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Letters to the Editor

The Psychedelic Review, 1967
Dear Sirs,
In a letter published in The Psychedelic Review (#7) Dr. A. Hoffer attacked Dr. R.D. Laing for the views that he expressed in his article, Trans­cendental Experience in Relation to Religion and Psychosis (Psychedelic Review #6).

As Dr. Hoffer is a biochemist and psychiatrist of some reputation, and has done a lot of work in treating what he feels is a disease called schizo­phrenia with various chemical agents (including vitamin B2). I would think that Dr. Hoffer would be confident that his own work would, in itself, suffice to refute a point of view which he thinks is in error.

This seems not to be the case and, by the tone of his letter, Dr. Hoffer was moved to engage in an extended and personal polemic. One wonders, then, what Dr. Hoffer found so disturbing. His critique is first directed toward the illogic of Dr. Laing's position. e.g. "Laing would remove from the schizophrenic the comfort that most nor­mal people hove in the thought that their psyche­delic reaction is drug induced.", or "Laing would take from the schizophrenic his right to be sick."

Neither of these statements follow from Dr. Laing's article. Rather they seem related to at­tributions that Dr. Hoffer has made about schizophrenia with which he feels Dr. Laing would disagree and which he then accuses Dr. Laing of doing.

Secondly, Dr. Hoffer states that, "Laing seems remarkably naive and ignorant of molecular and genetic advancements of the past two de­cades." As regards the latter Dr. Hoffer is apparently referring to the thirty-year-old work of F.J.Kaltman whose twin studies seemed to indicate that schizophrenia has a hereditary basis.

On the other hand, one wonders if Dr. Hoffer is aware of the most recent work of Pekka Tienari, "Psychiatric Illnesses in Identical Twins". (Acta Psychiatric Scandinavica, Supplementum 171, Volume 39, 1963) In this study sixteen pairs of identical twins were described, all charac­terized by the occurrence of schizophrenia in one of the twins and not in the other. i.e. sixteen of sixteen pairs were discordant for schizo­phrenia.

Furthermore, Tienari states, "It is also noteworthy that not a single definitely concor­dant identical pair of twins has been discovered in any of the twin studies conducted in Northern Europe, (Essen-Moller, Kringlen, the present study)".

Moreover, Dr. Hoffer states that at a recent meeting on the molecular basis of mental illness which was sponsored by NATO and which he attended, "there was a remarkable consensus that the molecular basis of schizophrenia was firmly established." Yet, he does not give any evidence to support this, and in fact, goes on to say that, "the specific details of the biochemical pathology still must be spelled out," a point crucial to the proof of a theory which he just stated has already been proven.

Thirdly, Dr. Hoffer engages in a bitter and personal invective not only in reference to Dr. Laing, but also to the "North American Psychi­atric Establishment" which he accuses of "obses­sional thinking" and "Freudians" whom he accuses of obstinacy because they refuse to give up the belief that schizophrenia is not a disease. As regards his attacks on Dr. Laing, contrast the statement that Dr. Laing is deluded, "Few people who have experienced either the psychotomi­metic or the psychedelic experience (except per­haps Dr. Laing) can convincingly delude themselves...", with some statements that Dr. Hoffer, himself, makes in the course of his letter:
  1. "...psychedelic reactions... were the basis of Christianity, of Alcoholics Anonymous, of Synanon, and of Schizophrenics Anonymous.
  2. "The devils in our society are barely tolerated most of the time."
  3. "Madness may take only two forms, (a) the madness of the devil and (b) the madness of the saint."
  4. "If schizophrenia is madness, society will deal with it as it did during the days of the inquisition."
Finally, Dr. Hoffer would have us disregard Dr. Laing's position on the basis of his own richness of experience and general Weltan­schauung. This includes, of course, his ready identification with Society, or as he puts it, "the Good Society", such as one that produces NATO and NATO sponsored conferences, as well as the physical treatments of 'mental disease', i.e. electroshock therapy, leucotomy, tranquilizers, and custodial care mental hospitals, all examples of, to use Dr. Hoffer's words, "all the goodness in society which is mobilized to help the sick become well."

On the basis of his letter, I remain to be con­vinced, either of the accuracy and merit of his polemic, or the point of view which Dr. Hoffer seems to want to substantiate.
Joseph H. Berke, M.D.
Kingsley Hall
London, England

Dear Dr. Metzner,
The editorial in Psychedelic Review #8 contains a quotation from an article written by Dr. Harvey Powelson and by me which is mis­leading. The quotation reads, "...according to estimates published recently in the (sic) Nation... 'the proportion of college students who ex­periment with pot or LSD may run as high as 10%" The statement in The Nation reads: "But on campuses where cosmopolitan students congregate — large city campuses or prestigious small liberal arts colleges — the proportion of students who experiment with pot or LSD may run as high as 10 per cent."

It is evident from the statement in The Nation that the proportion of students who experiment with pot or LSD is considerably less than ten per cent, when all college campuses are considered.

I should appreciate your publishing this correction in the Psychedelic Review. Sincerely yours,
Mervin B. Freedman
Chairman, Department of Psychology
San Francisco State College

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