Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth

Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth is a book by R. Buckminster Fuller, first published in 1969. The book relates Earth to a spaceship with limited resources, flying through space. Fuller aims to help in the understanding, management, preservation, and sustainment of this ship.

We have not been seeing our Spaceship Earth as an integrally-designed machine which to be persistently successful must be comprehended and serviced in total.

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...the vital data confronting us right now...the fact that more than half of humanity as yet exists in miserable poverty, prematurely doomed, unless we alter our comprehensive physical circumstances.... I feel that one of the reasons why we are struggling inadequately today is that We reckon our costs on too shortsighted a basis and are later overwhelmed with the unexpected costs brought about by our shortsightedness.
 
Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking.
  • I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuities. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem. Our brains deal exclusively with special-case experiences. p. 1
  • Because our spontaneous initiative has been frustrated, too often inadvertently, in earliest childhood we do not tend, customarily, to dare to think competently regarding our potentials. We find it socially easier to go on with our narrow, shortsighted specializations and leave it to others-primarily to the politicians - to find some way of resolving our common dilemmas. Countering that spontaneous grownup trend to narrowness, I will do my... best to confront as many of our problems as possible by employing the longest-distance thinking of which I am capable...
  • Having been trained at the U.S. Naval Academy and practically experienced in the powerfully effective forecasting arts of celestial navigation, pilotage, ballistics, and logistics and in the long-range, anticipatory, design science governing yesterday's naval mastery of the world from which our present day's general system's theory has been derived, I recall that in 1927, I set about deliberately exploring to see how far ahead we could make competent forecasts regarding the direction in which all humanity is trending and to see how effectively we could interpret the physical details of what comprehensive evolution might be portending as disclosed by the available data, I came to the conclusion that it is possible to make a fairly reasonable forecast of about twenty-five years.
  • In 1927 when people had occasion to ask me about my prognostications and I told them what I thought it would be appropriate to do about what I could see ahead for the 1950'S, 1960’s, and 1970’s people used to say to me, “Very amusing — you are a thousand years ahead of your time.” Having myself studied the increments in which we can think forwardly I was amazed at the ease with which the rest of society seemed to be able to see a thousand years ahead while I could see only one-fortieth of that time distance. As time went on people began to tell me that I was a hundred years ahead, and now they tell me that I’m a little behind the times. p.13
  • I have learned about public reaction to the unfamiliar and also about the ease and speed with which the transformed reality becomes so "natural” as misseemingly to have been always obvious. So I knew that their last observations were made only because the evolutionary events I had foreseen have occurred on schedule.
  • First, I'd like to explore a few thoughts about the vital data confronting us right now — such as the fact that more than half of humanity as yet exists in miserable poverty, prematurely doomed, unless we alter our comprehensive physical circumstances. It is certainly no solution to evict the poor, replacing their squalid housing with much more expensive buildings which the original tenants can't afford to reoccupy. Our society adopts many such superficial palliatives.
  • Because yesterdays negatives are moved out of sight from their familiar locations many persons are willing to pretend to themselves that the problems have been solved. I feel that one of the reasons why we are struggling inadequately today is that We reckon our costs on too shortsighted a basis and are later overwhelmed with the unexpected costs brought about by our shortsightedness.
  • Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking. p. 13
 
We must stop burning up the house to keep the family warm. We have all the technology needed to tap vast cosmic energies of the sun but greedy big business and money drunk government won't allow it because they haven't found a way to place a meter on the sun.
  • We must stop burning up the house to keep the family warm. We have all the technology needed to tap vast cosmic energies of the sun but greedy big business and money drunk government won't allow it because they haven't found a way to place a meter on the sun.
 
