World Brain, by H. G. Wells


THE papers and addresses I have collected in this little book are submitted as contributions, however informal, to what is essentially a scientific research. But it is a research in a field to which scientific standing is not generally accorded and where peculiar methods have to be employed. It is in the field of constructive sociology, the science of social organisation. This is a special sub-section of human ecology, which is a branch of general ecology, which again is a stem in the great and growing cluster of biological sciences. It stands with palaeontology at the opposite pole to experimental biology; hardly any verificatory experiment is possible and no controls. It is a science of pure observation, therefore, of analysis and of search for confirmatory instances. On the one hand it passes, without crossing any definite boundaries, into historical science proper, into the analysis of historical fact, that is, and on the other into the examination of such matters as geographical (and geological) conditions and the social consequences of industrial processes.

Human ecology surveys the species Homo sapiens as a whole in space and time; sociology is that part of the survey which concerns itself with the interaction and interdependence of human groups and individuals. It is hardly to be distinguished from social psychology. There has been an enormous increase in the intensity and scope of human interaction and interdependence during the past half-million years or more. Communities and what one may call ranges of reaction, have enlarged and continue to enlarge more and more rapidly towards a planetary limit. The human intelligence is involved in this enlargement and it is too deeply concerned with its role in the process, to observe it with the detachment it can maintain towards the facts, for example, of astronomy or crystallography. Constructive sociology has to bring not only the study of conduct but an irresistible element of purpose into its problems. Human beings are not simply born or thrown together into association like a swarm of herrings. They keep together with a sense of collective activities and common ends, even if these ends are little more than mutual aid, protection and defence.

Throughout the whole range of ecology we study the adaptation of living species to changing environments, but outside the human experience these adaptations are generally made unconsciously by the natural selection of mutations and variations. These adaptations are inherited. They are either successful and the species is modified and survives, or it perishes. In the cerebral animals, however, natural selection is supplemented by very considerable individual adaptability. Memories and habits are established in each generation which fit individuals to the special circumstances of their own generation. They are adaptations which perish with the individual. Such creatures learn; they are educable creatures; dogs, cats, seals, elephants for example learn and the next generation has, if necessary, to learn the old lesson all over again or a different lesson. In the human being there is an unprecedented extension of educability; not only is learning developed to relatively immense proportions, but it is further supplemented by curiosity, precept and tradition. In such a slow-breeding creature as man educational adaptation is, beyond all comparison, a swifter process than genetic adaptation. His social life, his habits, have changed completely, have even undergone reversion and reversal, while his heredity seems to have changed very little if at all, since the late Stone Age. Possibly he is more educable now and with a more prolonged physical and mental adolescence.

The human individual is born now to live in a society for which his fundamental instincts are altogether inadequate. He has to be educated systematically for his social role. The social man is a manufactured product of which the natural man is the raw nucleus. In a world of fluctuating and generally expanding communities and ranges of reaction, the science of constructive sociology seeks to detect and give definition to the trends and requirements of man’s social circumstances and to study the possibilities and methods of adapting the natural man to them. It is the science of current adaptations. It has therefore two reciprocal aspects; on the one hand it has to deal with social organisations, laws, customs and regulations, which may either be actually operative or merely projected and potential, and on the other hand it has to examine the education these real or proposed social organisations require. These two aspects are inseparable, they need to fit like hand and glove. Plans and theories of social structure and plans and theories of education are the outer and inner aspects of the same thing. Each necessitates the other. Every social order must have its own distinctive process of education.

In the past this imperative association of education and social structure was not recognised so clearly as it is at the present time. Communities would grow up and not change their mental clothes until they burst out of them. Ideas would change and disorganise institutions. For the past twenty-six centuries, and particularly, and much more definitely, during the last three, there has been a very great expenditure of mental energy upon the statement in various terms and metaphors, as theologies, as religions, socialisms, communisms, devotions, loyalties, codes of behaviour and so on, of the desirable and necessary form of human adaptation to new conditions of association. From the point of view of constructive sociology, or to coin a hideous phrase, human adaptology, all these efforts, although not deliberately made as experiments, are so much experience and working material, and though almost all of them have involved special teachings (doctrines) the need for a close interlocking of training and teaching with the social order sought, though always fairly obvious, has never been so fully realised as it is today. The new doctrines were often only subconsciously linked to the new needs. The idea, for instance, of a universal God replacing local gods ensued upon the growth of great empires, but it was not explicitly related to the growth of great empires. The connection was not plainly apparent to men’s minds. In the looser, easier past of our species, there has never been such a close interweaving of current usage and practices with instruction and precept as we are now beginning to feel desirable. The reference of one to the other was not direct. Now education becomes more and more definitely political and economic. It must penetrate deeper and deeper into life as life ceases to be customary and grows more and more deliberately planned and adjusted. The need for lively and continuous invention in constructive sociology and for an animated and animating progressive education correlated with these innovations, has hardly more than dawned on the world. The urgency of adaptation has still to be grasped.

