Harnessing the Power of the Social Animal

I recently read “The Social Animal” by David Brooks. It’s a fascinating book that could hold the key to unlocking our greatest resource. Human potential. To give you a sense of what I mean by “Human Potential”, imagine a world where every adult has the equivalent of a PhD in their field of interest. Look at the advances that have been brought about with only a tiny fraction of the earth’s population being educated.

New York Times Columnist David Brooks gives a TED Talk about “The Social Animal”

So what does this have to do with “The Social Animal”? In this brilliant book, David Brooks discusses some of the latest findings in regards to human nature. They give us the framework to create that key to unlocking human potential. I will briefly list some of the findings that I found to be fascinating:

  • Each of us consists of at least 2 “different minds”. Our conscious and unconscious mind. And the conscious mind is not always in the drivers seat. The unconscious mind has vastly more resources at it’s disposal than our conscious mind. And maybe what makes us more intelligent than other animals is the ability of our unconscious minds.
  • “Emotion is the foundation of reason because it tells us what to value. Educating emotions is a central activity of wisdom. A brain is a record of the feelings of a life.” – David Brooks
  • Good attachment with parents, especially mothers, is essential for a head start.
  • There are quite a few ways that human beings can be intelligent and not all of them are easily quantifiable. I.Q. is only a measure of one type of intelligence. New words and phrases had to be invented to name these new types of intelligence. Here are a few examples: Mind Sight – The ability to really learn from people. The ability to enter into a person’s mind and extract what that particular person has to offer. Equipoise – The ability to read the biases and failures in your own mind. The ability to be open minded in the face of ambiguity. To be curios. The ability to adjust opinions based on evidence. Metis – A sensitivity to environment. The ability to derive a gist….to see patterns. Sympathy – The ability to work within groups because groups can be smarter than individuals. Blending – The ability to take disparate concepts and combine them. For example, when a child says “I am a tiger”. She is taking to very different animals and combining their concepts in a creative manner. A genius like Picasso was able to blend Western Art and African masks to create a new paradigm.
Picasso blended African Masks and Western Influences

Picasso blended African Masks and Western Influences

I believe we have only scratched the surface on the number and variety of the types of intelligences that humans posses. I also believe that everyone was born with the ability to be a genius at something. People we know as geniuses were extremely lucky to be good at something that our society happened to value at the time. They were also lucky enough to live a life that eventually led to the fostering of their talents.

Had Albert Einstein been born to a pilgrim in early America, there is some doubt as to whether or not he would have come up with E=MC2 (squared). In fact, he may have lived his life as an average person making no world changing contributions once so ever.


If each person has their own genius, that means we need an educational society that actively engages children on an individual level. One-size-fits-all classrooms are quite possibly the exact opposite of what is needed. Mass production works well for cars, not so well for developing the talent of a brain. By educational “society” I mean the world culture at large. We want to develop individual genius while educating the emotions. A society with a well emotionally educated population does not wage war, it values reform over punishment, it measures it’s success based on GNP and the happiness of it’s population. We know happy workers are more productive workers.

A glimpse in to a world where we harness the power of human potential may look like this: Instead of a microchip or internet type of breakthrough happening every so often, it would happen every other day. There would be almost no lag between Science Fiction and science fact.

25 thoughts on “Harnessing the Power of the Social Animal

  1. Jack Shoreman

    A fascinating video and article. I agree, the human potential is enormous. Unfortunately it’s being squandered like every other resource available to mankind. I often wonder how many potential Einsteins there are wasting their formative years playing video games while growing fat and unhealthy on a diet of pizza pops and energy drinks.

    1. ISKMogul

      Yes, lets blame the after affects of a system built on economic segregation and consumption rather than the system itself. People can only be blamed for faults that they’ve been conditioned to hold as normal for so long.

  2. MumOf5

    ah yes, human potential. how sad is it that our country is more concerned about who can marry whom than about how to educate our children (or clothe and feed them for that matter)

    1. oportosanto

      I agree that it’s sad that we get lost in moral or economic issues instead of focusing on key questions to life like human potential. At the same time that just shows what sort of humanity we are despite all our capacities.

  3. manowar

    the unconscious mind is definitely a treasure trove of information, ideas, and power. i think its the key to understand a lot about humanity, the way people act, what they do, what they say and more, including their dreams.

  4. Timca del Sol

    Thoughtful post. The statement, “One-size-fits-all classrooms are quite possibly the exact opposite of what is needed” is spot on. Children who are gifted with greater intelligence are not nurtured to become all that they can be in our public education system. While at the same time, less intelligent children struggle to reach a grade educators consider to be the low end of normal for a specific grade.

