Rethinking Our Approach to Science: ‘How to Love a Mushroom’

“Next time you walk through a forest,” writes Anna Tsing, “look down. A city lies under the feet.”

If you were to somehow shrink and descend under the earth, you’d find yourself “surrounded by the city’s architecture of webs and filaments.” In this city, Tsing continues, there is “action and interaction”: roots of trees and budding plants and fungi exchange nutrients.

“Reach down and smell a clot of forest earth; it smells like the underground city of fungi.”

In her paper, Arts of Inclusion, or, How to Love a Mushroom, Anna Tsing, a professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Niels Bohr Professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, sets forth an argument for rethinking our approach to science, urging a shift away from the often sanitized and inaccessible scientific method and towards what she terms “multispecies love.”

Tsing’s case study: the humble mushroom. But not just any mushroom. Tsing focuses on the matsutake, a highly sought-after fungus that forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees and is usually concealed under the litter of the forest floor. Deemed a delicacy for its rich flavor and aroma, the matsutake mushroom grows in parts of Asia, North America, and Europe.

Image: Minakata Kumagusu, Kinrui Zufu [Color Illustrations of Fungi], 2007,
p.76. Image copyright National Science Museum, Japan.

In this paper, Tsing introduces the reader to Dr. Yoshimura, a research scientist and founder of the Matsutake Crusaders, a Kyoto-based citizens initiative to revitalize Japan’s forests; and to ‘Matsiman’ Andy Moore, ex-forest caretaker and self-appointed matsutake researcher.

Pages of observations and findings are sprinkled with gems like a haiku by poet Kyorai Mukai and an anecdote from composer and “mushroom hunter” John Cage.

John Cage
Kyorai Mukai
Jacob E. Lange, Flora agaricina danica, 1935-1940.

In Arts of Inclusion, or, How to Love a Mushroom, Tsing urges for scientific research that is involved and immersive, but also interdisciplinary: her proposed method is “learnedness in natural science along with all the tools of the humanities of the arts.”

To learn more about Dr. Yoshimura’s research, what a “Matsiman” is, and to see mushrooms just a little differently, read Tsing’s full paper or check out her 2017 book, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins

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