Learning to survive in harmony

from “Constructing the World Mind”

Can our society double up its mind-capacity? It must do so or die; and I can see no reason why it may not widen its consciousness of complex conditions far enough to escape wreck.” – Henry Adams, American educationalist [1838 – 1919]

H. G. Wells thought that the only way out of humanity’s seemingly headlong rush towards self-destruction was by inventing a global process of learning. It is for this reason that he set the goal of organising what he called a World Encyclopaedia. As we approach the Third Millennium the systemic social and environmental breakdown — the mass extinction of species — caused by human behavior, which Wells feared so much, appears to be just about to engulf the planet. It is as if here and now — in nearly our last moment — before the life-destroying process becomes irreversible that an opportunity is being presented for helpless, dispersed individuals to pool their knowledge in order to find a way out of our self-made predicament, or at least, as James Lovelock suggests, to pass on some useful knowledge to any survivors left after a cataclysm. The purpose of these pages is to carry on the work started by Wells in the 1930s by using them to create a group learning process focused on the subject of the World Mind itself. They are also a demonstration of how a systematic method of analysing and synthesising information, called Content Analysis, and a form of Tony Buzan’s Mindmapping (TM) can be used as fundamental tools in the actual construction of a World Mind which could learn fast enough to avert social and environmental catastrophe.

Interactive processing – Emphasising the key concepts of cyberspace

from “Constructing the World Mind”

H. G. Wells emphasises the necessity to “fully recognise that communication is a two way process” and also the importance of effective presentation, while Alan Mayne calls the Brain a “social networking” organism or “nervous system.”


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.”


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.

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”.

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”.


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.