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Rhizomatic thinking

Updated Jan 15 2024

Rhizome, from the ancient Greek: a mass of roots. In botany, it describes a plant system that extends roots and shoots from its nodes in every direction.

The rhizome was adopted as a philosophical concept to describe a process of existence and growth with no clear hierarchy or single central point of origin. It doesn’t start from anywhere or end anywhere; it grows from everywhere, can reproduce from any node, and has no center, which makes it difficult to uproot or destroy. The internet is a rhizome. Language is a rhizome.

In the modern western world, we have inherited an arborescent view of the world (tree-like, hierarchic). A seed or acorn takes root and grows into a tree; all subsequent Platonic philosophies are an outgrowth of Plato, etc.

It turns out, that model is incorrect even for trees—forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.1 Beneath the soil, mycelium is ecological connective tissue, the living seam by which much of the world is stitched into relation.2

Indigenous and eastern philosophies have a much better grasp of this interrelationality. An arborescent worldview means we think in hierarchies, binaries, and dualist categories. In rhizomatic thinking, there’s no clear start or end, just the ever-proliferating jungle with a life of its own.

  1. Peter Wohlleben, The Hidden Life of Trees ↩︎

  2. Merlin Sheldrake, Entangled Life ↩︎