Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cybernetics and Fungal Conservation

Published in the Third International Congress for Fungal Conservation, 
Turkey from 11-15 November 2013
                      (Book of abstracts, Page 48
Cybernetics and fungal conservation:
an interdisciplinary approach to management of fungal conservation
using desert truffles as an example [64]
Soliman, G.S.


''Human evolution cannot be understood as a purely biological process, nor can it be adequately described as a history of culture. It is the interaction of biology and culture. There exists a feedback between biological and cultural processes.''( Wilson, E.O) As fungal conservation is 'a mixture of science and politics'; orchestrating a positive attitude to it involves a sort of partnership between the biological and social sciences. Managing this complex process involves cybernetics.
Cybernetics deals with communication in complex systems. It has been described as “the art of steersmanship” or “the art of creating equilibrium in a world of constraints and possibilities” and is applicable when a system is in a closed signalling loop; that is, where action by the system generates some change in its environment and that change is reflected in some manner that triggers a system change. In fungal conservation, a cybernetically controlled environment entails creating an input which triggers a positive attitude towards fungal conservation and generates a feedback which develops fungal conservation itself in a ‘closed signalling loop’.
Conservation of desert truffles is a case in point. In southwest Asia and northern Africa there are cultural traditions which go back to ancient times. In many parts of these regions, fruit bodies of these fungi are still described as “manna”, a word meaning “the gift of God” which has been used in this sense for thousands of years, back to what was arguably the first recorded act of fungal conservation (Exodus 16: 32). Desert truffles are mentioned in the religious texts of Christianity, Islam and Judaism alike, and are universally favourably regarded in these writings, as food and for their medicinal value. In addition to the religious traditions, these fungi are widely used in the region as aphrodisiacs.
Such cultural value might be expected to generate a tradition to conserve these fungi, but because they are regarded as ‘miraculous’, there is a deeply subliminal view that they are protected by God: “it's a free gift; no work is required to enjoy it and no protection either”. This simultaneously encourages over-exploitation and a laissez-faire attitude to their conservation, exacerbated by land-ownership issues and a feeling that information about the location of desert truffles, as such a precious gift from God, should be concealed: gatherers in Egypt have been described as 'downright secretive'. These deeply-rooted traditions hinder research on the fungi. Moreover, scientific knowledge may get distorted when communicated to the public by non-specialists: examples of this can be found among YouTube videos of clerics preaching on this subject. A lot of co-ordination, correlation, communication, and organization are thus required to enable the prominent cultural value of desert truffles to be used for conservation.

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