed violent ideologies or something like that.

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    $\begingroup$ You mean like in that movie with the big blue guys? What's its name? Ah, Avatar. $\endgroup$ – Ghanima Nov 7 '15 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ What level of "managing life and conditions on the planet" is it capable of? Or is that what you're asking us to figure out? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Nov 9 '15 at 18:15
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Self awareness or the Hard Problem of Consciousness has been extensively debated by scientists, psychologists and philosophers. So what I (or anyone else, for that matter) can provide here is not a definite answer, but only an opinion based on common knowledge and some assumptions.

Self awareness is a property somewhat different from intelligence. A mycelium may be self-aware right now, for all we know. Some religions believe that this indeed is the case and every creature possesses a soul that makes them self aware. From a scientific point of view, we do not know if other organisms are self-aware like we are, but it is often assumed since we evolved from them. Of course, for this to be said, we have to make the assumption the we ourselves are self aware.

Intelligence, on the other hand, is something that can be quantified. We have a pretty good idea as to which creature has how much intelligence based on their behaviour, as well as studying their nervous systems.

Returning to your question... If you have said that mycelia are capable of fighting against humanity, you've granted them intelligence and power. Self-awareness, probably similar to humans is also required, but that is only a small condition. Now that they are an intelligent species , we can raise the usual questions:

  1. How intelligent are they? Equal to humans, way ahead of us, or slightly ahead?
  2. Do they have the same physical form as actual mycelia or is it different?
    (a) Do they have an intricately developed nervous system like a human? Is it microscopic? Or are you granting them intelligence by magic, without altering their physical form?
    (b) How much physical strength do they have? For example, even if they knew how to create a nuclear weapon, they may not have the physical strength to actually build one.
  3. What knowledge have they acquired so far? It is likely that a species with similar intelligence and different physical form from humans (not to mention a different environment and differently abled physical senses of the organisms themselves) will have evolved a different social system and culture, as well as different levels of knowledge in different scientific fields.
  4. What inherent psychological rules are they genetically designed to follow? For example, humans tend to perform activities for personal luxury. They desire fame, power and love in varying amounts. They naturally detest pain. They have instincts that cause them to be nervous in specific scenarios and frightened in others. Is any of this true for the species?
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Have you seen that one movie with Mark Wahlberg, "The Happening", where plants mutate to produce "spores" which make people go crazy and commit suicide?

If a plant based intelligence - who's been running the world behind the scenes - suddenly decided to cull mankind they might be able to do something similar (but maybe more realistic).

Subtlety genetically modify our crops in a way that was lethal to us, but not necessarily to animals, for example (imagine mycelium slowly weaving itself into the plants in major cities, and releasing a toxin at a carefully timed/planned moment). Or making grass give off a hallucinogenic substance which causes people to become incredibly violent, and lose their ability to reason - think "28 days later".

At that point you have a lot of leeway as to how this intelligence would deal with mankind. Whether the mycelium intelligence would deal with humans "personally", or just set the stage for World War 3, and thus for humanity to wipe itself out.

The problem as I see it is that I don't know how humans would be able to defend themselves, or defeat this intelligence that they don't even know exists.

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To answer your question, you need to look at what the ecosystem is willing to do to get rid of humans. Just because a conscious entity believes something has outlived its usefulness does not mean it automatically engages in total warfare to get rid of it. I'm sure we don't think mosquito have any usefulness, but they still exist!

An ecosystem that is conscious will be well aware that everything it does hangs in a balance. It may be able to get rid of the humans, but it must live with whatever it does to get rid of us!

So how badly does the biome want us gone? Are they willing to sacrifice all land-dwelling life to get rid of us? How about just forest life? Are they willing to make it harder for deer everywhere to reproduce for the rest of time? These kinds of questions will answer what they actually do.

As for what they can do? By your description, they have been like a gardener maintaining a garden of prized rose bushes. Think about how much damage a gardener could do to their garden by simply not helping.

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Vegitarians and Animal rights activists would protest against antibiotics. It could be a devicive issue like "abortion."

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