Human Potential : Placeholder for a Larger Topic


In some ways, the development of human potential would be the most important topic for me to elaborate on in this web page. It ranges all the way from practical issues like the use of computers for K-12 education, through to deeper issues in human inner development and world religions. And it should include a few examples, like some of the questions which came up when a group of us started Friends Community School in College Park, Maryland, years ago.


Really, the material on “What is Mind?” already contains a lot of information on human potential.  The challenge in human potential is to “simply following through” on that information. But following through is not a trivial matter. There are so many, many different levels and angles to address, and I do not have previously written material that should be posted. (Those emails I posted under “reality” were already a stretch.)


Part of the challenge is for people to learn to “let go,” and to accept both their inner feelings and their natural impulse towards rationality, both at the same time, together.


There are times when people would not want to “let go” and follow a train of thought which they fear might lead to dark places. It is a very good instinct which wants to stay out of dark places. (Indeed, I use the term “dark places,” not because it  represents any kind of theoretical symbolic meaning for me; rather, it is the opposite – it refers to a kind of feeling, like a direct sensory input, and much of the challenge here is for people to become reconnected to their feelings.) Yet in some cases, these fears are unrealistic and cause people to be locked up, quivering in a corner for what seems like forever. It is a terrible waste, and yet it does occur, not only for children in our schools, but for adults, in their world and in their minds. And it gets reinforced in a strong way, by the process described in the book Groupthink by Janis. I haven’t read the book – but I have seen the phenomenon, in hundreds of manifestations, all over the world. It is not at all the same as collective intelligence, a phenomenon which also exists in various degrees at various levels. But… this page is not for theory…


In a way, philosophers like the existentialists or like the early British empiricists (I think of Francis Bacon in particular, but also Occam) were simply telling us to “let go” and experience life directly, and trust what is inside. The Society of Friends (unprogrammed Quakers) has continued that approach. In a way, this means listening to one’s feelings about what is a dark place and what is not, more consistently and more consciously. My personal history in the “What is Mind?” section describes a couple of such transitions I allowed myself to make years ago. But only a couple of them.

Maybe it is easier to make such transitions at an early stage of life – which for me is now a distant memory.


An early key transition for me was to really and truly accept both “listening to feelings” and a commitment to rationality, to a kind of sense of responsibility. In a way, the desire to be “professional” is similar to the desire to be “responsible,” but it is a cheap imitation, more a matter of appearance than of reality. Many times, when people try to act “professional,” it is a form of alienation, where they decide that they will not even think about human feelings or larger responsibilities – or, sometimes, even the objective unbiased truth, because they are not yet ready to cope with such complex things. They do not know how to begin. What I really wish on this particular topic is to help people see where to begin. Neither rationality nor feelings should be feared, in the end; they do not conflict with each other, if either is well enough understood; if they appear to conflict with each other, that is a warning that both should be re-examined. Yet people are often right when they feel they are not yet ready to open up too much too fast; a major challenge is how to create such readiness. I certainly do not endorse the Falun Gong religion – yet there is some truth in their statement that a disciplined pursuit of “truthfulness,” benevolence and “ren” (which they don’t truly know how to translate or tune so well) is essential to such readiness. Readiness is in part a matter of “look before you leap,” trying hard to understand something – like a physics experiment that might generate a black hole, or a state of mind – before going too far, and in part a matter of proceeding in a careful way, responsive to feedback.


Some of the larger cultural clashes in our world are not truly a clash between civilizations, but a clash or struggle within civilizations – and most truly, a clash within ourselves. It reminds me a bit of what the psychologist Ericson used to say about stages of life dominated by particular polarities. The clash between wild, undisciplined expressions of feelings, fearing rationality, versus a twisted form of “rationality” which does not adequately reflect or serve the human feelings which it should be serving – that is part of what is really happening in the world today, whether between red states and blue states (in the US and China both), or between West and Middle East. Only part, of course. Another key part is the development of the Understanding which is essentially the only way to transcend the crazy oscillations between extreme points of view.


As for stuff like walking on water and so on… it’s important stuff, but this web page now is not the time or place for it. The history of the world contains so many, many different databases of human experience, all important and all susceptible to integrated understanding… but beyond the scope of this brief placeholder page.


There are many Churches in the world which have become a lot like organized clubs of football fans, dedicated to drinking beer, sitting on the couch, and hurling insults at “the other team” – and occasionally starting drunken riots, while their own bodies actually go to hell. But actually playing sports that really exercise the body and encourage either self-reliance or cooperation (with full respect to other players, and inner discipline) is a different matter altogether.


One question related to all this: how can human society manage to make real progress in this kind of Understanding and its follow-through? In many, many places and at many, many levels, one sees a kind of wild oscillation between fuzzy and unreal feeling-based efforts and efforts which are stuck in the mud, based on a kind of false rationality aimed at poorly (dangerously) formulated goals. (The psychologist Bramson of Berkeley has an interesting book on thinking styles which discusses similar oscillations; management consultants have applied his analysis to major corporations.) How do we raise our head above the mud when our hands and feet also seem to be under the surface? That, too is part of the challenge. As with the other challenges, success and survival are both built into our nature, on one level, but not at all guaranteed, on  another.