The Sum of All Human Knowledge.

I am curious, has anyone ever tried to compile the sum of all human knowledge in one place? I know the sum is always changing, because more knowledge is always being discovered. Still, though hard, it would not be impossible. So has anyone ever tried to do this?

Thank you in advance to all who reply :slight_smile:

I think they call that a “library.”

I mean the sum of all human knowledge. For example, you are not going to be able to find how to do open heart surgery at wikipedia, the straight dope or even you average library. Thank you for your replies so far, though :slight_smile: .

I meant a research library, such as you’d find at a major university. You will definitely find medical textbooks describing how to do open heart surgery, not to mention countless papers on this topic in medical journals.

If you’re really referring to the sum of all human knowledge, then no. You’d have to include every fact of reality that is known by even one person, no matter how insignificant; you’d have to include all the inconsequential minutiae of every single human being on the planet. I can think of quite a few things that I know, that nobody else knows.

The compilation of the sum of all human knowledge is in process as we speak. It’s called the internet.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote of the map of an empire drawn on a scale of 1:1-- meaning the map would be the same size as the territory it represents. Umberto Eco considered that idea and decided that a faithful 1:1 map representing a territory of maximum size would be impossible, as it would involve “insuperable practical difficulties and theoretical paradoxes.” The OP calls for a faithful representation of the maximum extent of knowledge, another example of the principle of Borges’s impossible map.

Isidore of Seville wrote what was probably the last attempt by a single person to collect all of human knowledge, and he died in 636:

In other words, a collection of the sum of human knowlege already exists - it’s called humanity.


You are mistaking pornography for human knowledge. :smiley:

Actually, much though I like the Internet, and even though it is potentially capable of housing infinite amounts of knowledge, at this stage it is deficient in many respects, that is to say, there’s a lot of things on there that you **cannot ** find. And I don’t think it is even conceivable for the Internet to fulfill the above-mentioned potential. After all, while there’s much knowledge accumulation going on, at the same time much knowledge is being destroyed.

I think we’ve estalished that the short answer is “no”.

Even settling on just all useful-to-others human knowledge (e.g. heart surgery technique = yes, what I had for breakfast yesterday = no), we immediately get the point that there is not really a need to store all the deep details in one place.

Metaphorically speaking, we have Wikipedia & the Library of Congress for the outline of all human knowledge, and specialist sources for the details on each of the areas, from microchip design techniques to the current cladistic taxonomy of Dead Sea phytoplankton. There is no practical advantage to placing the uttermost details of those two areas of knowledge in the same place, much less those from the other billion equally detailed areas of knowledge available.


As somebody upthread said, it’s called the internet. The knowledge doesn’t have to be stored in one place, it just has to be accessible from one place: the one place where you are right now.

In a real sense, Google is trying to index 100% of the knowledge that’s placed on the public web. So they and their competitors are the current approximation to the “sum of all human knowledge” for sensible / useful definitions of “sum” & “human knowledge.”

At some point in the the growth of any collection of anything, the index and/or table of contents of the collection starts to be as important as the contents themselves. After all, there’s no practical difference between not having something & not knowing you have it, or knowing you have it but not being able to find it.

ETA: And yes, as Švejk said, the current internet leave out an awful lot.

I have not much to add, but wanted to mention Library of Alexandria - reputedly complete collection of then-current knowledge. Because it’s cool.

Unfortunately, it burned.

Trouble is, humans don’t live forever, and when they go their knowledge tends to go with them.

I’d like to mention Buckminster Fuller, a proto-blogger if there ever was one. From 1915 to 1983 he documented his life every 15 minutes. The result he called the Dymaxion Chronofile - it measures 270 feet/80 meters. Supposing you were to actually collect all the knowledge of the world, it would probably have to be something like that. Only you would have to update it fluidly. And then consider the metaknowledge creating itself out of that same project. And so on.

This is a clip from his “Everything I know” lecture:

Except that the OP seems to be asking for a *representation *of this sum–not the actual knowledge base already found collectively in humanity, but an artifact, a compilation that would reproduce it in full. Similarly, you could say that the sum of all geography already exists as the earth itself; by analogy the OP would be asking for, not the earth, but a map of it that included a representation in full of every single thing on the earth.

The absurdity of such a 1:1-scale representation of everything in existence is what Borges was satirizing with his inimitable deadpan scholarliness in A Universal History of Infamy, the section headed “Of Exactitude in Science.”

But humanity lives forever…

I wouldn’t bet on that.