World Brain

World Brain

"World Brain" is the title of a book of essays by English author H.G. Wells, written in 1938.

One essay titled "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia" first appeared in the new "Encyclopédie française", August, 1937.

The essay "The Brain Organization of the Modern World" lays out Wells' vision for "...a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared." (p. 49) Wells felt that technological advances such as microfilm could be utilized towards this end so that "any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her convenience to examine "any" book, "any" document, in an exact replica." (p. 54) A similar view of an automated system for making all of humanity's knowledge available to all had been proposed a few years earlier by Paul Otlet, one of the founders of information science.


Wells had been involved with the socialist Fabian Society, the League of Nations, and the International PEN, and his intent for "World Brain" was no less than helping to solve what he termed the World Problem, i.e. the possibility of the mutual destruction of nations in a World War. Wells has been both praised for envisioning an educational knowledge network (not unlike the Internet and World Wide Web) and criticized for proposing what to some amounts to a New World Order. His concept of a "world brain" has more recently been revived by others in the guise of the global brain. Many suggest today's version of the "World Brain" is Wikipedia.

The drive for an “information highway” was first expressed in 1937 by H.G. Wells, who argued that encyclopedias of the past had suited only the needs of an elite minority [ [ "The World Brain"] . Excerpts from Brian R. Gaines, "Convergence to the Information Highway" (1996)] . They were written “for gentleman by gentleman,” in an era where the notion of universal education had not even been conceptualized. In his essay titled, “The World Brain: The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopedia,” Wells explains how then-current encyclopedias failed to adapt to both the growing increase in recorded knowledge and the expansion of people requiring information that was accurate and readily accessible. He asserted that these 19th century encyclopedias continued to follow the 18th century pattern, organization and scale. “Our contemporary encyclopedias are still in the coach-and-horse phase of development,” he argued, “rather than in the phase of the automobile and the aeroplane.” [Wells, H.G. (1938). "World Brain". Meuthuen & Co. Limited.] Wells also found an important defect with the universities, schools and libraries of his time. While the number of schools was increasing, they did not broaden their inclusion of knowledge to what the “troubled and dangerous” age demanded. Not sufficiently endowed, these universities maintained a level of education consistent with the past, rather than with advances and opportunities the current society offered. However, instead of manipulating this traditionally conservative system, Wells asserted the need for an entirely new “world organ” that should be created for the collection, organization, and release of knowledge. This he titled the “Permanent World Encyclopedia,” and would include everything from the practical needs of society to general, global education. In addition, he explained the importance of workers whose job it would be to continually update and maintain this index of knowledge. Micro-photography would also be vital, as it could provide a visual record of the knowledge it contains. Wells saw the potential for world-altering impacts this technology could bring. He felt that the creation of the encyclopedia could bring about the peaceful days of the past, “with a common understanding and the conception of a common purpose, and of a commonwealth such as now we hardly dream of.” [ [ "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia"] . Contribution by H. G. Wells to the new "Encyclopédie Française", August, 1937] The Permanent World Encyclopedia, according to Wells, has the incredible ability to bring about world peace, and by creating a common ideology, could “dissolve human conflict into unity.”

It is easy to see many of the attributes of the world brain reflected in the development of the world wide web and Wikipedia. Some media scholars, such as Brian R. Gaines in his "Convergence to the Information Highway", see the web as an extended "world brain" that individuals can access using personal computers. This information superhighway utilizes a range of current media to give accurate and current access to "all of human knowledge".



* Wells, H.G. (1938). "World Brain". Meuthuen & Co. Limited.
* [ "The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia"] . Contribution by H. G. Wells to the new "Encyclopédie Française", August, 1937
* "World Brain: H. G. Wells on the future of world education" (1994) London: Adamantine Press. ISBN 0-7449-0114-6
* [ "The World Brain"] . Excerpts from Brian R. Gaines, "Convergence to the Information Highway" (1996)
* [ "H.G. Wells’s Idea of a World Brain: A Critical Re-Assessment"] by Boyd Rayward (1999)

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