The Infinite Potential of the Human Mind By Susan Rosenthal

Dandelion Salad

By Susan Rosenthal
Thomas Paine’s Corner
11/8/07

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

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One thought on “The Infinite Potential of the Human Mind By Susan Rosenthal

  1. My comments in astericks follow quotes from the article.

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

    *This is not borne out by any evidence. The existence of plenty of healthy minds around which falsify this statement.*

    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.

    *The mind is absolutely the activity of the brain. The social needs of the brain (like glucose) are part of it’s healthy activity.*

    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.

    *There is nothing new about how we use our brains or how we view ourselves or structure our thoughts (mind, if you will) from culture to culture – only the content differs.*

    Capitalism blocks this creative process.

    *Huh? You just said we created capitalism to meet changing needs. It is arguably evidence of the creative process “minds” wanted. Moreover, in terms of creativity, capitalism allows people to diverge more than in a traditional society where roles are iron-clad. By definition, divergent lifestyles are lived in more isolated units.*

    While knowledge continues to accumulate, it is not shared.

    *Knowledge has rarely been shared. It has always been kept in reserve and only made available to a hierarchy of initiates.*

    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.

    *True for profit, false for society. Society has never been about human potential. It’s a luxury exclusively available to aristocracy or an emergent bourgeois class.*

    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.

    *Truisms, but how is this related to the topic of human potential? The next paragraph doesn’t make the connection.*

    Instead of using our minds to solve our common problems, we get to decide only which section of the elite will dominate us.

    *In traditional societies, people didn’t even get to decide that much Still, people in any society have never been interested in solving common problems. However, they will unite with others to solve their own problems if the benefits of doing so out-weigh the perceived costs of not doing so. People are very common sense, you know. Don’t have a long-term view, particularly not any beyond their personal community (how we evolved remember). Yet, under capitalism, for those in power and the otherwise educated, it has become an option.*

    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.

    *Nothing historically new here with the arrival of capitalism.*

    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.”

    *Now you’re saying that not only minds can’t develop, but that they actually regress? Ever visit a poor country, the exploited working class don’t suffer any of these miseries – not unless they find themselves out-of-of-context of the prevailing world view which is pretty rare (remember: no dissidents allowed in traditional societies). In all societies, social failing is labeled as “sin”. Not new. Obviously, in capitalist, societies, the option to individuate and the acquisitiveness that supports it must come at the expense of community. Trade-offs.*

    To preserve itself, capitalism must block the infinite potential of the human mind.

    *So general relativity, atomic physics, biology, micro-biology, chemistry (name your science here), mechanization, universal plumbing, electronics, education, communications, medicine, pensions, welfare, (name your science here)… you would identify as the result of how capitalism blocked human minds? *

    And I do mean infinite. There is no limit to the number of ways that we could organize our lives and society.
    *So…*

    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.

    *Yes, everyone has always had this picture, in every society. It comes down to a matter of time and thus prioritization. No one wants to personally track more than about a handful of other people. That is the way it has always been. It’s also the reason hierarchies and delegating responsibility developed. From government to military to business that is the way it has always been for people – regardless the numbers involved (the hierarchy just gets deeper and so less accountable).*

    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.

    *Actually, capitalism is one way that people have come up with for exploring their potential. Like any other “product” it will give way to a better model. Try offering one and see if anyone chooses it. (Myself, in the 70’s I worked on alternative communities – not what people wanted. No, matter how grand the vision, they never lasted as the very people who created them soon began to choose maximizing their individual options – especially, once they had kids, the reproductive and economic ones. Asta la vista, commune.)*

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

    *Huh? It’s a fait accompli And what’s better, Susan?*

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