University of Earth

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

Edited by the Union of International Associations and Mankind 2000


240,000 hyperlinks in book form and on CD-ROM 4th edition, 1994-95, 3 vols., ca. 3000 pages, hardcover. Published by K G Saur Verlag GmbH, Munich, Germany.


Encyclopedia set

The three volumes comprising the Encyclopedia are:

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems with which humanity perceives itself to be confronted (see overview Description and Commentaries). It aims to clarify the challenges such problems represent to concepts, values and development strategies. The Encyclopedia encourages the discovery of a new conceptual dynamic for understanding and action, sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and paradigms by which people are separated -- both from each other and from a promising future.

Further clarification regarding this initiative may be obtained from the menus above. Of particular relevance are the Overview, the Projects Overview, and that on the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential As the main outcome of this initiative, the Encyclopedia is succinctly described on Wikipedia. The many project commentary documents are also accessible, with search facilities, in the separate Kairos database.

In the past, much effort has gone into the focus on seemingly isolated world problems, such as unemployment, boredom, endangered species, desertification or corruption. Subsequent to the 4th hardcopy edition of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, work shifted its focus to the hunt for complex networks and even vicious cycles of problems. A cycle is a chain of problems, with each aggravating the next -- with the last looping back to aggravate the first in the chain. The more obvious loops may be composed of only 3 or 4 problems. Far less obvious are those composed of  7 or more.

An exampleof a vicious cycle is: Alienation -> Youth gangs -> Neighbourhood control by criminals -> Psychological stress of urban environment -> Substance abuse -> Family breakdown -> Alienation. Such cycles are vicious because they are self-sustaining. Identifying them is also no easy matter. Like the search for strange particles in physics, much computer time is required to track through the aggravating chains linking problems. A preliminary search along 9 million such pathways has so far identified 19,000 cycles composed of up to 7 problems -- of which 2,873 are specifically identified on the CD-ROM.

Organizational strategies and programmes that focus on only one problem in the chain tend to fail because the cycle has the capacity to regenerate itself. Worse still is that such cycles tend to interlock, creating the complex of global problems which causes so many to despair. The good news is that identifying vicious cycles is a first step towards designing cycles of strategies to reverse or break them. Better still some problems are linked by serendipitous cycles in which each problem alleviates the next -- and, even better, some strategies function in serendipitous cycles to reinforce each other and break vicious problem cycles. Detecting them is a future focus of the Encyclopedia project.

The sources of information for the Encyclopedia are international organizations and constituencies. By focusing on both problems and strategies, as well as constructive and destructive values, it endeavours to transcend the usual polarization of issues and responses to them.

With a total of nearly 20,000 entries, linked by over 158,000 cross-references (an increase of 44%), the new edition is even more comprehensive than before. Entries themselves have been rigorously updated and extended in both quantity and content. For example, over 90% of the problem descriptions have been revised or updated since the previous edition in 1991. Editorial work for the 1994 edition focused on major updates to world problems and their relationships, to approaches to human development, and to human values and their relationship to world problems.

Both the Encyclopedia and the Yearbook are ongoing programmes of the Union of International Associations. As a nonprofit research institute, founded in Brussels in 1910, it now functions as a clearing house for information on other international nonprofit organizations, whether governmental or nongovernmental.

Volume 1: World Problems (see project overview and commentaries)

4th edition, 1994-95, 1 vol., 1,258 pages, hardcover. ISBN 3-598-11225-4. (Individual volume price : DM 548; US$ 245; £280; BEF 11,500).

The first volume of the 3-volume Encyclopedia (now in its 4th edition) currently describes 12,000 world problems clustered into 320 overlapping hierarchies in 1,200 pages. The problems are linked by some 120,000 relationships of 7 types. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 20,000 international non- profit organizations (profiled in the companion 3-volume Yearbook of International Organizations, now in its 32nd edition). The Encyclopedia includes problems which such groups choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem descriptions in order to reflect the often paralyzing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated among world problems in every sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.

Problems are grouped into the following sections:

The number of world problems described is now 9,832, with a further 2,380 referenced by index only. New problems for this edition number 1,675. Considerable effort has been devoted to consolidating and improving previous texts (increased by 33%). Over 70% of problems with incidence have been updated. The number of cross-references between entries has increased by 49% to 119,000.

