Literature/1999/Rayward

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Rayward, W. Boyd (1999). "H.G. Wells's Idea of a World Brain: A Critical Reassessment," Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 50(7): 557-573.

Authors[edit]

  • University of New South Wales

Abstract[edit]

What exactly is the Wellsian World Brain or World Encyclopaedia ideas [c 2] to which reference is so often made? What did they mean for Wells? What might they mean for us? [c 3] This paper examines closely what Wells says about it in his book, World Brain (1938), and in a number of works that elaborate what is expressed there. [c 4] The paper discusses [c 5] aspects of the context within which Wells’s conception of a new world encyclopaedia organisation was formulated and its role in the main thrust of his thought. [c 6] The paper argues [c 7] that Wells’s ideas about a World Brain are embedded in a structure of thought that may be shown to entail on the one hand notions of social repression and control that must give us pause, and on the other ideas about the nature and organisation of knowledge that may well be no longer acceptable. [c 8] By examining Wells’s World Brain ideas in some detail [c 9] and attempting to articulate the systems [c 10] of belief which shaped them and which otherwise lie [c 11] silent beneath them, the author hopes [c 12] to provoke questions [c 13] about current ideas about [c 14] the nature [c 15] of global information systems and emergent intelligence. [c 16]

Excerpts[edit]

This paper has been [c 17] published in [c 18]

Journal of the American Society for Information Science [c 19] 50 [c 20] (May 15, 1999): 557-579 [c 21]

H.G. Wells’s Idea of a World Brain: A Critical Re-Assessment [c 22]

  W. Boyd Rayward

School of Information, Library and Archive Studies,

University of New South Wales,

Sydney, NSW 2051

Australia

w.rayward@unsw.edu.au [c 23]

Conclusion
  • Wells’s vision of a World brain [c 24] is troubling in and of itself. [c 25] But it also raises issues of a broader kind that pose a challenge to contemporary accounts of the Word [c 26] or Global Brain, whether they echo Wells or not. All of these accounts embrace a kind of evolutionary determinism [c 27] which suggests that a new kind of sentient super-organism is emerging from the complex social arrangements by which we live our lives. What is being referred to is not simply the modification of existing or even the development of new social and personal arrangements to accommodate new political realities (the new Europe for example) or technological innovation (such as the motor car, the telephone or the Television). [c 28] Something far beyond the ken of ordinary people and "alive" is envisaged. [c 29] It is alive also in a way that requires the subordination of the will, intelligence and interests of ordinary people. [c 30] As individuals are subsumed by or absorbed into it, their independence and instrumentality [c 31] in their own lives are inevitably curtailed in the expectation of general social betterment [c 32] rather than an enhancement of individual potential. [c 33] It is neither tool nor prosthesis but may be interpreted as becoming an expression of totalitarian values and authoritarian control. [c 34]

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Comments[edit]

  1. The quality of this essay may be as uncertain as its pages, either 557-579 as given here or 557-573 elsewhere.
  2. Let "ideas" be "idea". Better would be "the Wellsian idea of World Brain or World Encyclopedia".
  3. These two sentences are needless to say. Or plainly, "What was his intention? What should be our attention?"
  4. Let this line read: "In this paper, I examine in details his World Brain (1938) and many other works that elaborate on his idea."
  5. Let this be "I discuss".
  6. Let this sentence be simpler: "I discuss the context in which the idea of a new world encyclopedia was formulated, and its role in the main thrust of this idea." Both "conception" and "organization" appear redundant or tautological.
  7. Let this be "I argue".
  8. This sentence is too complicated or equivocated for a scientific narrative. It would be a fun to try to improve it.
  9. Let "Wells's World Brain ideas in some detail" be "the World Brain in some detail".
  10. Let "systems" be "system".
  11. Let "and which otherwise lie" be "or may underlie".
  12. Let "the author hopes" be "I will".
  13. Let "provoke questions" be "question".
  14. Avoid saying "A about B about C" regressively, especially when A and B are rather redundant.
  15. Let "nature" be "the state of the art".
  16. This fashion of abstracting is quite a harangue. The author used to avoid necessary articles and evade into unnecessary plurals and regresses, hence ambiguity.
  17. This present perfect tense is overdone; let it be just was.
  18. Let this line end with the colon.
  19. Let the italic end here.
  20. Let the issue number (7) follow.
  21. Let 579 be 573 followed by a period so that the above line can full stop.
  22. Let "Re-Assessment" be "Reassessment" as the original.
  23. Let all these lines up to the name be as tidy as the original as follows:
    W. Boyd Rayward
    School of Information, Library and Archive Studies, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2051, Australia. E-mail: w.rayward@unsw.edu.au
  24. Let "World brain" be either "world brain" or "World Brain" as seen elsewhere.
  25. By definition, the World Brain is designed or aimed for the good and betterment of the world, including the solution of world problems for world peace so that it isn't troubling at all in and of itself. Even if he hadn't really meant it, we could adopt and adapt it to our ideal. Even if it were to go wrong anyway, it is not because it is wrong in itself but something else is. So unreasonable is his reason of his pseudo-scientific arguments and attacks on Wells. Such was exactly what he wished World Brain could definitely help overcome soon, namely, ill scholarship.
  26. Let "Word" be "World". The original was wrong.
  27. The author in himself may be either anti-Darwinist or creationist or both. What an irony it is if denying either Wikipedia or World Encyclopedia gave birth to New World Encyclopedia!
  28. Let "Televison" be "television".
  29. It is suggested that Wells foresees something evil that people cannot. But the author appears wise enough to do so by virtue of this analysis. World Brain is needed indeed for such studiousness on the future of mankind, not alone like the author but altogether.
  30. The author may be either hypersensitive or hyperbolic.
  31. Let "instrumentality" be "betterment".
  32. The author may not suspect "general social betterment" itself but "the expectation" thereof, suggestingly of no use after all.
  33. Wikipedia would help with "enhancement of individual potential" above all. What if it were to damage social betterment on the other hand? The author should answer if it be kept or given up.
  34. Will the global sharing of good news and information fall into totalitarianism and authoritarian control?

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Gradient-optical-illusion.svg
The shade of the bar looks invariant in isolation but variant in context, in (favor of) sharp contrast with the color gradient background, hence an innate illusion we have to reasonably interpret and overcome as well as the mirage. Such variance appearing seasonably from context to context may not only be the case with our vision but worldview in general in practice indeed, whether a priori or a posteriori. Perhaps no worldview from nowhere, without any point of view or prejudice at all!

Ogden & Richards (1923) said, "All experience ... is either enjoyed or interpreted ... or both, and very little of it escapes some degree of interpretation."

H. G. Wells (1938) said, "The human individual is born now to live in a society for which his fundamental instincts are altogether inadequate."