The Infinite Potential of the Human Mind

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By Susan Rosenthal

Want to know a secret? A healthy human mind is incompatible with capitalism. Let me explain.

Science tells us that the mind cannot be reduced to an activity of the brain. The mind is created and sustained in a complex dance between human beings. Cut off from social relationships, the mind loses its ability to function. Evidence for this comes from socially-deprived infants and from adults kept in isolation or subjected to sensory deprivation.

For more than 95 percent of human history, people lived in small, cooperative societies. Over the past few thousand years, our species underwent an amazing cultural evolution. Our brains did not change biologically, but how we used them did. As people pooled their experiences and accumulated knowledge from one generation to the next, their minds developed. And as their minds developed, they created new social arrangements to meet their changing needs.

Capitalism blocks this creative process. While knowledge continues to accumulate, it is not shared. And while some people are moved forward, many more are hurtled backward. The central problem for capitalism is how to create profit, not how to develop human potential. To maximize profit, capitalism must disrupt human relationships and stifle human potential.

The more we are divided and deprived, the more wealth can be generated for the people at the top. Any form of collectivism is a threat to the system, from union organizing to demands for government-funded services.

Instead of using our minds to solve our common problems, we get to decide only which section of the elite will dominate us. Instead of working together to raise our living standards, we labor to enrich the elite. Instead of protecting ourselves and each other, we fight their barbaric but profitable wars.

The human mind crumbles under such conditions. Epidemics of anger, anxiety, inter-personal conflict and deep discouragement create an ocean of human misery. Adding insult to injury, these signs of social sickness are mislabeled as “personal problems” and “mental illness.”

To preserve itself, capitalism must block the infinite potential of the human mind. And I do mean infinite. There is no limit to the number of ways that we could organize our lives and society.

The average human brain contains approximately 100 billion nerve cells or neurons. Each neuron has about 10,000 connections with its neighbors. When you consider that each of these connections can be turned on or off, the number of possible firing patterns is greater than the number of known particles in the universe. When you add the different ways that each human mind could connect with the other six billion minds on the planet…well, I think you get the picture.

Capitalism has stuck humanity in a giant historical rut and bamboozled us into thinking that this is the best we can do, that we have reached the end of our history. Not So! We have barely begun to explore our potential. However, if capitalism has its way, we never will.

We can’t let this happen. We have created capitalism, and we can change our minds and replace it with something much better.

Susan Rosenthal is a practicing physician and the author of Market Madness and Mental Illness (1998) and POWER and Powerlessness (2006). She is a contributing editor to Cyrano’s Journal Online and a member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981. She can be reached through her web site: www.powerandpowerlessness.com her blog: www.powerandpowerlessness.typepad.com or by email: susanRosenthal@bestcyrano.org

10 comments on “The Infinite Potential of the Human Mind
  1. A refreshing piece for a Sunday afternoon. I am in awe of the possibilities of the human brain, which, apparently few of us ever get to develop (let alone use) for good purposes. What is amazing is that even functional idiots like George Bush do have a brain capable of much better output. Frightening to think that even HE has tremendous potentialities! Thank you for this article.

  2. I find it amazing that the system can accomplish so many self-serving tasks by just doing its thing. It’s like all its actions generate results that benefit only those that the system is built to benefit and no one else. If this is not a “diabolical” dynamic for a social system I dont know what is.

    It;s also quite clear (IMHO) that no matter how intelligent a person, chances are slim s/he’ll ever see te light in terms of figuring how the entire edifice of lies operates. At this point in our evolution–which may stop soon enough for all the obvious reasons of being a “failed species” –we are a disgrace when we see our true potential. I’ll pass this piece around. Incidentally, I work in an office with about 15 otehr people, and I can’t recall the day I heard anyone speaking about something “deep”–just yak yak yak and yak. What a waste.

  3. It’s hard to discuss the brain without getting around to TV and the impact it has had on every brain on the planet.

    McLuhan pointed out that we think the TV is over there in the corner of the room when actually it’s INSIDE OUR BRAINS, now has become part of humanity’s nervous system.

    I’ve written a whole book on the subject, ‘Too Much TV’, available at firstchapter.net, but the point most relevant to your article here is this: TV destroys categories. Everything is chopped into bits and mixed like a salad. Three seconds of violence followed by two seconds of humor followed by etc. etc. No more categories, yet coherent human thought depends totally on the ability to think in categories.

