In the 1930s, English science fiction author H.G. Wells wrote of a “new world organ” that “might have the form of a network” with its files and conferences at “the core of its being”. What Wells had in mind was not the Internet, but what he called the “World Brain”.
H.G. Wells’ ‘World Brain/World Mind’, was introduced to me by Jan Wyllie (pronounced “Yan”) and Simon Eaton. They are the founders of Open Intelligence. I’ve been interning with their company over the past year and I recently relocated to Devon, UK with my wife to work with them more closely. Their offices are in a Georgian mansion, tucked away from any sign of civilization. I’ve come here to learn how to cope with “information overload” by using their methods and as an aspiring trend analyst I was seeking a broader view that could give me greater clarity and context.
I was handed an “interactive book” composed by Jan and Simon in the 90s. Titled: Global Learning – Constructing the World Mind, the book was inspired by the ‘prophetic’ mind of H.G. Wells. It includes works from visionaries of the 90s like Peter Russell’s The Global Brain Awakens, Hans Swegen’s The Global Mind, James Lovelock’s article, A Simple Inheritance, and Alan Mayne’s critical introduction to the 1994 republication of Wells’ World Brain.
Before delving too deeply into the subject, I asked Simon how he defines ‘mind’. He tells me there “is no one answer,” but that he personally conceives of ‘mind’ as a verb. For him, it involves exchanges, or conversations. The brain is like the hardware while the mind is the software through which we interact as human beings. He assures me that “world mind activity” is happening. He smiles and tells me “there are pockets of waking cells” within a ‘world brain’, which he considers still in its infancy.
Simon tells me that the flow of information in the ‘neurons’ of the Internet are being influenced by governments, corporations, and their mass media. He calls it “ideological twisting that nobody needs or wants”. He spends most of his days programming software that gives users an ‘owl-eyed’ view of any pattern in the information they’re searching for. He reminds me that there are principles at play in the World Mind that have long been understood by “elders of earlier times”. I can only assume that he is referring to the wisdom of the I Ching, which he meditates upon regularly.
As a veteran trend spotter, Jan has a track record of being able to see into the future and his outlook is grim: “the great manipulators” are writing a story of “fear and greed” that blinds us from the long-term consequences of our actions. For Jan, the World Mind requires we step outside of that story, which he fears is impossible. He spends much of his time doing sustainable forestry work in his woodland, which he seems to cherish more than anything else.
I asked Jan what H.G. Wells might think of the Internet today. He responded, “he’d be shocked and awed… shocked by how badly organized and trite most of the stuff is, but awed by its potential, just like we all are”. Simon grumbles that the Internet has too much “social sludge, spam, and shopping sites,” but he still thinks something awe-inspiring might still come of it.
Jan and Simon began their collaborative work in the early 90s. In their “interactive book” they fused together expertise in mind mapping and content analysis to showcase the ideas of H.G. Wells and other World Mind visionaries. The book was written as if it were a conversation across time, which Jan calls “a Virtual Time Machine” with a wry smile. The pages on the left side are labeled “THEN” and contain content from H.G. Wells in the 30s. The pages on the right side are labeled “NOW” and contain material from the 90s. Of course, from my perspective NOW is 14 years later, so their NOW becomes THEN for me, and the conversation in the Virtual Time Machine has now been extended into the future.
My strategy is to re-engage in the conversation around Wells’ original ideas with up-to-date examples, as well as interviews with Jan and Simon. Through conversation and contemplation, this paper begins to examine how globally minded individuals and institutions might connect with greater purpose and clarity.
Re-using the schema of Constructing the World Mind (CWM), I’ll shed some light on the concept’s various Purposes, Needs, Components, and Implementations. Each section covers one of these topics and includes the original titles from the book. First, “Purposes” explains what the World Mind offers. Second, “Needs” addresses what the World Mind requires of individuals and societies. Third, “Components” covers how the World Mind might be designed. Fourth, “Implementation” explores how the World Mind could be put into practice. The conversations start in the 30s, move to the 90s, and then shift to the NOW.