ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
S. I. Hayakawa, editor
December 1965, "Special Issue on the Psychedelic Experience"
THE QUEST FOR INSTANT SATORI
S. I. HAYAKAWA
IN THE COURSE of twenty-two volumes of ETC., the
present is the fifth special issue. Like our previous special
issues, it is an attempt to examine a topic of current scientific
or theoretical interest from the point of view of general
For some time, judging from unsolicited manuscripts coming to
ETC., it has been clear that there is widespread interest,
both scientific and popular, in drug-induced psychedelic
experiences. ETC. was fortunate in having on its Editorial
Committee Dr. Robert E. Mogar, associate professor of psychology,
San Francisco State College, and director of the Institute for
Psychedelic Research, to serve as editor of this special issue.
He read the manuscripts on hand, invited other contributions, and
arranged the material. Without Dr. Mogar, there would have been
no psychedelic issue, not only because of his skill in selecting
and editing the varied contributions, but more importantly
because his enthusiastic espousal of the project convinced me
that such an issue would be of real service to our readers.
For all my gratitude to Dr. Mogar and the personal regard in
which I hold the contributors to this issue, I am forced by my
own convictions to introduce a discordant note. I am far from
convinced of the therapeutic or "spiritual" value of
the psychedelic experience. Indeed, I cannot get rid of the
feeling that this issue is likely to do the world as much harm as
good. In the present climate of opinion, with hallucinogens like
LSD available on almost every college campus in the U.S., the
glowing accounts of "consciousness-expanding"
experiences resulting from their use under controlled conditions
and responsible supervision are all too likely to be seized upon
as justification for their uncontrolled use without medical or
scientific supervision of any kind. A recent issue of the Gater,
student newspaper at San Francisco State College, carries the
following advertisement (December 3, 1965):
THE PSYCHEDELIC CHAPEL
Presents: "Trip Thru The Astral Plane"
Featuring Recording Artist Ivan Ulz
Service Begins 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, l 10 Page St.
(WHERE The Jet Set MEETS The Sin Crowd)
I shudder as I see in my mind's eye, sitting in the
"chapel," the Jet Set and the Sin Crowd, "turned
on" and "tripping through the Astral Plane," with
the music of Recording Artist Ivan Ulz (whatever he sings or
plays) crashing and reverberating through their skulls, each
member with a dog-eared copy of this issue of ETC. in his
The most interesting semantic point made by contributors to
this issue is that under the influence of psychedelic drugs, one
is "freed" from the categories and symbolizations
through which our experience is ordinarily presented to us,
bundled, prepackaged, and labeled in terms of the linguistic
conventions (and therefore perceptual habits) of the culture. To
"transcend" these cultural imperatives is asserted to
be an "expanding" of consciousness, so that one sees
afreshpresumably as if one were a little child again.
But is such "transcending" necessarily beneficial?
It is obviously an advantage if you have long been cursed with
inappropriate "maps" of the "territory" of
reality. From seeing afresh, you might start making better maps.
It is an advantage, too, if you have long treated the map as if
it were the territorythat is, if you are so engrossed in
the world of symbolism as to have forgotten what the symbols
But what if, like a good poet or scientist, you have long
been accustomed to seeing the world with "consciousness of
abstracting"? What if you have used symbols properly, so
that you have remained constantly aware of the realities behind
the symbolsof the complex, uncategorizable, squirming
"beknottedness of space-time" behind the categories?
The process of abstracting, of creating classifications and
making the symbols that stand for them, are the normal and
necessary survival mechanisms of the human class of life. What is
so wonderful about suspending this great, uniquely human process,
except where the process has gone awry? As Weston La Barre said
in this connection, "It is not immediately evident that an
abnormal toxic functioning of an adaptive organ, the brain, is
necessarily a supernormal functioning
I do not doubt that dangerous substances such as LSD
temporarily shake us up and cause us to "transcend"
habitual ways of experiencing. But transcending of itself is not
enough. What happens afterward? In what ways are perceptions of
the self or the environment altered or restructured for the
better? What conditions produce what changes? The contributors to
this issue, I am sorry to say, touch on these questions but
The fact that symbolic processes often go awry is, of course,
well known to general semanticists, who have their own
prescriptions as to what to do about it. These involve, as
Korzybski said, learning to experience at nonverbal levels,
refraining from "bursting into speech," and maintaining
"silence, within and without."** These also involve
learning to establish a constant interplay between experiential
and higher levels of abstraction, checking each level against
those below, and all of them against the realities of the world.
Disciplines such as these are not easy to master. They involve
for many of us the upsetting of cherished ideas and the
relinquishing of many long-ingrained automatism of thought and
speech. They also involve time-time to re-experience the
world, time to examine carefully both language and the world it
purportedly describes, in order painfully and painstakingly to
develop a better language. General semantics, like many other
disciplines offering deliverance from the world of illusion and
self-delusion, offers no easy path to enlightenment.
However, we live in an advertising culture. ROLAIDS offers us
instant relief from indigestion. CLAIROL offers instant youth and
beauty. The new MUSTANG makes instant Casanovas out of Casper
Milquetoasts. Is it any wonder that there lurks in many of us a
hope that a product can be found that offers instant relief from
all spiritual illsinstant insight, instant satori?
The full appreciation of art or literature or music requires
years of study, years of experience and exposure to master works.
But under LSD, tremendous "esthetic" and
"creative" experiences are said to be accessible,
instantly and without effort. "You got a television
set?" asked one hipster of another. "No, man," was
the reply. "I just turn on and watch the wallpaper."
(If the reader thinks this is a caricature of what is claimed for
the psychedelic experience, let him read on!) Is there any
meaningful sense in which such hallucinatory experiences can be
termed "esthetic" or "creative"?
But perhaps my basic reason for distrusting the dependence on
"mind-expanding" drugs is that most people haven't
learned to use the senses they possess. Speaking only for myself,
I not only hear music; I listen to it when it is
around, so that I find Muzak and other background music, intended
to be heard but not listened to, utterly intolerable. When I am,
in Carl Rogers' terms, open to my experience, I find the colors
of the day, whether gray and foggy and muted or bright and
sunlit, such vivid experiences that I sometimes pound my steering
wheel with excitement. A neon-lit supermarket is often too much
for meso terribly rich in angles and colors and dizzying
perspectives that I must deliberately narrow my perceptions to
the things on my grocery list lest I take forever to do the
shopping. Paintings and sculptures and ceramics get me so
intensely excited that I often come out of a museum higher than a
kite. In short, I use my sensesat least some of
them, some of the time. And I say, why disorient your beautiful
senses with drugs and poisons before you have half discovered
what they can do for you?
I find myself in sharp disagreement, therefore, with my
friends who have contributed to this issue. They are still my
dear friends despite disagreements. I hope I remain theirs.
* Weston La Barre, in a review of Utopiates: The Use and
Users of LSD-25, American Anthropologist, 67 (1965),
596. Italics supplied.
** See A. Korzybski, Science and Sanity (1933; 4th ed.,
1958), especially Chapter XXIX, "On Non-Aristotelian