    1. joshc428

      I agree 100%. While a set of standards works for some people, some people just can’t pick up a textbook and learn as easily as others can. And some can do it much faster. Grouping these children in the exact same environment is essentially judging a fish by its ability to climb trees.
      What if there’s a genius plumber inside of the “stupid” kid? One who will revolutionize the world of plumbing, saving us lots of water and resources. It’s not fair to mark him as a failure due to his inability to memorize all the presidents in order.

  5. Emilie

    This is why i homeschool and then send my kids to charter school. i believe these things develop individual genius while educating emotions. children are our future. its high time we started doing something to turn them into productive members of society, instead of sticking them in over-populated classrooms with very few supplies and underpaid teachers in an environment where gun-wielding crazies walk in and shoot everyone.

  6. Nick

    While the idea of harnessing the power of social animal is a noble one, I don’t see it ever happening in real life. For it to happen this society would have to be driven not for monetary gains, but for self-fulfillment and the corporation dictated society that we live in would never allow that to happen. Not in a million years. Today there are might be more college graduates around the world than ever, but aside from a few more book smart people in the world, the rest of the population is actually dumbing down at an alarming rate. It’s sad, but it’s the truth.

  7. Andrew Bandrabur

    I enjoyed reading this post. Our greatest resource is human potential, no doubt about it. Unfortunately far too much ‘human potential’ is focused on finding better weapons to destroy each other or to profit at the expense of others. If ‘human potential’ were focused on solving issues like the inequality in food distribution, curing of diseases, educating the population, global warming and so on this planet would be a far better place to live and humanity would actually have a future living upon it.

  8. Noland Reynolds

    I used to be a huge fan of TED, but no more. TED aligned with Monsanto, halting any talks about GMOs, food as medicine or natural healing, Doing so means TED is no longer a forum for unbiased dialogue, so can not be trusted. Monsanto obviously paid TED, or TED gave into Monsanto’s threats of legal action. It doesn’t matter which, compromise is censorship, and censored information in nothing but lies by omission.

  9. Ian Collins

    I agree 100% with’ “Our conscious and unconscious mind. And the conscious mind is not always in the drivers seat.” A great many people give into impulses and do insane things. I believe they are actually carrying out instructions originating from the unconscious mind.

  10. Jasmine2015

    This Ted talk was truly eye opening. I agree that some of us have a very shallow view of human nature and that emotions are not as important as reasoning or rationalism. We are social animals. Now I’m interested in reading David’s book.

  11. kitkat8673

    This article describes the struggle students face with different types of intelligence. Kids often think they are “stupid” because they don’t score good on the SAT. But, that is only an aptitude test, which is one type of intelligence. There are so many more types of intelligence that you can have to make discoveries in life. Learning about the unconscious mind continues to amaze me and how much it effects how we function.

  12. Sara

    The human body is a medium, the human mind is God. the thing is that our uncounciouse mind is not always nicely programmed to our goals, it could hold us back too. I have a problem with a part of my uncouncious mind and I’m yet to set terms with it.

    The idea of educating children based on their intelligence is great, but not doable… How are we gonna recognize their type of intelligence?

  13. turtledove

    This is really good article. It’s true, humans have huge potential, and only a fraction of it is really used. The idea that everybody was born to be a genius in some field could be true. However, until schools change to allow students to be more creative, we’ll never know.

  14. The Saturn Embassy

    I’ve been practicing mind sight my whole life. That is definitely my forte. I am also an INTJ personality. I’m sure it fits in with mind sight somewhere, but I’m not too sure exactly where at this point.

  15. oraclemay

    I have to agree with this as I have seen that all children have genius in some areas and the school systems are not focused on these. Even Einstein spoke out against them as they do not allow for creativity. We will see more of the genius in our children when we begin to teach them in a different way that is not forced. Children are naturally inquisitive and only pull away from forced learning.

  16. oportosanto

    Ah, the power of the social animal or the unconscious mind… A lot can be said about this really, but I think you made a good analogy when you said that the conscious mind is not always on the drivers seat.

    At the same time, how can we unleash the power of the unconscious mind?

    1. anorexorcist

      I think that we release this power without really knowing it. I think that the unconscious mind needs to manifest itself at some point of the day, maybe when we are really tired, really angry or maybe even drunk. Or in the other hand, it might come out when we are feeling really inspired, and that’s were our best ideas always came from.

  17. anorexorcist

    I couldn’t agree with you more, but I think that as you’ve said, we only take importance to the things that can be easily adapted to the system and the things that we can make more money, not the things that we are passionate about. And I think that the educational system needs to take this in account, I wouldn’t only be good for them, but it would be good for the population’s mental health too.

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