Instrument of evolution

from “Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind”

For H. G. Wells, the purpose of the World Brain was primarily instrumental. It was a way to organise human thinking and knowledge by using information management techniques to make it easier for humans to learn. The matter-of-fact practicality of his vision contrasts with the more spiritual aspects expressed in notions, such as Sri Aurobindo’s “Supermind” and Teillard de Chardin’s noosphere in which the unfolding of complexity is conceived as a process of God meeting his creation at the Omega point.
The 1990s sources tended to conceive evolution as a process — now seen to be more of unfolding complexity, than of genetic competition — which is an end in itself. In the words of Hans Swegen, “we are in the forefront of evolution and evolution will use our abilities to shape its continued development” as an open process with “no defined goals.” The view is that a learning organ must be a means to its own end which is learning, the same as evolution. This linking of human intelligences into global — even galactic and universal — metaminds as part of the inevitable pattern of evolution, contrasts with James Lovelock’s much more practical and alarming view which sees a world knowledge compendium as “a guide book for our survivors to help them rebuild civilisation without repeating too many of our mistakes.”

 

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A culture of the book

from “Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind”

Much as H. G. Wells argued for a “world encyclopedia” which would be created by means of social construction and knowledge invention, James Lovelock envisages a society organised around a book, much as European society used to be organised around the Bible; but the book would have “to acknowledge science”.
It is germane that the more advanced thinking in the field of information “science” conceives of knowledge management as primarily as a social, rather than a solitary mental activity, while corporate group knowledge working is increasingly construed as being a part of community and team building using techniques of constructive cooperation. Moral transformation is beginning to happen as people begin to value things, such as knowledge systems and ecological systems in more consciously qualitative ways. This revaluation, in which harmonious sustainability as highest value and mere survival as very much second best, will reorient the value of money towards being a means, rather than as an end, as it is in financial profit driven economies.

“Clear and simple words against ignorance”

from “Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind”

James Lovelock echoes H. G. Wells in his plea for “a guidebook written in clear and simple words.” According to Lovelock, this book would counteract the influence of “books and television programmes that present, either the single minded view of the specialist or persuasion from a talented lobbyist”. He laments that the 1990s are “adversarial not thoughtful times,” hearing only the partial arguments of special interest groups.
They agree on the urgent do-or-die nature of the problem, as well as on the perils of ignorance. To quote Lovelock on this point: “We are so ignorant of those individual acts of genius [which] established civilisation that we now give equal place on our bookshelves to astrology, creationism and homeopathy. Imagine trying to cope with a cholera epidemic using knowledge gathered from a tattered book on alternative medicine.”
However, despite Lovelock’s misgivings, there is growing evidence that collaboration, as opposed to competition, is becoming increasingly part of 1990s rhetoric, and sometimes part of the practice in the spheres of management and

The key global resource

from “Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind”

In H. G. Wells view the World Encyclopaedia would be created by the “systematic collaborative effort” of a multidisciplinary worldwide group of scholars, scientists and intellectuals, who would be continuously communicating with a well-informed public feeling as if they were “really participating” in what Alan Mayne describes as networks of policy and decision makers, professinal advisers, generalists and holistic thinkers. He expected the new organ to develop a directorate and staff of “specialised editors and summarists” who would synthesise and abstract the content of existing sources, and that many of the professional activities within education would be replaced “by a new set of activities, the encyclopaedic work, the watching brief” aimed at broadening and enlightening both popular and specialist minds. Wells thought  education would be transformed in such a way as to bring back the “original university idea” of masters surrounded by freely formed groups of student helpers, although he warned against a “professor-ridden world” as being as dangerous as a “theologian-ridden world”. After finishing formal education, Wells wanted people to spend their lives in the process of self-managed learning, the results of which would be “distributed through the general information channels of the world”.

“Grains of thought”

H. G. Wells’ vision of systematic, self-managed collaborative learning is echoed in Peter Russell’s “superorganism” composed of “cultural creatives” engaged in the pursuit of higher levels of consciousness in which “wisdom rather than knowledge would have become our goal.” In Hans Swegen’s “post-human” terms, “hominid brains will constitute the grains of thought where the self-reflexive minds are based. Besides these biological structures of matter, the global brain will include various technological equipment that man is constantly introducing and that improves and expands neural communication between self-reflexive minds.”

As bureaucratic hierarchies break down, what used to be called management is increasingly about how to promote self-managed collaborative learning which forms the core of the learning organization. Also, science is portrayed in the New Scientist as reviving the ideas of the superorganism and James Lovelock’s Gaia theory “in the light of the modern mathematical theory of complexity.”

 

Practices – Information management as the critical factor

H. G. Wells laments that few “outside the world of expert librarians … Know how manageable well ordered facts can be made.” His opinion was that there would not be much requirement for “original writing” with most of the work being “in the selection, condensation, expansion or simplification” of existing work. In his Critical Introduction, Alan Mayne recommends Content Analysis, with its capability of extracting useful information from any source base and “assessing different questions and problems from different viewpoints”, as an “essential part in any future development of a World Brain / World Mind”.

Atoms versus digits

There is a sharp disagreement between James Lovelock and the widely held 1990s view that the World Encyclopedia will be based on an electronic infrastructure of telecommunications and computer equipment acting, in Hans Swegen’s terms, “as a global middle term memory of hundreds up to thousands of years”. Lovelock is even more traditional that H. G. Wells when he talked of colour microfilm as being the distribution technology of choice. According to Lovelock, “It is no use even thinking of presenting such a book on magnetic or optical media, or indeed any kind of medium that needs a computer and electricity to read it… What we need is a book written on durable paper with long-lasting print.”
In the 1990s sources, there is little discussion of the information management techniques which H. G. Wells believed were the most important practical necessity in implementing a world knowledge source. Hans Swegen does suggest that it would be “worthwhile looking into the past when you try to orient yourself into the future”, while Peter Russell puts his faith in human beings “continually discovering new relationships” and “increasingly organizing their information about the world”.