Most importantly we have learned that from here on it is success for all or for none
 
A new, physically uncompromised, metaphysical initiative of unbiased integrity could unify the world.
  • A new, physically uncompromised, metaphysical initiative of unbiased integrity could unify the world.
  • We have not been seeing our Spaceship Earth as an integrally-designed machine which to be persistently successful must be comprehended and serviced in total.
  • In our schools today we still start off the education of our children by giving them planes and lines that go on, incomprehensibly "forever” toward a meaningless infinity. Such oversimplified viewpoints are misleading, blinding, and debilitating, because they preclude possible discovery of the significance of our integrated experiences.
  • This all brings us to a realization of the enormous educational task which must be successfully accomplished right now in a hurry in order to convert man’s spin-dive toward oblivion into an intellectually mastered power pullout into safe and level flight of physical and metaphysical success, where after he may turn his Spaceship Earth’s occupancy into a universe exploring advantage. If it comprehends and reacts effectively, humanity will open an entirely new chapter of the experiences and the thoughts and drives thereby stimulated.
  • Most importantly we have learned that from here on it is success for all or for none, for it is experimentally proven by physics that “unity is plural and at minimum two” - the complementary but not mirror-imaged proton and neutron. You and I are inherently different and complementary.
  • Our brains deal exclusively with special-case experiences. Only our minds are able to discover the generalized principles operating without exception in each and every special-experience case which if detected and mastered will give knowledgeable advantage in all instances.
  • Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking.
  • Society assumes that specialization is natural, inevitable, and desirable. Yet in observing a little child, we find it is interested in everything and spontaenously apprehends, comprehends, and co-ordinates an ever-expanding inventory of experiences. ... Nothing seems to be more prominent about human life than its wanting to understand all and put everything together. p. 13
  • One of humanity's prime drives is to understand and be understood. All other living creatures are designed for highly specialized tasks. Man seems unique as the comprehensive comprehender and co-ordinator of local universe affairs. p. 13
 
The so-called British Empire was a manifest of the world-around misconception of who ran things and a disclosure of the popular ignorance of the Great Pirates’ absolute world-controlling through their local-stooge sovereigns and their prime ministers, as only innocuously and locally modified here and there by the separate sovereignties’ internal democratic processes.
  • Ch 2: Origens of specialization
 
