One of my graduate school advisers, poet Richard Kenney, describes poetry as “the mongrel art — speech on song,” an art he likens to lichen: that organism which is actually not an organism at all but a cooperation between fungi and algae so common that the cooperation itself seemed a species. When, in 1867, the Swiss botanist Simon Schwendener first proposed the idea that lichen was in fact two organisms, Europe’s leading lichenologists ridiculed him — including Finnish botanist William Nylander, who had taken making allusions to “stultitia Schwendeneriana,” fake botanist-Latin for “Schwendener the simpleton.” Of course, Schwendener happened to be completely right. The lichen is an odd “species” to feel kinship with, but there’s something fitting about it.
What appeals to me about this notion — the mongrel art, the lichen, the monkey and robot holding hands — is that it seems to describe the human condition too. Our very essence is a kind of mongrelism. It strikes me that some of the best and most human emotions come from this lichen state of computer/creature interface, the admixture, the estuary of desire and reason in a system aware enough to apprehend its own limits, and to push at them: curiosity, intrigue, enlightenment, wonder, awe.
– Brian Christian, The Most Human Human, p72