Throughout the nineteenth century certain systems of adaptive ideas spread throughout the world to meet the requirements of what was recognised with increasing understanding as a new age. Mechanism was altering both the fundamental need for toil and the essential nature of war. The practical and cynically accepted need for labouring classes and subject-peoples, was dissolving quietly out of human thought — though it still exists in the minds of those who employ personal servants. Means of intercommunication and mutual help and injury have developed amazingly. A mechanical unification of the world has been demanding (and still demands) profound moral and ideological readjustments. It is, for example, being realised, slowly but steadily, that the fragmentary control of production and trade through irresponsible individual ownership gives quite lamentably inadequate results, that the whole property-money system needs revision very urgently, and that the belated recrudescence of sentimental nationalism largely through misguided school-teaching and newspaper propaganda, is becoming an increasing menace to world welfare. The old ideological equipments throughout the world are misfits everywhere. Mental and moral adaptation is lagging dreadfully behind the change in our conditions. A great and menacing gulf opens which only an immense expansion of teaching and instruction can fill.

In the field of sociology it is impossible to disentangle social analysis from literature, and the criticism of the social order by Ruskin, William Morris and so forth was at least as much a contribution to social science as Herbert Spencer’s quasi-scientific defence of individualism and the abstractions and dogmas of the political economists. The biological sciences did not spread very easily into this undeveloped region. It was a hinterland of novel problems and possibilities. Even today proper methods of study in this field have still to be fully worked out and brought into association. It has had to be explored by moral and religious appeals, by utopias and speculative writings of a quality and texture. very unsatisfying to scientific workers in more definite fields. It is still subject to irruptions of a type that the normal scientist of today finds highly questionable. Poets even and seers have their role in this experimentation. But economics and sociology can only be made hard sciences by eliminating much of their living content. Knowledge has to be attained by any available means. Inquirers cannot be limited to passable imitations of the methods followed in other fields. It may be doubted if constructive sociology and educational science can ever be freed from a certain literary, aesthetic and ethical flavouring. We have to assume certain desiderata before we can get down to effective, applicable work. Yet it does seem possible to state the problem of adaptation in practical scientific terms.

It was not realised at first, and it is still not fully realised, how vague and unsuitable for immediate application the generous propositions of Socialism and World Peace remain, until further intensive and continuous research and elaboration have been undertaken. It is widely assumed that to profess Socialism or Pacifism implies the immediate undertaking of vehement political activities unencumbered by further thought. But the profession of Socialism or World Peace should commit a man to nothing of the sort. Socialism and World Peace are hardly more than sketches of the general frame of adaptation of which our species stands in need. “We are all socialists nowadays,” but all the same there is very little really efficient working socialism.

“All men are brothers “— we have echoed that since the days of Buddha and Christ — but Spain and China are poor evidence of that fraternity. We know we want these things quite clearly, but we have still to learn how they are to be got.

Man reflects before he acts, but not very much; he is still by nature intellectually impatient. No sooner does he apprehend, in whole or in part, the need of a new world, than, without further plans or estimates, he gem into a state of passionate aggressiveness and suspicion and sets about trying to change the present order. There and then, he sets about it, with anything that comes handy, violently, disastrously, making the discordances worse instead of better, and quarrelling bitterly with any one who is not in complete accordance with his particular spasmodic conception of the change needful. He is unable to realise that when the time comes I to act, that also is the time to think fast and hard. He will not think enough.