These hard, powerful, brilliantly resourceful sea masters... found it necessary to surround themselves with super-loyal, muscular but dull-brained illiterates who could not see nor savvy their masters’ stratagems. There was great safety in the mental dullness of these henchmen. The Great Pirates realized that the only people who could possibly contrive to displace them were the truly bright people. For this reason their number-one strategy was secrecy.
  • As a consequence of the slavish "categoryitis" the scientifically illogical, and as we shall see, often meaningless questions "Where do you live?" "What are you?" "What religion?" "What race?" "What nationality?" are all thought of today as logical questions. By the twenty-first century it either will have become evident to humanity that these questions are absurd and anti-evolutionary or men will no longer be living on Earth. p. 20
  • There were a few human beings who gradually, through the process of invention and experiment, built and operated, first, local river and bay, next, along-shore, then off-shore rafts, dugouts, grass broats, and outrigger sailing canoes. Finally, they developed voluminous rib-bellied fishing vessels, and thereby ventured out to sea for progressively longer periods. Developing ever larger and more capable ships, the seafarers eventually were able to remain for months on the high seas. Thus, these venturers came to live normally at sea. This led them inevitably into world-around, swift, fortune - producing enterprise. Thus they became the first world men.
  • The men who were able to establish themselves on the oceans had also to be extraordinarily effective with the sword upon both land and sea. They had also to have great anticipatory vision, great ship designing capability, and original scientific conceptioning, mathematical skill in navigation and exploration techniques for coping in fog, night, and storm with the invisible hazards of rocks, shoals, and currents. The great sea venturers had to be able to command all the people in their dry land realm order to commandeer the... skills necessary to produce their large, complex ships... There were very few of these top power men. But as they went on their sea ventures they gradually found that the waters interconnected all the world’s people and lands... these very few masters of the water world became incalculably rich and powerful.
  • These hard, powerful, brilliantly resourceful sea masters had to sleep occasionally, and therefore found it necessary to surround themselves with super-loyal, muscular but dull-brained illiterates who could not see nor savvy their masters’ stratagems. There was great safety in the mental dullness of these henchmen. The Great Pirates realized that the only people who could possibly contrive to displace them were the truly bright people.
  • Their number-one strategy was secrecy. If the other powerful pirates did not know where you were going, nor when you had gone, nor when you were coming back, they would not know how to waylay you. If anyone knew when you were coming home, “small-tini-ers” could come out in small boats and waylay you in the dark and take you over - just before you got home tiredly after a two-year treasure ¬ harvesting voyage. Thus hijacking and second-rate piracy became a popular activity around the world’s shores and harbors. Thus secrecy became the essence of the lives of the successful pirates; ergo, how little is known today of that which I am relating. p. 20
  • Under these everyday, knowledge-thwarting or limiting circumstances of humanity, the comprehensively - informed master adventurers of history who went to sea soon realized that the only real competition they had was that of other powerful outlaws who might also know or hope to learn through experience “what it is all about.”
  • I call these sea mastering people the great outlaws or Great Pirates... simply because the arbitrary laws enacted... by men on the land could not be extended effectively to control humans beyond their shores and out upon the seas. So the... men who lived on the seas were inherently outlaws, and the only laws that could and did rule them were the natural laws — the physical laws of universe which when tempestuous were often cruelly devastating...
  • It followed that these Great Pirates came into mortal battle with one another to see who was going to control the vast sea routes and eventually the world. Their battles took place out of sight of landed humanity. Most of the losers went to the bottom utterly unbeknownst to historians. Those who stayed on the top of the waters and prospered did so because of their comprehensive capability. That is they were the antithesis of specialists. p. 22
  • The so-called British Empire was a manifest of the world - around misconception of who ran things and a disclosure of the popular ignorance of the Great Pirates’ absolute world-controlling through their local-stooge sovereigns and their prime ministers, as only innocuously and locally modified here and there by the separate sovereignties’ internal democratic processes.
  • The British Isles lying off the coast of Europe constituted in effect a fleet of unsinkable ships and naval bases commanding all the great harbors of Europe. Those islands were the possession of the topmost Pirates. Since the Great Pirates were building, maintaining, supplying their ships on those islands, they also logically made up their crews out of the native islanders who were simply seized or commanded aboard by imperial edict. Seeing these British Islanders aboard the top pirate ships the people around the world mistakenly assumed that the world conquest by the Great Pirates was a conquest by the will, ambition, and organization of the British people, Thus was the G. P.’s (Great Pirate's) grand deception victorious. But the people of those islands never had the ambition to go out and conquer the world. As a people they were manipulated by the top pirates and learned to cheer as they were told of their nation’s world prowess. p. 25
  • Leonardo da Vinci is the outstanding example of the comprehensively anticipatory design scientist. Operating under the patronage of the Duke of Milan he designed the fortified defences and weaponry as well as the tools of peaceful production. Many other great military powers had their comprehensive design scientist-artist inventors; Michelangelo was one of them.
  • What happened at the time of Leonardo and Galileo was that mathematics was so unproved by the advent of the zero that not only was much more scientific shipbuilding made possible but also much more reliable navigation. Immediately thereafter truly large-scale venturing on the world’s oceans commenced, and the strong sword-leader patrons as designing their new and more powerful world-girdling ships. Next they took their Leonardos to sea with them as their seagoing Merlins to invent ever more powerful tools and strategies on a world-around basis to implement their great campaigns to best all the other great pirates, thereby enabling them to become masters of the world and of all its people and wealth. p. 24
  • The topmost Great Pirates’ Leonardos discovered both in their careful, long-distance planning and in their anticipatory inventing that the grand strategies of sea power made it experimentally clear that a plurality of ships could usually outmaneuver one ship. So the Great Pirates’ Leonardos invented navies. Then, of course, they had to control various resource-supplying mines, forests, and lands with which and upon which to build the ships and establish the industries essential to building, supplying, and maintaining their navy’s ships. p. 27
  • The required and scientifically designed secrecy of the sea operations thus pulled a curtain that hid the Leonardos from public view, popular ken, and recorded history.
 
