Strawberry Shortcut

Powers of Mind

by Adam Smith
Random House, 418 pp., $10.00

Today’s pop counterculture, especially among the young, is an awesome mix of maximum mindlessness, minimum historical awareness, and a pathetic yearning for (to quote Chico Marx) strawberry shortcut. To hell with established religions, with science, with philosophy, with economics and politics, with the liberal arts—with anything that demands time and effort. Dig the rock beat, kink up your sex life, meditate, tack a photo of Squeaky Fromme on the wall.

George Jerome Waldo Goodman, alias Adam Smith, has a nimble mind, a quick wit, and a sharp nose for the latest fashionable crap. His earlier best seller, The Money Game, was snapped up by middle classers eager to make a fast buck on the rising stock market. His new best seller, Powers of Mind, will be snapped up by middle classers eager to find instant health and happiness.

Of course it’s not called happiness. You raise your consciousness, expand your inner space, increase your aliveness. To give fake credibility to his short-cut tour of what he calls the “consciousness circuit,” Smith practices the old technique of first making a quick tour himself. George Plimpton at least spent considerable time making friends with top athletes and playing their game before he wrote a book about it, but Smith is in more of a hurry. A day here, a day there, skim the references, do what you can by phone, punch up the stories, make up some new ones. Did a “Crazy Indian” give Smith some flowers at Pennsylvania Station, and did Smith then walk through the coach, handing everybody a flower and saying “Namaste,” which the Indian told him meant “I salute the light within you”? Forgive me, Smith, but I doubt that.

Smith’s machine-gun style is exactly right for the short attention span of his readers. Black Mask pulp. Dizzy-paced, hard-boiled, wise-cracky. Lots of one-word sentences: “Wow!,” “Wiggy,” “Yep.” Names of “in” thinkers pepper the pages: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Jung, Gurdjieff, Huxley (Aldous of course), Chomsky, Thomas Kuhn, Robert Ornstein, Teilhard de Chardin…. I’d forgotten about Count Korzybski, but Smith must admire him because he’s there too. When I finished the book I wondered why Karl Popper’s name hadn’t popped up, but no—at the back of the book, footnote 21 (on Kuhn’s “paradigm”) ends with, “No thumbnail reference to the history of science should leave out Karl Popper and Michael Polanyi, especially the latter.”

Smith’s anecdotal wonders chase one another like one-liners in a Henny Youngman routine. “A funny thing happened to me on my way to the Meditation Center….” For openers, Stewart Alsop has an inexplicable remission of cancer after a strange dream about refusing to get off a train at Baltimore. Norman Cousins cures himself of a mystery malady by watching old Marx Brothers movies. A ten-year-old black girl’s palms start to bleed after she reads about the Crucifixion. A man on LSD, who thinks he’s arguing with Socrates, speaks “in classic Greek, which he did not understand!” (Italics and exclamation in the original.)

Doctors give Smith little…

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