There has been, therefore, an enormous waste of human mental, moral and physical resources in premature revolutionary thrusts, ill-planned, dogmatic, essentially unscientific reconstructions and restorations of the social order, during the past hundred years. This was the inevitable first result of the discrediting of those old and superseded mental adaptations which were embodied in the institutions and education of the past. They discredited themselves and left the world full of problems. The idea of expropriating the owners of land and industrial plant, for instance (Socialism), long preceded any deliberate attempt to create a Competent Receiver. Hysterical objection to further research, to any sustained criticism, has been, and is still characteristic of nearly all the pseudo-constructive movements of our time, culminating in projects for a “seizure of power” by some presumptuous oaf or other. The meanest thing in human natures is the fear of responsibility and the craving for leadership. “Right” dictators there are and “Left” dictators, and in effect there is hardly a pin to choose between them. The important thing about them from our present point of view, is that fear-saturated impatience for guidance, which renders dictatorships possible. First there comes a terrifying realisation of the limitless uncontrolled changes now in progress, then wild stampedes, suspicions, mass murders and finally mus ridiculus the Hero emerges, a poor single, silly, little human cranium held high and adorned usually with something preposterous in the way of hats. “He knows,” they cry. “Hail the Leader!” He acts his part; he may even believe in it. And for quite a long time the crowd will refuse to realise that not only is nothing better than it was before, but that change is still marching on and marching at it — as inexorably as though there were no Leaders on the scene at all. Between the extremes of Right and Left hysteria, there remains a great under-developed region in the world of political thought and will, that we may characterise as “do-nothing democracy “. Out of the sudden realisation of its do-nothingness arise these psychological storms which give gangster dictators their opportunities. It is only gradually that people have come to realise that current democratic institutions are a very poor, slow and slack method of conducting human affairs which need an exhaustive revision, and that when one has declared oneself Anti-Fascist, Anti-Communist or both, one has still said precisely nothing about the government of the world. One is brought back to the unsolved problem of the Competent Receiver. It exercised Plato. It has been intermittently revived and neglected ever since.

It is an intricate and difficult problem. To that I can testify because for more than half my life it has been my main preoccupation. The attack on this problem is, to begin with, a task to be done in the study and in the unhurried and irresponsible spirit of pure inquiry. As the attack gathers confidence a taint of propaganda may easily infect it, but the less that constructive sociology is propagandist, the higher will be its scientific standing and the greater its ultimate usefulness to mankind. The application of the results of its researches is another business altogether, the business of the statesman, organiser and practical administrator. And in spite of the paucity of disinterested explorers in this region of speculation and analysis, and in spite of the lack of effective discussion and interchange in this field (due mainly, I think, to the inadequate recognition of its immense scientific importance which forces its workers so often into a hampering association with politically active bodies) there does seem to be a growing and spreading clarification of the realities of the human situation. It is becoming apparent that the real clue to that reconciliation of freedom and sustained initiative with the more elaborate social organisation which is being demanded from us, lies in raising and unifying, and so implementing and making more effective, the general intelligence services of the world. That at least is the argument in this book. The missing factor in human airs, it is suggested here, is a gigantic and many-sided educational renascence. The highly educated section, the finer minds of the human race are so dispersed, so ineffectively related to the common man, that they are powerless in the face of political and social adventurers of the coarsest sort. We want a reconditioned and more powerful Public Opinion. In a universal organisation and clarification of knowledge and ideas, in a closer synthesis of university and educational activities, in the evocation, that is, of what I have here called a World Brain, operating by an enhanced educational system through the whole body of mankind, a World Brain which will replace our multitude of unco-ordinated ganglia, our powerless miscellany of universities, research institutions, literatures with a purpose, national educational systems and the like; in that and in that alone, it is maintained, is there any clear hope of a really Competent Receiver for world affairs, any hope of an adequate directive control of the present destructive drift of world affairs. We do not want dictators, we do not want oligarchic parties or class rule, we want a widespread world intelligence conscious of itself To work out a way to that World Brain organisation is therefore our primary need in this age of imperative construction.

It is an immense undertaking but not an impossible undertaking. I do not think there is any insurmountable obstacle in the way to the production of such a ruling World Brain. There are favourable conditions for it, encouraging precedents and a plainly evident need. The various lectures, addresses and papers, collected here, few, thin and sketchy though they may seem, are all in their scope and measure contributions to this urgent research.

H.G. Wells

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