We are going to have to spread our wings of intellect and fly or perish... we must dare immediately to fly by the generalized principles governing universe and not by the ground rules of yesterday's superstitious and erroneously conditioned reflexes.
 
Every time man makes a new experiment he always learns more. He cannot learn less.
 
Let us now exercise our intellectual faculties as best we can to apprehend the evolutionary patternings transcending our spontaneous cognitions and recognitions.
  • Finally, the sea-dwelling Leonardos became Captains of the ships or even Admirals of Fleets, or Commandants of the Navy yards where they designed and built the fleets, or they became the commandants of the naval war colleges where they designed and developed the comprehensive strategy for running the world for a century to come.
  • Then came the grand strategy which said, “divide and conquer”. You divide up the other man’s ships in battle or you best him when several of his ships are hauled out on the land for repairs. They also had a grand strategy of anticipatory divide and conquer. Anticipatory divide and conquer was much more effective than tardy divide and conquer, since it enabled those who employed it to surprise the other pirate under conditions unfavorable to the latter.
  • The great top pirates of the world, realizing that dull people were innocuous and that the only people who could contrive to displace the supreme pirates were the bright ones, set about to apply their grand strategy of anticipatory divide and conquer to solve that situation comprehensively. The Great Pirate came into each of the various lands where he either acquired or sold goods profitably and picked the strongest man there to be his local head man.
  • The Pirate’s picked man became the Pirate’s general manager of the local realm. If the Great Pirate's local strong man in a given land had not already done so, the Great Pirate told him to proclaim himself king. Despite the local head man’s secret subservience to him, the Great Pirate allowed and counted upon his king-stooge to convince his countrymen that he, the local king, was indeed the head man of all men -the god—ordained ruler. To guarantee that sovereign claim the Pirates gave their stooge-kings secret lines of supplies which provided everything required to enforce the sovereign claim. The more massively bejewelled the king’s gold crown, and the more visible his court and castle, the less visible was his pirate master. Ch. II, Origins of specialization
  • The Great Pirates said to all their lieutenants around the world, “Any time bright young people show up, I’d like to know about it, be cause we need bright men.” So each time the Pirate came into port the local king-ruler would mention that he had some bright, young men whose capabilities and thinking shone out in the community. The Great Pirate would say to the king, "All right, you summon them and deal with them as follows: As each young man is brought forward you say to him, young man, you are very bright. I’m going to assign you to a great history tutor and in due course if you study well and learn enough I’m going to make you my Royal Historian, but you’ve got to pass many examinations by both your teacher and myself.” And when the next bright boy was brought before him the King was to say, “I’m going to make you my Royal Treasurer,” and so forth. Then the Pirate said to the king, “You will finally say to all of them: ‘But each of you must mind your own business or off go your heads. I’m the only one who minds everybody’s business ” p.29
  • This is the way schools began — as the royal tutorial schools. You realize, I hope, that I am not being facetious. That is it. This is the beginning of schools and colleges and the beginning of intellectual specialization. Of course, it took great wealth to start schools, to have great teachers, and to house, clothe, feed, and cultivate both teachers and students.
  • Capitalism and socialism are mutually extinct. Why? Because science now finds there can be ample for all, but only if the sovereign fences are completely removed. The basic you-or-me-not-enough-for-both— ergo someone-must-die tenets of the class warfaring are extinct. p. 39
  • When, as we have seen, the Great Pirates let their scientists have free rein in World War I the Pirates themselves became so preoccupied with enormous wealth harvesting that... they, too, became severe specialists as industrial production money makers, and thus they compounded their own acceleration to extinction... But society, as we have seen, never knew that the Great Pirates had been running the world. Nor did society realize... that the Great Pirates had become extinct.
  • World society was fully and painfully aware of the economic paralysis. Society consisted then, as now, almost entirely of specialized slaves in education, management, science, office routines, craft, farming, pick- and-shovel labour, and their families. Our world society now has none of the comprehensive and realistic world knowledge that the Great Pirates had. p. 42
  • There's a major pattern of energy in universe wherein the very large events, earthquakes, and so forth, occur in any one area of universe very much less frequently than do the small energy events... In the patterning of total evolutionary events, there comes a time, once in a while, amongst the myriad of low energy events, when a large energy event transpires and is so disturbing that with their general adaptability lost, the ultra-specialized creatures perish. p. 40
  • Because world societies thought mistakenly of their local politicians, who were only the stooges of the Great Pirates, as being realistically the head men, society went to them to get the industrial and economic machinery going again. Because industry is inherently world - co¬ordinate these world economic depression events of the 1920’s and 1930’s meant that each of the local head politicians of a number of countries were asked separately to make the world work. On this basis the world-around inventory of resources was no longer integratable. Each of the political leaders’ mandates were given from different ideological groups, and their differing viewpoints and resource difficulties led inevitably to World War II.
