Human Potential Movement

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The Human Potential Movement was a loosely-confederated mixture of secular and religious woo popular from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. It incorporated much of what was then fashionable in paranormal and motivational circles, including earlier material from theosophy and other "esoteric" philosophies, drew heavily from and in turn influenced many contemporary self-help philosophies. It also drew heavily from the then-mainstream humanistic psychology field, and was directly ancestral to the New Age movement. The movement focused heavily on the nature and perceived capabilities of consciousness, still a common term in the writings of the movement's successors, and like many other belief systems of its type, it was resolutely vitalist in its view of life.

Followers of the Human Potential Movement often took seriously the discredited idea that humans use only 10% of their brains, and were often big fans of Uri Geller and other self-proclaimed psychics. Quantum woo got its first big break in this era, with writers Fritjof Capra (The Tao of Physics) and Gary Zukav (The Dancing Wu Li Masters) taking the strangeness that was the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and using it as a semi-plausible mechanism for "mind over matter" thinking. In turn, writers associated with the movement wrote books such as Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and spawned somewhat less fluffy interest in real Eastern religions such as Buddhism, as well as think tanks and self-help groups such as est, Esalen, and Synanon, many of which had authoritarian and even cultish aspects. A notable subset of the movement promoted new psychological therapies such as primal scream therapy, encounter group therapy, and rebirthing which were initially regarded with interest by mainstream psychology but turned out to be useless quackery.

While much of the Human Potential Movement's teachings were quickly discredited by mainstream science, many advocates shifted into a more religious and spiritual tone, and the whole rotten mess was absorbed into the New Age movement of the 1980s, though still retaining a somewhat nebulous presence in the overall consciousness of society. As for consciousness, it retains considerable interest in psychology and artificial intelligence circles, but the Human Potential Movement's contributions to the subject have been irrelevant at best.

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

  • Tom Wolfe, The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening, New York magazine, August 23, 1976
  • Cyra McFadden, The Serial, Knopf, 1977 (hilarious novel spoofing HPM)
  • Richard Dean Rosen, Psychobabble, Wildwood House Ltd, 1978
  • Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissicm, Norton, 1979
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