This thread has been sitting around for quite a while, and I know I ramble quite a lot on here already, but I can’t resist taking a stab at this question.
For me, the biggest question regarding human potential is whether our species has the capacity to pull itself back from the brink of Malthusian overconsumption and collapse. I don’t function well in life as a pessimist, so I always try to keep my eye on whatever glimmer of hope there is. But I’m also pragmatic enough to feel that whatever troubles our world is experiencing today will only become greater over the next few decades.
To me, this brings up the question of whether humans are really any more intelligent than other animals. We made up the definition of intelligence, so of course we see ourselves as being more intelligent. But of course, we are not really any more capable of truly internalizing/understanding the subjective experiences of other species any more than they are of us. Sure, we can study them, scan their brains, etc., but that’s different than actually having their experiences. How do we know that in their own way, bears don’t see us as idiots who are thoughtlessly destroying their home? If our species learns how to manipulate the environment in ways that others haven’t, expands dramatically, leaves behind mountains of waste, toxic compounds that permeate the air, water and soil down to a microscopic level, a tempestuous, unstable climate, thousands of extinct species, etc., etc.—then it seems like only by a very vain definition could we call ourselves the most intelligent. Were Harold Fairhair, Genghis Khan or Hernando Cortes more intelligent than other humans? Certainly, they were unusually capable of enriching themselves and imposing themselves on their environments.
So in a sense, human potential to me is about acknowledging our limitations and trying to develop ways to live within them. Other species also have these same issues. Right now, around where I live there are rabbits running all over the place. I’m sure in a few years they’ll have eaten themselves out of house & home and will all be gone. For them, unsustainable expansion is a way of adapting to a harsh environment, and other species follow and perpetuate similar cycles along with them. It's unsustainable in the short term, but sustainable in the long term. I feel like it also started out that way for many human societies. But for modern, globalized Homo sapiens, our dramatic boom might lead to an inevitable bust that could take out half the biosphere with us.
If we can mitigate that, I think it really would be the ultimate expression of human potential. Maybe then we’d actually have something to pat ourselves on the back about—we could say we managed to do something that other species are rarely able to pull off.
I imagine where we get to a place where we can appreciate the gift of consciousness that was hard won through the cold brutality of evolution. It was very difficult giving up the idea of a just God, a person who would right all wrongs. It was hard to give up the idea of history being reconciled with justice. However, I now find great personal satisfaction in the gift that evolution has brought (through rape, murder, starvation, etc. from the time we were reptiles until now. I say rape because I'm pretty sure sex was mostly non-consensual in the animal kingdom). That seems very cold, but it's really a thank you to those who have come and gone and suffered before us. I'm not into ancestor worship or anything, but it seems right to honor them by enjoying what we have gotten out of all of it: consciousness, the ability to reason, to love, to explore, to understand.