‘The Sum Total of All Human Knowledge’, Part V

Extending the schema

In this post we continue the process of refining the knowledge indexing schema based upon the Outline of Knowledge (OoK) and the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC), by now adding new categories to the framework through both combination and extension. This will bring the schema into a workable quasi-final form ready to be implemented.

The OoK+UDC schema, 2nd approximation

For this ‘2nd approximation’ of the OoK with UDC enhancement, we will build upon Adler’s (1994b, 7) metaphor of a “circle of learning” based upon a circular arrangement of knowledge disciplines. Recall that he regarded the knowledge ‘map’ as consisting of two main parts (per the description given near the end of the previous post).

One part is the central ‘hub’ which is concerned with what we know about the academic disciplines themselves, with which we seek to know the Universe—what he called “knowledge about knowledge”. The other is the knowledge that the disciplines actually reveal about the Universe, arranged as ‘sectors’ around the hub. This two-fold distinction is the main OoK aspect of the current schema.

The UDC element introduces a very interesting addition to the structure of the hub. A look at the UDC Summary online shows a section called 00 Prolegomena; Fundamentals of knowledge and culture; Propaedeutics. This section has a special character within the UDC structure and is in many ways similar in spirit to the special ‘hub’ character of Sector ‘0’ in (our modification of) the OoK. Of most interest is the section 001 Science and knowledge in general; Organization of intellectual work, because it deals specifically with the way that science, scholarship and knowledge seeking are done, which is in some sense prior to any actual application of this process to any specific subject matter, such as to the knowledge disciplines directly, or the wider Universe studied through those disciplines. The idea of combining the attributes of UDC ‘001’ with OoK ‘0’ almost leaps off the working notepad!

The ‘hub’ of the ‘hub’

This idea suggests dividing the hub, as well, into two distinct parts, similarly to how OoK divided the disciplines. Thus, there is:

  • an ‘outer hub’ that pertains to the nine knowledge sectors found beyond the boundary of the hub, and is concerned with knowledge about them (the standard OoK aspect); and
  • an ‘inner hub’, which can be regarded as being a kind of ‘hub of the hub’ which is the central core of the very process of knowledge seeking, scholarship and science itself, before that process is then applied to the knowledge disciplines in the outer hub, as above, or to using those disciplines for the seeking of knowledge about the wider Universe at large. This is the UDC aspect. In computing terms, as mentioned in passing in the previous post, this is almost like the ‘boot sector’ of an operating system: it contains the most basic operations needed to allow for the rest of the operating system to load, which can then be used for running whatever specific programs or applications are required.

Therefore, in the 2nd approximation of the schema there emerges a ‘three-fold’ structure of the combined extended OoK+UDC knowledge framework:

  1. the inner hub: the core attributes of knowledge seeking itself, before these are applied to anything else at all;
  2. the outer hub: the core processes of knowledge seeking in the inner hub as applied to the knowledge disciplines themselves located in the nine sectors of knowledge beyond the hub; and
  3. the knowledge disciplines in the nine sectors applied to the activity of seeking knowledge about the wider Universe as a whole.

Following the naming convention of OoK, the digits following the (first) decimal point in UDC001 are renamed depending on their degree of nesting. A selection of some specific sections in 001 is given here in their new form (with the UDC notation in parentheses for comparison) as follows:

  • 001 Science & knowledge. Organisation of intellectual work.
  • 001A (001.1) Concepts of science & knowledge.
    • 001A8 (001.18) Future of knowledge. → 043, 99
  • 001D (001.4) Specialist terminology.
  • 001E (001.5) Scientific theories. Hypotheses, systems.
  • 001H (001.8) Methodology.
    • 001H1 (001.81) Technique of intellectual work
      • 001H1b (001.812) Working materials
    • 001H2 (001.82) Study of organization, incl. Methodology, analysis, synthesis, classification
    • 001H9 (001.89) Organization of science & scientific work
  • 001I (001.9) Dissemination of ideas
    • 001I2 (001.92) Dissemination of factual knowledge.

Note that in the last two classmarks, the numeral ‘9’ has been replaced with the 9th capital letter ‘I’; one needs to take care to avoid any possible confusion with the numeral ‘1’. (One might choose to use the letter ‘J’ instead for this specific reason.) Similarly, one would also take care with the use of the letter ‘o’ owing to the potential for misreading it as zero ‘0’ (such as in 621C6o Biographical & autobiographical literature, and several other places).

