These planning pages (circa 1999) are kept here for reference. The ongoing project is now here.

Vannevar Bush, "As We may Think", The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945: Volumne 176, No. 1; Pages 101-108

Presumably man's spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory. His excursions may be more enjoyable if he can reacquire the privilege of forgetting the manifold things he does not need to have immediately at hand, with some assurance that he can find them again if they prove important.

The applications of science have built man a well-supplied house, and are teaching him to live healthily therein. They have enabled him to throw masses of people against one another with cruel weapons. They may yet allow him truly to encompass the great record and to grow in the wisdom of race experience. He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope as to the outcome.

Robert Muller, Assistant Secretary-General (retired), United Nations, quoted in Surviving: The Best Game on Earth by Norrie Huddle, Schocken Books, New York, 1984, pg. 251 - 252.
The present condition of humanity was best described by the philosopher Gottfried Leibnitz a few hundred years ago when he said that humans would be so occupied with making scientific discoveries in every sector for several centuries that they would not look at the totality. But, he said, someday the proliferation and complexity of our knowledge would become so bewildering that it would be necessary to develop a global, universal, and synthetic view. This is exactly the time and juncture at which we have arrived. It shows in our new preoccupations with what is called 'interdisciplinary', 'global thinking', 'interdependence', and so on. It is all the same phenomenon.

One of the most useful things humanity could do at this point is to make an honest inventory of what we know. I have suggested to foundations that they ought to bring together the chief editors of the world's main encyclopedias to agree on a common table of contents of human knowledge. But it can be a dangerous idea. Why? Well, when the Frenchman Diderot invented the first encyclopedia, the archbishop of Paris ran to the king of France to have the book burned because it would totally change the existing value system of the Catholic church. If we developed a common index of human knowledge today it would similarly cause a change in our value systems. We would discover that in the whole framework of knowledge the contest between Israel and the Muslims would barely be listed because it is such a small problem in the totality of our preoccupation as a human species. The meeting might have to last several days before the editors would even mention it! This is exactly the point: some people don't want to develop such a framework of knowledge because they want their problem to be the most important problem on earth and go to great lengths to promote that notion.

So that is what I believe to be most necessary for global security: an ordering of our knowledge at this point in our evolution, a good, honest classification of all we know from the infinitely large to the infinitely small - the cosmos, our planet, humanity, our dreams, our wishes, and so on. We haven't done it yet, but we will have to do it one way or another.

[Previous: Goals | Next: Destinations]