Category:As We May Think

O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z &

Bush, Vannevar (1945). "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly 176 (July 1945) pp. 101-108.

[[Category:Authors {{{2}}}|As We May Think]]

Editor's noteEdit

As Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr. Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare. In this significant article he holds up an incentive for scientists when the fighting has ceased. He urges that men of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge. For many years inventions have extended man's physical powers rather than the powers of his mind. Trip hammers that multiply the fists, microscopes that sharpen the eye, and engines of destruction and detection are new results, but the end results, of modern science. Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments should be the first objective of our scientists as they emerge from their war work. Like Emerson's famous address of 1837 on "The American Scholar," this paper by Dr. Bush calls for a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of our knowledge. - The Editor


The real heart of the matter of selection, however, goes deeper than a lag in the adoption of mechanisms by libraries, or a lack of development of devices for their use. Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.

The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.

Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he certainly ought to be able to learn from it. In minor ways he may even improve, for his records have relative permanency. The first idea, however, to be drawn from the analogy concerns selection. Selection by association, rather than by indexing, may yet be mechanized. One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage.

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

From section 6

Related worksEdit

  • Bush, Vannevar (1939). "Mechanization and the Record." [1]


None [2]

Cited byEdit

See alsoEdit



External linksEdit


  • Bush, Vannevar (1945). "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly 176 (July 1945) pp. 101-108. [3]
  • Shaw, Ralph Robert (1949a). "The Rapid Selector." Journal of Documentation, 5: 164-171.
  • Stevens, N. D. (1978). "Shaw, Ralph Robert (1907-1972)." In Dictionary of American Library Biography. (pp. 476-81). Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Buckland, Michael (1992). "Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, And Vannevar Bush's Memex." Journal of the American Society for Information Science vol. 43, no. 4 (May 1992): 284-294. (reprint)
    • On the rapid selector

In the literature of librarianship it is sometimes stated that Ralph R. Shaw (1907-1972), a distinguished librarian and professor, invented or "constructed" the microfilm rapid selector (e.g. N. D. Stevens, 1978). But this is inaccurate. The machine publicized by Shaw in 1949 was based on the earlier prototype developed from 1938 to 1940 by a team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under Bush's direction. The project manager for the Bush prototype was John H. Howard and the research assistants were Russell C. Coile, John Coombs, Claude Shannon, and Lawrence Steinhardt. Eastman Kodak and National Cash Register each provided $10,000 funding. The project's objective was to develop, within two years, a prototype machine capable of selecting microfilmed business records from microfilm rapidly: A microfilm rapid selector. Bush's selector was indeed rapid because it took advantage of two new developments: Improved photoelectric cell technology; and the stroboscopic lamp pioneered by his colleague Harold E. Edgerton. By creating a bright flash of light lasting only one-millionth of a second, the stroboscopic lamp made it possible to copy a selected microfilm image "on the fly," without stopping the film (and the search) to make a copy. The Bush microfilm selector was never used operationally, except that it seems to have been used for cryptanalysis: It was, after all, designed to be effective at identifying (selecting) every occurrence of a specified code.

Special notes
  • Technically speaking, the Category namespace turns out to be a far better place for realizing the citation index or network than any others in the WMF context! The best way may be the main namespace in another WMF project that will incorporate the Category function within itself so as to make life a little easier.
  1. Unpublished but reworked as Bush, Vannevar (1945). "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly 176 (July 1945) pp. 101-108. This may have been inspired by the eloquent Wells, H. G. (1938). World Brain. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co. . So would be Bernal, J. D. (1939). The Social Function of Science, and Borges, Jorge (1939). The Total Library.
  2. This nullity of bibliographic associations is very strange, as the main theme is "selection by association," namely hypertext, which in fact has so long existed as the appended list of references (eventually rendering the citation index or citation network) as well as the subject index or semantic network. See also #rapid selector.
  3. self-reference


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Pages in category "As We May Think"

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