Buckminster Fuller Tells the World “Everything He Knows” in a 42-Hour Lecture Series (1975)

His­to­ry seems to have set­tled Buckminster’s Fuller’s rep­u­ta­tion as a man ahead of his time. He inspires short, wit­ty pop­u­lar videos like YouTu­ber Joe Scott’s “The Man Who Saw The Future,” and the ongo­ing lega­cy of the Buck­min­ster Fuller Insti­tute (BFI), who note that “Fuller’s ideas and work con­tin­ue to influ­ence new gen­er­a­tions of design­ers, archi­tects, sci­en­tists and artists work­ing to cre­ate a sus­tain­able plan­et.”

Bril­liant futur­ist though he was, Fuller might also be called the man who saw the present and the past—as much as a sin­gle indi­vid­ual could seem­ing­ly hold in their mind at once. He was “a man who is intense­ly inter­est­ed in almost every­thing,” wrote Calvin Tomkins at The New York­er in 1965, the year of Fuller’s 70th birth­day. Fuller was as eager to pass on as much knowl­edge as he could col­lect in his long, pro­duc­tive career, span­ning his ear­ly epipha­nies in the 1920s to his final pub­lic talks in the ear­ly 80s.

“The some­what over­whelm­ing effect of a Fuller mono­logue,” wrote Tomkins, “is well known today in many parts of the world.” His lec­tures leapt from sub­ject to sub­ject, incor­po­rat­ing ancient and mod­ern his­to­ry, math­e­mat­ics, lin­guis­tics, archi­tec­ture, archae­ol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, reli­gion, and—in the exam­ple Tomkins gives—“irrefutable data on tides, pre­vail­ing winds,” and “boat design.” His dis­cours­es issue forth in wave after wave of infor­ma­tion.

Fuller could talk at length and with author­i­ty about vir­tu­al­ly anything—especially about him­self and his own work, in his own spe­cial jar­gon of “unique Bucky-isms: spe­cial phras­es, ter­mi­nol­o­gy, unusu­al sen­tence struc­tures, etc.,” writes BFI. He may not always have been par­tic­u­lar­ly hum­ble, yet he spoke and wrote with a lack of prej­u­dice and an open curios­i­ty and that is the oppo­site of arro­gance. Such is the impres­sion we get of Fuller in the series of talks he record­ed ten years after Tomkin’s New York­er por­trait.

Made in Jan­u­ary of 1975, Buck­min­ster Fuller: Every­thing I Know cap­tured Fuller’s “entire life’s work” in 42 hours of “think­ing out loud lec­tures [that exam­ine] in depth all of Fuller’s major inven­tions and dis­cov­er­ies from the 1927 Dymax­ion house, car and bath­room, through the Wichi­ta House, geo­des­ic domes, and tenseg­ri­ty struc­tures, as well as the con­tents of Syn­er­get­ics. Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal in parts, Fuller recounts his own per­son­al his­to­ry in the con­text of the his­to­ry of sci­ence and indus­tri­al­iza­tion.”

He begins, how­ev­er, in his first lec­ture at the top, not with him­self, but with his pri­ma­ry sub­ject of con­cern: “all human­i­ty,” a species that begins always in naked­ness and igno­rance and man­ages to fig­ure it out “entire­ly by tri­al and error,” he says. Fuller mar­vels at the advances of “ear­ly Hin­du and Chi­nese” civilizations—as he had at the Maori in Tomkin’s anec­dote, who “had been among the first peo­ples to dis­cov­er the prin­ci­ples of celes­tial nav­i­ga­tion” and “found a way of sail­ing around the world… at least ten thou­sand years ago.”

The leap from ancient civ­i­liza­tions to “what is called World War I” is “just a lit­tle jump in infor­ma­tion,” he says in his first lec­ture, but when Fuller comes to his own life­time, he shows how many “lit­tle jumps” one human being could wit­ness in a life­time in the 20th cen­tu­ry. “The year I was born Mar­coni invent­ed the wire­less,” says Fuller. “When I was 14 man did get to the North Pole, and when I was 16 he got to the South Pole.”

When Fuller was 7, “the Wright broth­ers sud­den­ly flew,” he says, “and my mem­o­ry is vivid enough of sev­en to remem­ber that for about a year the engi­neer­ing soci­eties were try­ing to prove it was a hoax because it was absolute­ly impos­si­ble for man to do that.” What it showed young Bucky Fuller was that “impos­si­bles are hap­pen­ing.” If Fuller was a vision­ary, he rede­fined the word—as a term for those with an expan­sive, infi­nite­ly curi­ous vision of a pos­si­ble world that already exists all around us.

See Fuller’s com­plete lec­ture series, Every­thing I Know, at the Inter­net Archive, and read edit­ed tran­scripts of his talks at the Buck­min­ster Fuller Insti­tute.

Every­thing I Know will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Three-Minute Intro­duc­tion to Buck­min­ster Fuller, One of the 20th Century’s Most Pro­duc­tive Design Vision­ar­ies

Buck­min­ster Fuller Rails Against the “Non­sense of Earn­ing a Liv­ing”: Why Work Use­less Jobs When Tech­nol­o­gy & Automa­tion Can Let Us Live More Mean­ing­ful Lives

Buck­min­ster Fuller Cre­ates Strik­ing Posters of His Own Inven­tions

Buck­min­ster Fuller Doc­u­ment­ed His Life Every 15 Min­utes, from 1920 Until 1983

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Fred says:

    Dur­ing my col­lege years I read a cou­ple of books by Fuller and attend­ed one of his lec­tures. Always found some inspi­ra­tion with his ideas.

  • Jay Lombardi says:

    In the ear­ly 1970s in Boul­der I twice heard Bucky speak. In both cas­es even though the audi­to­ri­um was full of gre­gar­i­ous young counter-cul­ture, “hip­pie”, types, there was “you could hear a pin drop” silence. Each lec­ture last­ed about two hours. The lec­tures extem­po­ra­ne­ous­ly vis­it­ed a uni­verse of ideas that were log­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed in ways we’d nev­er imag­ined. What amazed me most of all was in both lec­ture instances the open­ing sen­tence was repeat­ed as the clos­ing sen­tence even though we’d been on a mon­u­men­tal­ly wide-scope nar­ra­tive jour­ney. In the end we arrived back at where we start­ed because as Bucky was wont to remind us, all things are inter­con­nect­ed. The genius of the man was nev­er in doubt as he stream-of-con­scious­ness explained why we were all one with all things, includ­ing him­self.

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