Note also the ‘redirect’ symbol ‘→’ (as opposed to the UDC’s ‘see also’ symbol ‘⇒’) used in 001A8 to redirect that specific classmark to its new (and greatly expanded) home in sections to be created below.

The above classes are mentioned because a good deal of the several dozen zettels used for developing this schema have ended up being filed into precisely these categories, mostly into 001H and its sub-classes. ‘Zettelkasteneering’ as a technique for doing research using a Zettelkasten therefore has a classmark of 001H1, whereas ideas concerning the boxes, cards, dividers etc that one uses for a Physical Zettelkasten could have the more specific classmark 001H1b, if it was considered necessary to separate out this aspect of the technique.

The process of undertaking an exploration of options for use as categories to organise the ZK has the classmark 001H2, while this series of posts reporting on that exploration has a classmark of 001J or 001J2 (note the use of ‘J’ here), again depending on whether it is considered necessary to make such a fine distinction. In this case, I would argue that it is, since some of the other sub-classes of UDC001.9, such as 001.94UFO Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), ‘Flying saucers’ do not properly capture the spirit in which this post is being written.

There are other categories given in UDC00 as well, of course, but many of these already have analogues in OoK, so we don’t necessarily need to incorporate them again. For example, UDC’s 003 Writing systems & scripts has an analogue at OoK 514E Written language: systems of notation. UDC’s 004 Computer science and 005 Management also have analogues in OoK at 735D and 533H3 respectively. These are not exact mappings, of course, and they don’t need to be, since (recalling the cautions from earlier posts on avoiding too-strict categorisations) we are utilising the principle of allowing a certain ‘looseness’ of categorisation, to allow for cross-fertilisation of ideas. These ‘close-enough’ categories already exist in OoK, so we can and should use them. It is only in cases where no suitable necessary classmark already exists that we would need to create one.

UDC 008 Civilisation, Culture, Progress, for example, consists (in my copy, British Standards Institution 2005) of a single ‘⇒’ cross reference to UDC 17.023.36 which is concerned with moral philosophy (the ‘.023’ indicates a ‘special auxiliary’ for that class, as opposed to the ‘common auxiliaries’ across all classes, which we have already met). Moral philosophy is located in OoK at 052B6 although there is also the connotation of ‘progress’ as a concept viewed from within particular philosophical schools, so a connection with 053A2 and perhaps some of its sub-classes is also possible. Thus, we would render this as 052B6:053A2, using the UDC’s ‘simple relation’ colon notation, since this has a similar meaning in either direction, as well as the convention to file such compounded numbers in natural numerical order.

Therefore, some of these classmarks could be re-purposed for other categories of activity. For example, 002 Documentation, Books, Writing, Authorship can still be used as it currently is to file ideas about writing or authorship in general which others have had and which we find useful, since the classmark is specifically intended for that. However, since 003 is now redundant, we can re-purpose it for notes that we ourselves might have about writing or writing projects that we might have in mind, located in close proximity to others’ ideas. In other words, 003 might become more of a ‘personal’ category, with some resonance with the original nature of the classmark, namely writing. Similarly, with some of the other 00 classmarks also housed elsewhere in the schema, more space opens up for parts of 00 to become personal in general. An example might be 005 Management or 007 Activity and organising that instead becomes about our personal organising and self-management, or 008 that becomes about personal development or progress. Thus, the space afforded by the 00 classmark allows for some personalisation of categories that may be specific to ourselves.

Other additions to the existing schema

In his book A Guidebook for Learning, Adler (1986, 91–92) made this observation about the OoK:

The whole of the Propædia’s synoptic outline of knowledge deserves to be read carefully. It represents a twentieth-century scheme for the organization of knowledge that is more comprehensive than any other and that also accommodates the intellectual heterodoxy of our time.1 [emphasis added]

Let us now see how we can move on from the snapshot provided by the OoK in the latter part of the 20th Century to bring it into the 21st Century, where we will also consider where and how Futures Studies can be incorporated properly into the structure.