    Result, everyone who watches TV has lost a percentage of his ability to think clearly. There’s one simple explanation of why everything has gone downhill in the last fifty years.

  4. JenMarkensen-Bilbo,

    You raise an important question that I address in Power and Powerlessness (pp.32-33). Complex systems can arise from simple rules.

    Simple equations fed into a computer and repeated in a continual feedback loop will generate complex geometric patterns (fractals). Nature works in a similar way.

    A school of fish or a flock of birds can change direction, seemingly all at once, and then change direction again, as if they were one giant organism. It appears as if there must be some master hand at work. But there is not.

    Each fish or bird follows two simple rules: maintain a constant distance from your neighbors and turn when they do. We do not see these rules, only the patterns that result when the rules are applied.

    Despite its complexity, there is no invisible hand directing capitalism. It functions on the basis of two simple rules that are endlessly repeated: Seize the Surplus and Compete or Die.

    Of course, corporations collude to set prices and fleece their customers, and politicians conspire to win support for pro-business laws and for wars, but there is no grand conspiracy. There doesn’t need to be. These two simple rules, repeated throughout society, create the complex web of relationships that we experience as capitalism.

    There is much more about this in my book. Suffice it to say that societies can be transformed by changing the basic rules that govern them. The rule that would create socialism is very simple: SHARE.

  5. It would seem that the crisis we face, to bring down a system that –by design–generates “antibodies” to neutralize social reformers, and to continue to toxify the society is likely to require a rare combination of abilities in our new leadership: intelligence, patience, sophisticated understanding of the enemy (always a must) and other qualities not in ample supply. But humanity must spawn this type of people, and I remain cautiously optimistic, that the circumstances once again will. I’m not speaking here of the Third World, where revolutionaries of all stripes already exist and work tirelessly at great cost to advance liberation, but of the “comfortable” developed world, where the self-serving propaganda that immobilizes almost everyone, matched by a relatively “low” level of personal pain, contributes to the curious passivity we observe, esp. in the USA. It’s probably not very popular in progressive circles in the USA to admit this, but in reality humans have a much wider latitude for the tolerance of socially-inflicted pain, oppression, than our salon liberals would realize. If nothing else, the concentration camps taught us that. It is next to unimaginable to figure how anyone could have survived such conditions, yet many did. Some more fat has to disappear from the US social girth before we begin to see the signs of real unrest and resistance.

  6. You make a major error by equating Capitalism with “not sharing”. “Not sharing” is one of the main foundations of Western Civilization. Capitalism did not exist until ca. 1830-50. One of the 1st things the North American colonists did was “not share” with their fellow indigenous humans–by raping, stealing, and practicing genocide over at least a century. Capitalism had nothing to do with their behavior–it did not exist during most of the extermination. Ditto for the Spanish, who were even earlier. And I see no reason why attempting to change to an economic system different from our current one will lead to significantly better results. The German Nazi Party is our short name for the National Socialist Workers Party. The typical worker considered their time under the Nazis as the best years of their life for at least a decade after Germany’s defeat. (See _They Thought They were Free: The Germans 1933-45_ by Milton Mayer.) Writing about creating a sharing society is easy–much like creating artificial life inside a computer. I am sure some educated computer literate upper middle class types will find it fascinating reading. Doing it in practice is qualitatively different. (One plausible approach I seen is aim at regaining a sense of the common good, apparently largely lost for many reasons–some are the underlying assumptions of our market structured society, which has given birth to our current virulent form of Capitalism–one of the infinite possibilities of the human mind.)

  7. I think any error in Susan’s work is just that she didn’t go back to the foundations of Western Civilization to see the beginning of “not sharing”. The Gilgamesh epic is probably far enough back. When men bonded in order to “not share” their power with women or with Nature. “Capitalism” is simply the current working institution of the power elite. And the power elite didn’t form themselves to “share”. I’d say that Humans have been in a giant historical rut since the beginning of, uh, History.

  8. This article does not discuss the origins of not sharing, which appeared with class divisions, about 10,000 years ago.
    While this period is often called the beginning of history, it is by no means the beginning of human society, which is at least 150,000 years old.
    While capitalism is only a few hundered years old, it has elevated not-sharing to its highest level ever, with disastrous implications for humanity.
    This matter is explored in greater detail in POWER and Powerlessness, Chapter 5, “Seize the Surplus.”
    Available at http://www.powerandpowerlessness.com

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