Quotes and links at least I can do.

The whole human memory can be, and probably in a short time will be, made accessible to every individual. And what is also of very great importance in this uncertain world where destruction becomes continually more frequent and unpredictable, is this, that photography affords now every facility for multiplying duplicates of this – which we may call? – this new all-human cerebrum. It need not be concentrated in any one single place. It need not be vulnerable as a human head or a human heart is vulnerable. It can be reproduced exactly and fully, in Peru, China, Iceland, Central Africa, or wherever else seems to afford an insurance against danger and interruption. It can have at once, the concentration of a craniate animal and the diffused vitality of an amoeba.
This is no remote dream, no fantasy. It is a plain statement of a contemporary state of affairs. It is on the level of practicable fact. It is a matter of such manifest importance and desirability for science, for the practical needs of mankind, for general education and the like, that it is difficult not to believe that in quite the near future, this Permanent World Encyclopaedia, so compact in its material form and so gigantic in its scope and possible influence, will not come into existence.
. . . And its creation is a way to world peace that can be followed without any very grave risk of collision with the warring political forces and the vested institutional interests of today. Quietly and sanely this new encyclopaedia will, not so much overcome these archaic discords, as deprive them, steadily but imperceptibly, of their present reality. A common ideology based on this Permanent World Encyclopaedia is a possible means, to some it seems the only means, of dissolving human conflict into unity.
This concisely is the sober, practical but essentially colossal objective of those who are seeking to synthesize human mentality today, through this natural and reasonable development of encyclopaedism into a Permanent World Encyclopaedia.


  1. ". . . And its creation is a way to world peace that can be followed without any very grave risk of collision with the warring political forces and the vested institutional interests of today."

    Ah, if only the world had had a web or wikipedia in 1937, there would never have been a second world war. H.G. Wells, if you liked his science fiction, you'll love his weird notions of history and politics.

  2. Gerard, I suspect that at some point during the first paragraph of Jacob's excerpt, the voice in your head (like mine) shifted to that of the young Malcolm McDowell's.

    If not, you need to re-watch the most brilliant B-film of the late 70s, Time After Time, in which the humanist-utopianism of McDowell's time traveling H.G. is amusingly upstaged by the feminist-utopianism of Mary Steenburgen's Liberated Woman. At least until they're terrorized the David Warner's misogynistic, time traveling, serial-killing Jack the Ripper.

    Wells was shocked, shocked at the lack of progress by 1979. And that his brilliant Philosophy and Science had unforeseen consequences. But then, Al Gore hadn't yet perfected his invention of the Permanent World Encyclopedia.

  3. Forty-one years after H.G. Wells makes this prediction, Douglas Adams envisions its fulfillment in "the standard repository for all knowledge and wisdom." Little did we realize that the answer to "life, the universe, and everything" would be 42.

  4. Wells' utopian vision is startling in its naivete considering world events he had already witnessed by then. Still, nearly every great thinker dreams of a vastly improved future world to rescue us from the reality we have. The Permanent World Encyclopedia founders on many levels. First, the bandwidth of human consciousness is too limited to capitalize on the exploding amount of knowledge available to us even now. Second, knowledge and information are not even nearly equivalent to thinking and understanding. That second pair elude many an expert, who may nonetheless have acquired considerable technical skill. Last, we don't really need more of anything (more people, more leisure, more information, more wealth, more equality, more freedom, etc.) so much as we need a worldview more compatible and in touch with our frailty, our failures, and our inescapable day-to-day human needs. Outsourcing or externalizing human memory does little to accomplish that.

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