One obvious addition to the schema as it currently stands (1994 printing) will need to be to the recent stratigraphic subdivisions of geologic time. In the time since Propædia was published the International Commission on Stratigraphy (2022) has redefined some of the names and dates of the chronostratigraphic divisions of the geologic time scale. One such change is that the time division which was once called the ‘Tertiary’ Period (243D1) has now been replaced with the ‘Paleogene’ and ‘Neogene’ Periods. The OoK schema therefore needs updating with a new caption and possible sub-sections, if such specificity is required:

  • 243D1 Paleogene & Neogene Periods (formerly the ‘Tertiary’ Period)
    • a Paleogene Period
    • b Neogene Period

Another change that needs to be made is to 243D2 The Quaternary Period. While the Quaternary remains officially recognised—as do its two main Epochs, the Pleistocene (243D2a), and the Holocene (243D2b)—the possible formal addition of a new Epoch, the ‘Anthropocene’, has been under serious investigation since not long after atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen famously proposed it at a climate conference in 2000 (Crutzen 2002; Zalasiewicz, Crutzen, and Steffen 2012; Zalasiewicz et al. 2017). Even before this designation becomes official, however, there is sufficient widespread usage of the term now that it more than merits a position in the OoK, properly as part ‘c’ of 243D2, which will need slight revisions, thus:

  • 243D2b The Holocene, or recent, Epoch
  • 243D2c The Anthropocene Epoch.

This addition to the schema now allows for cross-referencing to more recent work dealing with the Anthropocene, whether as a concept or as a stratigraphic division.2

There may be other places within the schema that will need some revisions or additions, such as 411C The fossil record of the Hominidae and the classifications of the Hominidae in subsection 411C2. The principle guiding any revisions or additions should be that such changes be prompted either by new science or new conventions and discoveries in the knowledge disciplines which are surveyed in the OoK.

This principle also includes the possible addition of newer disciplines that may have emerged since the OoK structure was formalised in the early 1970s, such as, in our case here, Futures Studies.

Adding Futures Studies to the schema

When Adler was devising the OoK in the years before it first appeared in 1974, Futures Studies had barely emerged as a distinct discipline. An account of this emergence can be found in the magnum opus of the late Wendell Bell, Foundations of Futures Studies (Bell 1997, 2003–2004) as well as in a survey chapter in The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (Bell 2005).

In the introduction to Part Ten of the OoK, Adler (1994a) argues that the knowledge disciplines of Logic, Mathematics, History, and Philosophy “occupy a special place in any consideration of the branches of knowledge” (p.476). He gives several reasons for this, but our primary interest right now is in History. In short, because everything has a history, including history itself as well as the study of history, it represents precisely the kind of “knowledge about knowledge” (p.475) that is the character of the OoK’s Part Ten (i.e., our sector 0). For this reason, it occupies two places in the OoK framework: Part 9 and Part 10. We will use this argument as the basis for the inclusion of Futures Studies in the schema, as well.

My claim—and as argued by others in the field—is that Futures Studies is effectively the ‘forward-looking equivalent of History’. Indeed, this very phrase was part of the FAQs on the former Australian Foresight Institute’s (AFI) web presence as part of Swinburne University of Technology back in the very early 2000s. That web page is long gone by now, as is the AFI as well as the Masters program which was developed there. But the idea remains, and I’ve frequently said, in various contexts and forums over the years, that futurists, historians and sociologists are involved in pretty much the same game. Only the direction of view is different: futurists look forward, historians look back, and sociologists look around. Therefore, I see history, sociology, and Futures Studies as of a piece—a continuum of studying the past, the present and the future, respectively. The historian-futurist Warren Wagar (1993) even considered Futures as a form of ‘applied history’, a mechanism whereby we can purposefully create the sort of history we might want to eventually live through and remember.

This observation shows that Futures Studies has at least one clear advantage over History: the future is still subject to change, whereas the past is not. So, rather than being solely a descriptive discipline, Futures Studies has the character of what is known as an ‘action science’ (Voros 2007, sec. 3)—we can use the knowledge we gain from it in order to influence and shape the future, towards futures we want to bring about, and away from those we want to avoid. While it is true that everything has a history, as Adler argued above, it is also true that everything has a future as well, at least in principle. And, if we are both careful and diligent, we can potentially shape that future both wisely and well.

As noted above, History resides in two places in the OoK; in the ‘hub’ sector 0, as well as in its own sector, 9. Since Futures Studies is so closely related to History, it too will need to have a place in both sectors 0 and 9, in exactly analogous ways. The former because of its role in understanding how we make sense of our agency and place in time; the latter for the actual ideas about the future that people have had, and how they have developed over time (a history of ideas about the future, as it were). The former will include methodology and other categories related to Futures inquiry, derived by analogy from those for History. One of these will be a Futures Studies equivalent of historiography.

Looking at the OoK Division 04 History & The Humanities, we see that 041 Historiography & The Study of History (with several subsections), and 042 Humanities and Humanities Scholarship (also with several sub-sections), are the only two Sections currently in the Division.

