"As We May Think" Bush, Vannevar (1945)

views updated

"As We May Think"
Vannevar Bush (1945)

URL: http://theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/computer/bushf.htm

SITE SUMMARY: This landmark article was published in the July 1945 issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Bush, an electrical engineer and director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development from 1945 to 1947, proposed a challenge to scientists as the world emerged from World War Two into an era of peace. In this challenge, as the magazine editor stated, Bush urged scientists who were turning away from "the application of science to warfare" to "turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge." He also examined what science is and what it means to civilization and people; noted some postwar sciences and then projected something about them into the future; and then suggested something that turned out to be foresight regarding computer language and the Internet.


  1. According to Bush, what are four things that war causes scientists to do, in general, within their professions? Which two types of scientists have the same objectives during times of war and peace? Identify which type of scientist is most challenged by the change from war to peace, and suggest why, then give Bush's example, and think of another. (Hint: See introductory paragraphs.)
  2. See Part One of Bush's article. What, according to him, has been of "lasting benefit" regarding people's "use of science" and "the new instruments" which "research brought into existence"? In your answer, state what Bush said, and give his examples, then give particular examples based on his general ones. What endures as a result of communications made possible by science?
  3. See Part One, paragraphs four through eight. What happened in Gregor Mendel's time with reference to his publication, and why? Identify a similar yet different thing Bush said happened in the post-World War II era and may still be happening, then give an example. Identify what Bush said with reference to the postwar world and "the days of square rigged ships," and tell if this is true today, then suggest why or why not. What are some "signs of change" that Bush mentioned? Choose one and explain its presence in today's world. Identify things that Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibnitz and Charles Babbage invented, and when, then tell why their inventions could not fit into their times and societies. Read what Bush said about a Pharoah, then choose an invention invented during modern times, and choose a time from the past. As you choose, think why that invention could not fit in that time in history. After choosing, explain why the invention would not fit in that past time. (Tip: For help see the Smithsonian Institution: Inventors and Inventions—Selected Links, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame—Inventions and Inventors Search Web sites. Their urls are cited in the Related Internet Sites section of this book's chapter on the document "An Inventor Never Grows Up.")
  4. See Part One, paragraph nine, Part Eight, paragraphs four through six. How did Bush refer metaphorically to a spider web and its "gossamer parts"? What analogy did he draw between an eye and a cable of a TV set? Note also Part Two, paragraph eight, and what he said about TV. Apply the metaphor and the analogy using your own examples in a way similar to Bush's, or think of two science-related examples, keeping in mind the following activities when choosing: describe two science subjects using an analogy for one, a metaphor for another. (For help defining metaphor and analogy, search in the online Dictionary and Encyclopedia at http://www.infoplease.com.)
  5. Read Part Two, paragraph one. What are three things that must be so if a record is to be useful to science? Which six things were available at the time, according to Bush, to make these three things so? Are any of the six things still used today? Do you know of some other new thing in use for this purpose at the present time?
  6. See Part Two, especially paragraphs two and three, the last sentences of paragraphs two through four, sentence five of paragraph three, paragraph five of Part Three, all of Part Two, paragraphs ten through twelve and five through six. Think on what Bush envisioned about photography, then tell if anything he said in 1945 about photography in the future happened in the way he said, or differently, including in your answer his references to a walnut. State briefly what he said on different types of photography, then include for one type, as he noted, what he said on photography during the U.S. Civil War, the way it was different from the way it was in 1945 (and is today also). Choose one type of photography noted and describe with details, including his comments, and data from modern times. (Note: To find more information on the photography Bush wrote about, see the Web sites or pages "Micro and Scientific" at What Kinds of Photography Are There?, Photography in Your Science Fair Project, Stereoscopy: Where Did It Come From? Where Will It Lead? Invention of the Fax Machine, Instant Photography and Edwin Herbert Land in the Invention Dimension, Photography—Advice and Techniques—Technique—[specific science photography type] via particular Web directories [e.g., www.msn.com and www.looksmart.com], plus Learn Photography at www.photo.net, and Photographic Resource, or photography magazines with science subjects [e.g., Outdoor Photographer]. Their specific urls and Web site description are in the Related Internet Sites section below, or in this book's Appendix B, Appendix D, Appendix E, or Appendix F.)
  7. Keeping in mind what Bush wrote in the paragraphs cited in Question/Activity no. 6 above, identify what was important, and still is, about a type of photography and libraries? Read paragraph three, then identify two places that scientists use photography. Give two examples, with details, of a scientific use of photography in each place. (Tip: For more information, see the Web sites and pages cited in Question/Activity no. 6 above.)
  8. See Part Three, paragraphs six, seven, and ten. What did Bush say involves mature creative thought? Keeping in mind that Bush said that for repetitive thought there can be mechanical aids, give an example of a repetitive thought and a mechanical aid with relation to that thought, then apply that example to something in particular with relation to physicists as indicated by Bush.
  9. Read Part Five, noting paragraphs one, three, and four; Part Six, noting paragraph four; Part Seven, noting paragraphs one through three and the last sentence of four; plus Part Eight, noting paragraphs one, two, and four. What is something scientists do and what types of pro-cesses are involved, then what happens when these processes are employed, and what is there an opportunity for then? Considering it another way, what is "a keen instrument" in the hands of a teacher, and what is then "readily possible"? Consider further what special application Bush noted, then, in connection with it, what, according to him, may people do "some day" and which three-word phrase did he use to describe something that will help them do this? What did he say about scientific research and what is "a much larger matter"? Identify the essential feature of a "memex." Provide, in general, steps for "building of a trail," then apply it to a science subject you choose, being sure to keep in mind Bush's example as a guide. What did Bush say about trail blazers, physicians, and chemists, then how, did he say, science may help them? (Tip: For help, see the Web sites or pages "Memex" at the Electronic Labyrinth and "As We Are Thinking." Their urls are cited in the Related Internet Sites section below.)
  10. Read Part Eight, paragraphs ten and three. According to Bush, what may the "applications of science" allow people to do in a positive sense? Think about his "Prophesy based on extension of the known has substance" and apply it to a science subject you choose.


