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 lectures on placebos, on drugs, on the Rumpelstilt-skin effect (naming an ailment makes a patient get better), on split-brain research. After instruction by an I Ching master, Smith asks the book’s advice on stock investments. He visits Esalen. He studies Arica. His body is pummeled in a Rolfing session. Later, Ida Rolf herself tells him she can’t stand osteopaths and chiropractors, and that in the entire land there are only two competent Rolfers: Ida Rolf and her son. He takes a biofeedback course. He tries Yoga. He does the sliced-ping-pong-balls-over-the-eyes bit with Montague Ullman at the Maimonides Dream Lab. He floats in John Lilly’s sensory deprivation tank. He half-practices TM and discloses (shame!) his secret mantra.

Several chapters cover Zen sports: Zen football, Zen golf, Zen tennis (no Zen bowling?). The Guru Maharaj Ji and the Reverend Sun Moon are passed over lightly because Smith failed to contact them, but he did meet Uri Geller, and he thinks he met the elusive Carlos Castaneda. He’s not sure because the man said he was Carlos’s double. This doesn’t mean, you understand, that the man merely resembled Carlos. The “double,” to quote from a recent Doubleday book on OOBE (out of body experiences), “is the solid second body—a living, breathing organism identical in appearance and behavior to the physical body.” You can photograph it.

Baba Ram Dass gets a big play. Ram Dass is Richard Alpert, Tim Leary’s old sidekick at Harvard before the two were sidekicked off the Yard. Alpert went to India, came back a guru. He is now much admired on the college consciousness circuit, even though his father (president of the New Haven Railroad) calls him Rum Dum and his older brother calls him Rammed Ass.


Ingo Swann, the New York Scientologist who, like Geller, has been pronounced a genuine psychic by Puthoff and Targ (the two laser physicists who do psychic research for the Stanford Research Institute), tells Smith about how he projected his consciousness to Jupiter and Mercury. When Smith phoned a NASA official to ask if they knew about Ingo’s Mercury trip, the reply was: “No, I didn’t know, I don’t want to know, and please don’t tell me. We didn’t sponsor that. All our probes use regular old rockets.”

Ingo assured Smith that 95 percent of all so-called psychics are frauds. That does not apply, of course, to him or to Harold Sherman, the Arkansas seer whose consciousness accompanied Ingo’s on both space probes. You won’t hear much about their Jupiter probe because the only things they saw that weren’t in every elementary astronomy text were enormous mountains on the planet’s surface. That was just before a Pioneer flyby revealed that Jupiter doesn’t have a surface. Swann has recently been hired to dowse for oil. He doesn’t use a forked stick—just walks around and feels the vibes.

The book’s saddEST chapter, “The High Value of Nothing,” is about the latEST and hottEST of the new strawberry short cuts. EST is not T.S. Eliot’s initials backward. It is the acronym for Erhard Seminars Training. Erhard? In the beginning he was Jack Rosenberg who grew up near Philadelphia and used to be a manager for Parents’ Magazine’s door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. For a while he was into Scientology, but this distinguished church expelled him and he went to work for Mind Dynamics, a California outfit now OOB (out of business). Then he thought of EST.

The name is interESTing. It looks like ESP, and it rhymes with REST and ZEST. Above all it sounds like MEST, Scientology’s great acronym for Matter, Energy, Space, and Time. According to L. Ron Hubbard, the original Thetans, omnipotent and immortal, became bored with eternity. To amuse themselves they began to create universes out of MEST. Slowly, over trillions of years, they became enmeshed in one of their worlds. And who are these fallen gods who have forgotten who they are? They are ourselves!

“But something has happened,” writes Christopher Evans in his eye-opening account of Scientology in Cults of Unreason. “One man, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, has stumbled on the secret, has remembered what it’s all about and will lead us back until we cease to be pawns and return to our heritage as players.”

Scientology is complicated. You have to read books to grasp the grand design. Erhard has a shorter short cut. EST is Latin for “is.” What is, is. What isn’t, isn’t. The universe is what it is. It can’t be anything else. It’s perfect. You are one of its machines. You are what you are. You, too, are perfect. You have “free will” but in a paradoxical sense. You have to choose what you choose. The secret of satori is to relax and enjoy. “The whole idea of making it,” Erhard told Smith, “is bullshit.” In fact, everything is bullshit, including EST. Once you recognize this great truth, and that there is nothing to get, you “get it.” You lose, of course, your $250 initiation fee. That’s what EST gets.

The notion that peace comes with acceptance is one of the oldest ideas in religion and philosophy. A thousand eminent atheists, pantheists, and theists have said it much better than Erhard. Spinoza, for instance, wrote eloquently about how true freedom comes only to the person who knows he has no freedom. “In His will is our peace,” wrote Dante.

Yet there are thousands of poor souls, eager to be privy to the latest shortcut, who are paying money to be told this. And they are told it in ways cribbed from a dozen other cults and carefully calculated to produce maximum shock, schlock, and publicity. Once you’ve paid the fee you are locked into a room with all the other shortcutters. You can’t smoke, eat, or go to the washroom.

You’re a tube. Food and liquids go in one end and out the other. “We make them look at their tube-ness,” says Erhard to Smith. “At least if you don’t let them pee, you begin to get their attention.”

You are lower than a tube. You’re a mechanical asshole. A lady with gray hair raises her hand to say she thinks the instructor could make his point with less vulgarity. Smith is scribbling notes.

“Fern, honey,” says the instructor, “these are only words…. Why do you grant the words the power to make you an effect, Fern, there is no difference between fuck and spaghetti!”


Fern is stunned.

“And by the time this course is through,” the instructor goes on, “you will be able to go to Mamma Leone’s and order a plate of fuck! Or sing this whole bunch a dirty song!”

Next morning Fern stands up and sings the only dirty song she knows. Applause. Fern giggles. She’s beginning to get it.

“I guess EST will keep growing because the demand is more than the supply,” Erhard tells Smith. “But don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the world needs EST, I don’t think the world needs anything, the world already is, and that’s perfect.”

“If nobody needs it, why do you do it?”

“I do it because I do it, because that’s what I do.”

And because, like Hubbard before him, Erhard (note the names’ last syllables) is getting rich. And why not? He’s packaging instant insight. No fuss. No exercises. No need to seek wisdom from the past, not even from Hubbard. No written instructions. Just pay your fee, “get it,” tell your friends. There are, naturally, advanced seminars. They cost more. Last month I read that Erhard had given a large sum of money to a group of California counterculture physicists who want to investigate the natural laws behind such things as Uri’s spoon bending. Look for EST to get more and more into PK. It’s good PR.

How shall I sum up my reaction to this flashy, unprofound book? It’s impossible to guess what Smith’s own views are. The over-all impression he leaves is that strange things are happening outside the range of established science. He has nothing serious or interesting to say about any of them. Some people may want to read the book to learn about the traps their relatives and friends may drop into. But they might as well wait for the paperback.

This Issue

December 11, 1975