We now therefore introduce a new third Section 043 Futurography & the Study of the Future, to be subdivided in broadly the same manner as 041, with analogous sub-sections suitably re-named pertaining to Futures Studies. The term ‘futurography’ is a recent neologism—coined by Curry (2012) a decade ago and again later independently by Staley (2020)—intended to indicate the same methodological relationship to Futures Studies that ‘historiography’ has to History. Whereas historiography is generally defined as the study of the methods that historians use in developing History as an academic discipline, so, in direct analogy, futurography is to be defined as the study of the methods that futurists use in developing Futures Studies as an academic discipline. The phrase ‘the study of the future’ can appear odd to people not familiar with the nature of the field, but it has a very long pedigree (e.g., Winthrop 1968; Huber and Bell 1971; Ciba Foundation 1975; Boucher 1977; Slaughter 1989), and so it is chosen here as part of the caption for the new Section, in direct analogy with that for 041.

We will also need to add a section which houses the products of the study of the future—futures scholarship—in the same way that the products of historical scholarship are housed in sector 9 History. Following on from the idea raised earlier in this series, this will be located, appropriately enough, at ‘the end of History’.

Currently, 9 History ends at 97 The World since 1920. As this is now the 21st Century, we can add a new category 98 The World since 2000 and so finish with the very satisfying 99 The Future, or perhaps, to be more in line with the conventionally-plural terminology used in the field, 99 Futures. The new 98 will have suitably updated analogous sub-sections, modelled directly on the subsections for 97.

The subdivisions for 99 will require some more careful handling, as it will need to deal both with ideas about the future through historical time, as well as our current views of and ideas about the future, while the methods that may be used to influence or shape the future will reside in their appropriate and novel sub-section of 043. Since it is not possible to influence the past (at least not without time travel, which is a debatable possibility), there is no analogous class in 041 which we can adapt. Therefore, this will be an entirely novel sub-section specific to 043. The ideas we hold about the future are part and parcel of the actions (or inactions) we take in the present, and so are complicit in the ‘creation’ of the future which eventually emerges as lived reality. As Willis Harman (1976, 1) put it:

We are all accustomed to thinking of the past as the cause of subsequent events—a decision was made, a law was passed, an encounter took place, and as a result various other events transpired. We reason this way every day. Less obvious is the fact that our view of the future shapes the kinds of decisions we make in the present. Someone has a vision of the future—of a great bridge, a new industrial process, or a utopian state—and as a result certain events are taking place in the present. Our view of the future affects the present as surely as do our impressions of the past or the more tangible residues of past actions.

Every action involves some view about the future—as we expect it to be, or as we desire it to be, or as we fear it may be. If our image of the future were different, the decision of today would be different. [emphasis in original]

If this is so, then we had better be sure that our ideas about (or ‘images’ of) the future are robust and valid. He then outlined one of the most important key functions of Futures Studies (or Futures Research as it is sometimes also called) as follows (1976, 10):

Every action decision involves some assumption about the future; it is the function of futures research to make those assumptions explicit. Since we cannot know the future precisely, we must delineate alternative possibilities so that choices can be tested against various future states that could occur. [emphasis added]

The influential Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki (2006) famously told us:

In the mind of the beginner there are many possibilities, but in the mind of the expert there are few.

This has important implications for how we think about the future.

What next?

Ideas about the future can and do come from any and all disciplines and aspects of human thought. These include history, sociology, and theories of social change, of course, but they also include the arts, such as literature, motion pictures, sculpture, music, and even performance art. And this list far from exhausts the myriad possibilities for sources of ideas about the future.

Towards the end of Part II we saw an initial inkling of how Futures Studies begins with the sum total of all human knowledge. Now, finally, after the required set-up that makes the insight possible, we can now see precisely how that knowledge base can be organised into a workable overall schema.

But that basis of knowledge is ever-shifting and only partly stable, so we always need to be aware that our fundamental assumptions about how the Universe is and how it operates may be subject to sudden and unexpected change. Expertise in any or all knowledge disciplines is no guarantee of our expert judgements continuing to remain usefully valid. We need to be ever-ready to pivot to a new perspective at a moment’s notice, if needed. And so this is also why—as noted in the post on heuristics for scanning the future—it is always necessary to approach the future with shoshin: beginner’s mind.

