Tuesday, 7 February 2012

HG Wells "World Brain"

"World Brain" by HG Wells is a non-fiction collection of essays that simply put is what Wells wanted to see for the future of man-kind

if you can't get a copy, or if time limits you from being able to read it, here's a good piece on what it's about from the University of Illinois:

the concluson of this piece:

"In the final analysis, then, it is possible to describe Wells’s the World Brain in this way. It is the latest and greatest expression of socio-biological evolution. It is to be the organ that will be at once shaped by, and responsible for, the ultimate success of that "open conspiracy" by means of which scientists and others will create a new world order. As a fundamental aspect of this new world order, it will provide the information necessary for the suppression of dissent and diversity. It will be under the control of an anti-individualist, anti-democratic administrative and scholarly elite, the Competent Receiver and the grandiosely named order of Samurai. These "officials" will carry out their duties and sustain their repressive regimes administratively on the basis of knowledge derived from a huge database in which is integrated information about all aspects of the lives of the citizens under their care. They are to manage broader socio-biological matters relating to the immediate welfare and evolutionary development of the human race, including weeding out the unfit for detention or destruction. The information they need to discharge these responsibilities will be derived from what is no more than a "properly vetted" "arrangement of notes." These notes are to be provided by the personnel constituting the World Brain organisation. These are the "carefully assembled sequence" of "selections, extracts, and quotations" that Wells identifies as grist for the World Brain’s cognitive mill (Wells, 1938, pp. 14-15). They are, conceptually no more than an extension of his own notebooks. The World Brain is simply Wells’s brain writ large.


Wells’s vision of a World brain is troubling in and of itself. But it also raises issues of a broader kind that pose a challenge to contemporary accounts of the Word or Global Brain, whether they echo Wells or not. All of these accounts embrace a kind of evolutionary determinism 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). Something far beyond the ken of ordinary people and "alive" is envisaged. It is alive also in a way that requires the subordination of the will, intelligence and interests of ordinary people. As individuals are subsumed by or absorbed into it, their independence and instrumentality in their own lives are inevitably curtailed in the expectation of general social betterment rather than an enhancement of individual potential. It is neither tool nor prosthesis but may be interpreted as becoming an expression of totalitarian values and authoritarian control.

World Brain or Global Brain proponents tend to extrapolate quite extravagantly the capabilities and implications of emerging technology. For Wells it was microfilm. Today it is the infinitely more sophisticated Internet and World Wide Web which have enmeshed our globe in a fantastically intricate and diffused communications infrastructure. By means of this technology as World or Global Brain proponents imagine it taking shape, the effective deployment of the entire universe of knowledge will become possible. But this begs unresolved questions about the relative value of the individual and the state, about the nature of individual and social benefits and how they are best to be allocated, about what constitutes freedom and how it might be appropriately constrained. It flies in the face of the intransigent reality that what constitutes the ever-expanding store of human knowledge is almost incalculably massive in scale, is largely viewpoint-dependent, is fragmented, complex, ceaselessly in dispute and always under revision.

Finally, one might ask what happens to individuals and to society when the World or Global Brain malfunctions, whether within the limits of normality or pathologically? What do the limitations and failures that characterise the human brain and with which we are all too familiar, mean for the World or Global Brain? At the level of the psychopathology of everyday life, through slips of the tongue, misunderstandings, preconceptions, failures of recall, inability to assimilate new ideas, lapses of attention, forgetting, dreams and daydreams, the mind and so the brain is forever tripping us up, letting us down, tricking us, unexpectedly revealing clues to subterranean depths. The human brain is the site of what is irrational as well as what is rational -- and presumably this has implications for the World Brain. Moreover, if we go from the normal to the pathological, how do we deal with the notion of a World Brain that is schizophrenic, demented, subject to cerebral haemorrhage or massive stroke.

Issues such as these are provoked by Wells’s account of the World Brain and are implicit in any modern discussion of the idea, whether at the level of metaphor or of a kind of emergent cyborg reality. If the idea is to be useful and its practical realisation convincingly argued, issues such as these must be satisfactorily resolved."

a good read
welcome to the internet, happy shopping

1 comment:

Anon said...

"Scientists and others will create a new world order."

H G Wells knew what was going on.

Many thanks for the link.

- Aangirfan