As We Are Thinking—A Review of Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think"

http://www.rpi.edu/dept/llc/webclass/web/project1/group6/contents.html or search at http://www.rpi.edu

Created by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students in 1996, this Web page has links to the various parts of a detailed review of Bush's article. There are an Introduction, Historical Perspectives of the article, Philosophical Perspectives, Bush's Technological Predictions, and a Hypertexting link going to Raising the Issue "What is Hypertexting?"

"Memex" at the Electronic Labyrinth

http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/elab (Click the Index link, then the M link)

Scroll to the Memex links group and click the memex link for a page with a definition of memex and information about it in Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" article. On this page, see also links to data on Bush's involvement with memex, and explanations of special words related to memex (e.g., nodes, path, and link).

"Micro and Scientific" at What Kinds of Photography Are There?


Among the nine kinds of photography for which information is provided here, note especially "Micro and Scientific," one of the kinds of photography that Bush mentioned in his article "As We May Think." See other information on photography, such as basics, composition, and history, in the Focus on Photography area found via a link at the bottom of the page and at http://azuswebworks.com/photography/index.html.

Photography in Your Science Fair Project


Click links to the article "How Photographs Help Your Science Fair Presentation," Introduction; Special Techniques (such as photomicrophotography), General Picture Taking Techniques, Photography Guidelines with Considerations and Questions, and a Science Fair Main Page with information on ways that photography can be useful in the study of, and research in, the sciences (as referred to in Bush's "As We May Think").

"Stereoscopy: Where Did It Come From? Where Will It Lead?"


This article by Harold Layer was published in Exposure magazine, Fall 1979. It provides information on Galileo and Newton and other scientists, revealing connections between science and photography, binocular vision, the evolution of basic stereo concepts, and the events leading to the discovery of stereoscopy (one of the types of photography that Vannevar Bush mentioned in his article "As We May Think"). Related links are included.

Events in the Life of Vannevar Bush


This Web site provides a timeline of Bush's accomplishments and publications, plus quotations by him and others, including Franklin Roosevelt who was the U.S. President at the time that Bush's article "As We May Think" was written.

About this article

"As We May Think" Bush, Vannevar (1945)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


"As We May Think" Bush, Vannevar (1945)