Volume 2: Human Potential: Transformation and Values

4th edition, 1994-95, 1 vol., 928 pages, hardcover. ISBN 3-598-11226-2. (Individual volume price : DM 548; US$ 245; £280; BEF 11,500).

The human potential volume is divided into 5 sections:

The number of human development entries has increased by 10% to 4,475, with the cross-references between them increased by 19% to 17,900. The human values section has been adapted and extended in order also to serve as a unique index to world problems from a value perspective.

Human development (see project overview and commentaries)

The second volume of the Encyclopedia contains the most comprehensive description of the variety of approaches to human development. While their intention may be to alleviate suffering, paradoxically their blinkered pursuit is often a prime cause of world problems, notably in the case of religious conflict. Not only are there some 1,400 understandings of human development from the spiritual and psychological disciplines of different cultures and traditions, but also 3,050 modes of awareness or experience that are reported to be accessible through such disciplines, often through identifiable sequences or pathways. Buddhism offers the most elaborate perspective, requiring 1,360 interlinked entries (which can be explored as hyperlinks). An extensive bibliography is also included.

Integrative concepts (see project overview and commentaries)

The Encyclopedia programme has included work on interdisciplinary, integrative and unitary concepts since the first edition in 1976. The intention was to present understandings of integration and ways of dealing with the cognitive complexity characteristic of networks of problems, organizations and strategies. Profiles of some 600 such concepts were presented in the 1991 edition. The 1994 edition includes the bibliography (in Volume 2) plus extensive commentary on the challenge of interdisciplinarity and logical discontinuities between disciplinary approaches (in Volume 3).

Metaphors and patterns (see project overview and commentaries)

The 1991 edition included examples of some 80 metaphors potentially significant to new and more fruitful understanding of discontinuity and disagreement. In the current edition the focus is placed on extensive commentary on the relevance of metaphor to governance faced with conflicting demands and understandings. Some of the original research material can be reviewed on this site. An extensive bibliography is also included.

Transformative approaches (see project overview and commentaries)

Extensive commentary is provided on a range of transformative approaches, from mapping techniques to the relevance of poetry-making to policy-making.

Human values (see project overview and  commentaries)

The Encyclopedia takes an unusual approach to the range of human values. Rather than limiting its focus to the dozen values most frequently discussed (peace, justice, and the like), Volume 2 identifies 987 "constructive" or positive values as well as 1,990 "destructive" or negative values. The positive and negative values are clustered into 230 value polarities (like beauty- ugliness) to transcend the semantic confusion associated with many value-words. It is however the negative value terms which are used to sharpen the problematic nature of the problem names given in Volume 1. Negative values are systematically cross- referenced to both world problem names and to the complementary positive values (via the polarities). For the first time it becomes possible to trace the positive values in terms of which problems becomes perceptible. Also for the first time, values are cross-referenced to human development where particular approaches or experiences enhance the understanding of a particular value. The editors explore a variety of possibilities of organizing value terms as a prelude to any justification for the current preoccupation with so-called basic values.

Volume 3: Action -- Strategies -- Solutions (see project overview and commentaries)

4th edition, 1994-95, 1 vol., 928 pages, hardcover. ISBN 3-598-11227-0. (Individual volume price : DM 548; US$ 245; £280; BEF 11,500).

The 4th edition of the Encyclopedia has been extended to include a new third volume on international organization action strategies.

Volume 3 of the book contains descriptions of over 15,000 international strategies and action plans (29,000 included in the CD-ROM version). It cross-references the world problems in Volume 1 and the international organizations described in the companion Yearbook of International Organizations

This section profiles strategies currently employed by international bodies, whether in response to world problems or to enhance particular values or modes of development. It also provide the first systematic identification of several thousand vicious problem cycles to which such strategies need to respond. It identifies mutually reinforcing strategic cycles.

Strategies are grouped into the following sections:

The information on strategies and action plans, developed from a section last included in the 1986 edition, provides the necessary remedial focus to balance the information in Volume 1. It too relies on information provided by international organizations.

The volume also lists a selection of 836 vicious problem loops


Published by: K G Saur Verlag, München, New Providence, London, Paris.

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