The Internet is bearing fruit on providing mankind's growing treasure trove of knowledge every day at very low cost to the consumer. It is on demand, no charge. Digital libraries are springing up all over. Some of them are well-funded by philanthropists such as Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Gordon Moore (Intel). The information provided range from the classics of literature, to free on-line submission of scholarly articles to up-to-the-moment publication of scientific articles and results. Access to information need no longer retard that intellectual growth of the benighted masses, since computers are becoming ubiquitous in the western world and are starting to proliferate in the third world. These resources have tremendous potential to provide the truths that will set men free.
An abbreviated list of what is available can be found below while a much larger compendium exists at Yahoo.
The Ludwig Von Mises Institute has a website loaded with e-books from Mises, Rothbard and other scholars of classical liberalism (in the sense of the 18th-century definition). Their web site is loaded with classical and contemporary commentary on Austrian Economics along with the works of many of the original thinkers and blogs for reader commentary. Daily essays are provided by well-known scholars that integrate the classical thought with current events.
The Liberty Fund in Indianapolis, Indiana has a wonderful project called the Online Library of Liberty. This website provides many of the classics of human thought in both HTML and PDF (Acrobat Reader) format for browsing or offline browsing via download. The Liberty Fund and the Ludwig Von Mises institute provide most of the material necessary for a free of charge, classical education.
For tastes that are more contemporary and scientific, then check out the Physics Archive at Cornell. Math is my thing so I like to frequent Math World. The Math Reader product is wonderful and free. It provides sample algorithms and beautiful graphics of results in most fields of mathematical research and teaching. Chemistry is available at Oxford. Those who want to stay abreast of the latest published articles available in some 372,755 e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Quantitative Biology would be wise to see the list of topics and the search engine at Cornell's Arxiv.org
Literature buffs may want to check out the eBooks at University of Virginia. The eBooks site is nice because it provides format for PDA's via Palm and Microsoft Reader, all available free of charge. Next time you are trapped in an awful meeting boot up Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness or Beowulf on your PDA and go to a better place. Shakespeare, the great bard(s) whoever they were, is also available.
Newspaper readers can find articles from many papers worldwide at the Internet Public Library.
Fans of ancient documents and maps will want the djvu plug in from lizard tech (free) which will allow rapid viewing of many very large ancient, manuscripts and maps. Djvu is superior technology courtesy of AT&T labs. Some of the maps are beautiful art and science. It currently only works in Internet Explorer.
General knowledge can be found at the Wikipedia, where you can also contribute your own knowledge, wisdom, and philosophy. The self-proclaimed world's largest free library might also be a good place to start for generalized queries, I always Google first, having gotten the Google reflex many years ago so badly that it's almost automatic reflex mediated by spine so that it never actually gets to my brain when I look for anything. If you are worried about Google spying on you then use Scroogle that queries Google while stripping cookies, IP addresses and deleting log files thus de-identifying users. The Firefox browser and the Onion Router will do this as well, for free.
From an educational bent if you've always wanted to attend MIT but lack the GPA, tuition, money, necessary connections or just cannot tolerate the Boston weather or having to look at Harvard students on a regular basis, then get their open course work for free.
Philosophy and Religion and can be found at a variety of sources. A Christian lectionary is prominent at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Islamic Philosophy is available as is Judaism. Philosophy absent a religious bent can be found at Stanford. Marxist philosophy, the philosophy of death and destruction on a worldwide scale is here. However since Marxism has been discredited everywhere in the world except the American and European academic world (good euphemisms for out of touch) I would urge readers to have read Ludwig von Mises Socialism, published in 1922, just five year after the "glorious October Revolution" in order to make sense out of that gibberish.
While this is by no means an exhaustive study of what is available, it does represent many of the sites I frequent regularly for fact checking and information lookup.
Consumer Warning: knowledge is not free, and like respect, it has to be earned. The reader still has to put forth the effort to acquire it. It is a virtual natural resource of no intrinsic value until human labor transforms it into something valuable. However, we can all stand on the shoulders of mankind's giants and see vistas that are beyond our individual limited horizons. Man-millennia of effort have gone into these great works, but culture pays forward so we can each reap the benefits today at a much smaller individual cost.
This is the inherent nature of capitalism: lower-cost, higher-quality products for everyone’s potential consumption. This is another fine example of the spontaneous organization from human action without any government intervention required.
Sadly, the web is also full of statist propaganda, porn, fads, hate speech of every imaginable variety, eco-gibberish, and new age silliness, but that is the price of a free society: tolerance for speech that you abhor.
June 23, 2006