  • The politicians, having an automatic bias, were committed to defend and advantage only their own side. Each assumed the validity of the Malthusian-Darwin-you-or-me-to-the-death struggle. Because of the working concept that there was not enough to go around, the most aggressive political leaders exercised their political leadership by heading their countries into war to overcome the rest of the world, thus to dispose of the unsupportable excess population through decimation and starvation-the age-old, lethal formula of ignorant men.
  • All the great ideological groups assumed Armageddon. Getting ready for the assumed inexorable Armageddon, each applied science and all of the great scientific specialization capabilities only toward weaponry, thus developing the ability to destroy themselves totally with no comprehensively organized oppositional thinking capability and initiative powerful enough to co-ordinate and prevent it. Thus by 1946, we were on the swift way to extinction despite the inauguration of the United Nations, to which none of the exclusive sovereign prerogatives were surrendered.
  • The evolutionary antibody to the extinction of humanity through specialization appeared in the form of the computer and its comprehensively commanded automation operating manual for spaceship earth which made man obsolete as a physical production and control specialist-and just in time.
  • Man is going to be displaced altogether as a specialist by the computer. Man himself is being forced to reestablish, employ, and enjoy his innate "comprehensivity." Coping with the totality of Spaceship Earth and universe is ahead for all of us. p. 43
  • Evolution consists of many great revolutionary events taking place quite independently of man's consciously attempting to bring them about.
  • Man is very vain; he likes to feel that he is responsible for all the favorable things that happen, and he is innocent of all the unfavorable happenings. But all the larger evolutionary patternings seeming favorable or unfavorable to man's conditioned reflexing are transpiring transcendentally to any of man's conscious planning or contriving. p. 44
  • Our little Spaceship Earth is only eight thousand miles in diameter, which is almost a negligible dimension in the great vastness of space. . . . Spaceship Earth was so extraordinarily well invented and designed that to our knowledge humans have been on board it for two million years not even knowing that they were on board a ship. p. 47
  • How may we use our intellectual capability to higher advantage?... In organizing our grand strategy we must first discover where we are now; that is, what our present navigational position in the universal scheme of evolution is. p. 58, Ch. 5, General Systems Theory
  • My own picture of humanity today finds us just about to step out from amongst the pieces of our just one-second-ago broken eggshell. Our innocent, trial-and-error-sustaining nutriment is exhausted. We are faced with an entirely new relationship to the universe.
  • We are going to have to spread our wings of intellect and fly or perish; that is, we must dare immediately to fly by the generalized principles governing universe and not by the ground rules of yesterday's superstitious and erroneously conditioned reflexes.
  • As we attempt competent thinking we immediately begin to reemploy our innate drive for comprehensive understanding. p. 59
  • Synergy is the only word in our language that means behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the separately observed behaviors of any of the system's separate parts or any subassembly of the system's parts... Since the word is unknown to the average public, as I have already pointed out, it is not at all surprising that synergy has not been included in the economic accounting of our wealth transactions or in assessing our common wealth capabilities.
  • Topology provides the synergetic means of ascertaining the values of any system of experiences. Topology is the science of fundamental pattern and structural relationships of event constellations. p. 73
  • The procedure we are pursuing is that of true democracy. Semi-democracy accepts the dictatorship of a majority in establishing its arbitrary, ergo, unnatural, laws. True democracy discovers by patient experiment and unanimous acknowledgement what the laws of nature or universe may be for the physical support and metaphysical satisfaction of the human intellect's function in universe.
  • Einstein, Planck, and other leading scientists said, "We're going to have to reassess and redefine the physical universe." — They defined the physical universe as "an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping transformation events."
  • Every time man makes a new experiment he always learns more. He cannot learn less. He may learn that what he thought was true was not true. By the elimination of a false premise, his basic capital wealth which in his given lifetime is disembarrassed of further preoccupation with considerations of how to employ a worthless time-consuming hypothesis.
  • Let us now exercise our intellectual faculties as best we can to apprehend the evolutionary patternings transcending our spontaneous cognitions and recognitions.
  • We may first note an evolutionary trend that countered all of the educational systems and the deliberately increased professional specialization of scientists. This contradiction occurred at the beginning of World War II, when extraordinary new scientific instruments had been developed and the biologists and chemists and physicists were meeting in Washington, D. C... They found there was no real dividing line between their professional interests. They hadn’t meant to do this, but their professional fields were being integrated inadvertently, on their part, but apparently purposefully-by inexorable evolution.
  • So, as of World War II, the scientists began to invert new professional designations: the bio-chemist, the bio-physicist, and so forth. They were forced to. Despite their deliberate attempts only to specialize, they were being merged into ever more inclusive fields of consideration. Thus was deliberately specializing man led back unwittingly once more to reemploy his innately comprehensive capabilities.
  • Sum-totally, we find that the physical constituent of wealth-energy-cannot decrease and that the metaphysical constituent-know-how-can only increase. This is to say that everytime we use our wealth it increases.
 
