Before setting off on today’s fungus foray I’d been thinking about memory. About how memory is perhaps not simply within the brain waiting to be picked up off the shelf but rather is in the objects around us. I was standing in the back garden looking at my neighbour from hell’s ladder. I found it hard to look at the ladder without relieving the various kinds of abuse we have suffered at his hands. (Thanks to a police visit he seems to have gotten the message that everyone has a right to live without fear of abuse). Still I was ok and it seemed to demonstrate how objects in the outside world don’t just trigger memory they help embody it.
Ever since attending a lecture about consciousness by Marcus du Sautoy (Professor for public understanding of science at Oxford University) at The Barbican I’ve had a sense of unease about the way we conceive of our consciousness from a machine-like perspective. It’s similar to visualising the cosmos with the earth at the centre. Technology and the systems it creates to maintain cybernetic stability force us further into picturing ourselves as individuals or outward looking roving units. This is not good for mental health and not good for world peace. At Marcus du Sautoy’s lecture a lot seemed to be made about access to higher definition of neuro-imaging. I thought then is this really going to help us understand the mystery of consciousness? It's still like looking at the brain as if it's a machine albeit in finer detail and higher definition. Still this is all just base camp background to the fungus foray.
Walking this way into the walnut grove however seemed to bind us together in the act of looking at the edges of the path. I normally find striding through the nature reserve produces a sense of well-being but this was quite different. I started to enjoy getting my tongue around the various technical names that began to sputter out – scleroderma bovista the little ball-like mushrooms in the edges by the rough of the neighbouring golf course. Did you study Latin a fellow forager asked me? I did I say but at a comprehensive. I just like the sound and the absurdist fun of connecting that to the object. As the group shuffled on, stopping every few yards to examine a new specimen, Morris’s memory seemed to hit its stride and his confidence grew. His tone became clearer and the anecdotes flowed – one variety with a typical dense dark set of concentric rings was called King Alfred’s Cakes (for obvious reasons!). Morris handled the toadstools and fungi like a craftsman; he seemed to know just how they were made up. Some, which looked soft, were rock hard (you can sometimes stand on the artists fungi – named because of the white blank underside) and others, which looked alive, were dead and therefore impossible to name (my only off piste discover). So Morris seemed to be demonstrating the link between memory and the objects outside of us that don’t simply trigger the memory but embody it as if we are casting our minds into the world and catching what returns. Looking at each new specimen in Morris’ palm or betwixt his thumb and forefinger was transfixing. The path was transformed into a voyage into the indecipherable and random world of the ineffable via the vagaries of fungi categorisation. Clearly the Latin name is a devise for putting science in the driving seat but Morris Moss’s passion and expertise meant he was happy to leave some examples as undefined.