Organizing – Constructing a World Encyclopaedia

from “Constructing the World Mind”

A common, systematic global organization of the world’s knowledge is conceived by H. G. Wells as the only way for humanity to achieve a “common conception of a common purpose.” What he called the World Encyclopedia would, he said, act as a “clearing house of misunderstandings” without being subject to “narrowing dogmas,” while remaining open to “corrective criticism.” According to Wells, this new organ would clearly distinguish “bed rock fact” from visions, projects and theories, but would have an inevitable “bias” towards “organization, comparison, construction and creation”. In 1972 Manfred Kochen envisaged many such “organs” would emerge with the aim of creating a global community brain which he named WISDOM (Worldwide Intelligence Service for the Development of Omniscience in Mankind).

Information objects traded on a knowledge market

from “Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind”

The components of what H. G. Wells advocated provide a picture of an omnipresent organ, consisting of an ever growing knowledge base fed by a global community of scholars and information professionals. Although H. G. Wells expected the operation of the World Brain to be funded publicly, he was worried about the dangers of a kind of intellectual monopoly. A component unforeseen by H. G. Wells, which may well take care of his doubts, is the emergence of a free market for knowledge. A huge number of “knowledge objects” already exist — as H. G. Wells well knew. The element most needed now is organizing and compiling them into an intuitively understandable framework that enables common access.

There is a controversial strain of thought among the Artificial Intelligence community which advocates the use of computer systems to carry out this knowledge processing. Even they admit, though, that the project will take many years before it becomes a practical proposition, assuming a true understanding of people’s intelligence and knowledge processes is reached. In the words of Tony Kent, software pioneer, “finding useful information is an intelligent process requiring intelligent people because at the end of the day only the intelligent can recognize what is useful.” Meanwhile, there is a huge abundance of human intelligence all over the world, most of it wasted, because of lack of knowledge. What are we waiting for?

James Lovelock hints at some important components of the intelligence process which must be present if any kind of human learning organization is to work. It must be fun and it must be rewarding. Although, as Lovelock says, durable hard copy versions of the World Encyclopedia must be widely available for use in case of emergency. In the meantime deploying multimedia computer networks in the service of a global learning enterprise must be desirable … and more fun and much cheaper than long-lasting print alone. d much cheaper than long-lasting print alone.

Still hidden from view

Although the tools to make H. G. Wells vision of classification and indexing practical are now available almost for free on the World Wide Web, outside the library profession, the process of organizing knowledge according to commonly agreed classification schemas has hardly started, although much of the knowledge of how do it already exists. However, if complexity theory holds, in Hans Swegen’s view, “On the planetary level, matter further organizes itself into information processes. Evolution then becomes a development of knowledge or you may say a development of the organization of information.” He expects a structure to form from this information process yielding first “several global sub-centres” which will eventually merge into a localized “main global brain”.


“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.”


Goal oriented self-organisation, not ideology

The problem with believing that evolutionary processes will be sufficient to bring about the emergence of a World Brain is that they know no purpose or deadline. People, on the other hand, do require purposes and deadlines if they are to accomplish anything, especially the near miracles which are actually necessary. Without entering too far into philosophical speculation about the level of organization in which our consciousness exists, self-organization requires acts of will and intention which imply political action. Wells expressed frank loathing for political ideologies of any description as the means of implementing a collective human will and intention. He did his personal utmost to amass and organize a collection of knowledge as a prototype, but he refused, perhaps wisely, to set up an implementation process in the face of the overwhelming need to defeat first the Nazi ideology, then the Communist one. The time was obviously wrong and the technology did not yet exist. A small group of dedicated people, informally led by Professor Abe Goodman, have worked since the late 1930s to keep H G Wells’ World Brain ideas alive in inhospitable times of techno-triumphalism and economic greed.
Now the technology does exist. So does the knowledge of how to use it to organize Wells’ World Encyclopedia. But where is the will? It is here. Now. These pages have been designed and written to be a first iteration of an attempt to create a self-conscious World Brain thinking process. When it is established, its first task must be to gather and disseminate — possibly by trading information on a really open market — the knowledge necessary for local people to organize their own economies and communities, the knowledge necessary for them to grow enough food without poisoning themselves and the environment, the knowledge necessary to manufacture high tech equipment, the knowledge needed by people to govern  and take responsibility for themselves. All this knowledge exists. Most of it is in the public domain already. First, though, it must be collected and organized. Then, it must be synthesized and communicated.

Self-organization – Overcoming resistance despite the odds

H. G. Wells expected the World Brain to begin “at divergent points.”This view is echoed by Manfred Kochen in his design of “a new social organ” (WISE – World Information Synthesis and Encyclopedia) which would emerge from “several semi-cooperative but semi-competitive organizations”. Against this natural evolution, Wells ranges his fear that the “change of scale….. would lead to an age of confusion and “gangster opportunity” dominated by “unscrupulous” financiers and “recalcitrant” minorities, and what was for Wells “the meanest thing in human nature”, the combination of “the fear of responsibility and the craving for leadership”. Kochen is also cited asking whether the “current global ecological crisis” might provide the necessary “powerful motivation” to overcome resistance.

More needed

According to Hans Swegen, a combination of status symbolisation and the market powers are more likely to bring about the global brain, than politics. In the 1990s, ideology and activism are not considered as important in implementing the world brain as is self-organization.