Next Time: Part VI: Implementing the schema


  1. It is strange that Appendix I to Adler’s Guidebook, showing the “synoptic outline” to the Propædia, states that there are 42 Divisions and 186 Sections in the Outline (footnote on p.149). But if one consults the text on the pages following and does a count, one finds there are only 40 Divisions and 176 Sections shown. The text in Adler’s Guidebook therefore appears to be incorrect. The version which is hosted at the Internet Archive dates from c.2010, and contains one more Division (10.VI) with just one Section (10.VI.1), for a total of 41 Divisions and 177 Sections for the final published version of the OoK.
  2. I make these changes in my hardcopy of OoK by using suitably-cut parts of Post-It notes placed into the structure at the appropriate locations. The addition of 001 from UDC is simply a copy of the necessary pages placed between the pages at the start of Part Ten. The added or updated notations are also made onto the coloured index cards that act as topic separators for the (sub-)sections in my Physical ZK.


Adler, Mortimer J. 1986. A Guidebook to Learning: For a Lifelong Pursuit of Wisdom. New York : London: Macmillan ; Collier Macmillan.

———. 1994a. “Knowledge Become Self-Conscious (Introduction to Part Ten).” In Propædia: Outline of Knowledge & Guide to the Britannica, 15th edn, 30:475–77. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

———. 1994b. “The Circle of Learning.” In Propædia: Outline of Knowledge & Guide to the Britannica, 15th edn, 30:5–8. The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Bell, Wendell. 1997. Foundations of Futures Studies. 2 vols. New Brunswick, NJ, USA: Transaction Publishers.

———. 2003–2004. Foundations of Futures Studies. 2nd ed. 2 vols. New Brunswick, NJ, USA: Transaction Publishers.

———. 2005. “An Overview of Futures Studies.” In The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, edited by Richard A. Slaughter, Sohail Inayatullah, and Jose M. Ramos, Professional edn. Brisbane, Australia: Foresight International.

Boucher, Wayne I., ed. 1977. The Study of the Future: An Agenda for Research. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED148318.

British Standards Institution. 2005. Universal Decimal Classification. Standard (Complete) edn. Vol. 1 – Systematic Tables. London: B.S.I.

Ciba Foundation. 1975. The Future as an Academic Discipline. Ciba Foundation Symposia 36. Amsterdam: Elsevier / Excerpta Medica / North-Holland.

Crutzen, Paul J. 2002. “Geology of Mankind.” Nature 415 (6867): 23. doi:10.1038/415023a.

Curry, Andrew. 2012. “The Scenarios Question.” In The Future of Futures, edited by Andrew Curry, 11–15. Houston, TX, USA: Association of Professional Futurists.

Harman, Willis W. 1976. An Incomplete Guide to the Future. San Francisco Book Company, Inc.

Huber, Bettina J., and Wendell Bell. 1971. “Sociology and the Emergent Study of the Future.” American Sociologist 6 (4): 287–95.

International Commission on Stratigraphy. 2022. “International Chronostratigraphic Chart.” International Commission on Stratigraphy. 2022. https://stratigraphy.org/timescale/.

Slaughter, Richard A., ed. 1989. Studying the Future: An Introductory Reader. Melbourne: Australian Bicentennial Authority; Australian Commission for the Future.

Staley, David J. 2020. “Future-Ography.” Futures & Foresight Science, Special Section on “Historical Thinking and Scenario Planning,” 2 (3-4): e53. doi:10.1002/ffo2.53.

Suzuki, Shunryu. 2006. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Boston: Shambhala.

Voros, Joseph. 2007. “On the Philosophical Foundations of Futures Research.” In Knowing Tomorrow? How Science Deals with the Future, edited by Patrick van der Duin, 69–90. Delft, The Netherlands: Eburon Academic Publishers.

Wagar, W. Warren. 1993. “Embracing Change: Futures Inquiry as Applied History.” Futures 25 (4): 449–55. doi:10.1016/0016-3287(93)90006-F.

Winthrop, Henry. 1968. “The Sociologist and the Study of the Future.” American Sociologist 3 (2): 136–45.

Zalasiewicz, Jan, Paul J. Crutzen, and Will Steffen. 2012. “The Anthropocene.” In The Geologic Time Scale 2012, edited by Felix M. Gradstein, James G. Ogg, Mark D. Schmitz, and Gabi M. Ogg, 1:1033–40. Boston: Elsevier. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-59425-9.00032-9.

Zalasiewicz, Jan, Colin N. Waters, Colin P. Summerhayes, Alexander P. Wolfe, Anthony D. Barnosky, Alejandro Cearreta, Paul Crutzen, et al. 2017. “The Working Group on the Anthropocene: Summary of Evidence and Interim Recommendations”. Anthropocene 19 (Sept): 55–60. doi:10.1016/j.ancene.2017.09.001.

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