So, planners, architects, and engineers take the initiative. Go to work, and above all co-operate and don’t hold back on one another or try to gain at the expense of another. Any success in such lopsidedness will be increasingly short-lived.
  • You may very appropriately want to ask me how we are going to resolve the ever-acceleratingly dangerous impasse of world-opposed politicians and ideological dogmas. I answer, it will be resolved by the computer. p. 133
  • While no politician or political system can ever afford to yield understandably and enthusiastically to their adversaries and opposers, all politicians can and will yield enthusiastically to the computers safe flight - controlling capabilities in bringing all of humanity in for a happy landing.
  • They are not man-made laws. They are the infinitely accommodative laws of the intellectual integrity governing universe.
  • Wealth is our organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives.
  • So, planners, architects, and engineers take the initiative. Go to work, and above all co-operate and don’t hold back on one another or try to gain at the expense of another. Any success in such lopsidedness will be increasingly short-lived. These are the synergetic rules that evolution is employing and trying to make clear to us. They are not man-made laws. They are the infinitely accommodative laws of the intellectual integrity governing universe. p. 133

Quotes aboutEdit

  • Buckminster Fuller, the twentieth century philosopher, described the Earth as a spaceship, and he wrote that all humans are really astronauts sharing residence on a planet travelling 60,000 miles an hour. He believed, "We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody." This is exactly the underlying philosophy that propels the United Nations... Having a global education and being a world citizen is the key element for peace and for all elements of progress outlined in the UN Charter.

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