by Jeff Jacobsen more
Copyright (c) 1990
Dianetics: From Out of the Blue?
By Jeff Jacobsen
Copyright (c) 1990 by Jeff Jacobsen.
Reprinted with the expressed permission from Jeff Jacobsen.
This article appeared in "The Arizona Skeptic", vol. 5 no. 2
(September/October 1991), pp. 1-5.
L. Ron Hubbard, author of the book Dianetics: The
Modern Science of Mental Health and founder of the Church of Scientology,
was a science-fiction writer before penning the book that would
launch his fame. Dianetics is a self-help book published in
1950 which claimed to include new and unique theories on how the
mind works. Hubbard claimed that this work was totally unprecedented;
"Man had no inkling whatever of Dianetics. None. This
was a bolt from the blue."1 So
there would be no doubt as to the originality of his ideas, Hubbard
wrote that "dianetics borrowed nothing but was first discovered
and organized; only after the organization was completed and a technique
evolved was it compared to existing information."2
According to Hubbard, some philosophers of the past helped provide
the foundation of Dianetics, but the remaining research had been
done "what the navigator calls, 'off the chart.'"3
Dianetics became a New York Times bestseller in
1950, and has since sold many millions of copies.
Was this a totally unique theory of the mind wrought
from Hubbard's "many years of exact research and careful testing,"4
or was it a loose composite of already existing theories mixed with
novel, unproven ideas? This paper proposes to show that, despite
Hubbard's claims of originality, many of the ideas in Dianetics
were already existing and even in vogue before Dianetics appeared.
Either Hubbard really studied other works before he wrote Dianetics,
or he wasted years of his time re-inventing the wheel.
Although there are no reference notes in Dianetics
to see what are Hubbard's ideas and what are borrowed, we can quickly
eliminate the idea that Dianetics appeared "from the blue" by Hubbard's
own statements. In Dianetics itself is the statement that
"many schools of mental healing from the Aesculapian to the modern
hypnotist were studied after the basic philosophy of dianetics had
been postulated."5 Alfred Korzybski,
Emil Kraepelin, Franz Mesmer, Ivan Pavlov, Herbert Spencer, and
others are mentioned as resources in Dianetics, so we must assume
Hubbard was crediting these people to some degree. He must
certainly have known, then, of at least some of the research from
his time which will be mentioned in this article. Hubbard
in other settings acknowledged Sigmund Freud (especially through
Commander "Snake" Thompson),6 Count
Alfred Korzybski,7 and Aleister Crowley8
as contributors to his ideas on the human mind. In a speech
in 1950, Hubbard stated that he had spent much time in the Oak Knoll
Naval Hospital medical library in 1945 during a stay for ulcers,
where "I was able to get in a year's study."9
In fact, most of the theories and ideas in Dianetics
can be found in scientific literature previous to the first publishing
of Hubbard's theories. Parts of Dianetics, for example, have
striking resemblance to two articles found in Volume 28 (1941) of
the Psychoanalytic Review.
Dianetics theory posits the existence of engrams.
These are memories of events that occur around us when our analytical
mind is unconscious, and they are recorded in a separate area of
the mind called the reactive mind. A seemingly unique theory
in Dianetics is that these memories begin being stored "in the cells
of the zygote--which is to say, with conception."10
These engrams can cause problems for the person throughout life
unless handled through Dianetics auditing.
Dr. J. Sadger, nine years before the introduction
of Dianetics in 1950, wrote that several of his patients were not
cured of their psychological problems until he had taken them back
to their existence as sperm or ovum. He declared that "there
exists certainly a memory, although an unconscious one, of embryonic
days, which persists throughout life and may continuously determine
an action."11 Sadger spends much
time explaining how his patients' memories of the time when they
were zygotes or even sperm or ovum had affected their adult behaviors,
noting that "an unconscious lasting memory must have remained from
these embryonic days."12 There were "unmistakable dreams" of being a sperm in the father's
Engrams, those unconscious memories of Dianetics,
are said by Hubbard to be stored in the cells of the body and passed
on to their clone cells and finally on to the adult being.
Hubbard claimed to discover that "patients sometimes have a feeling
that they are sperms or ovums... this is called the sperm dream."13
It was impossible, he claimed, to deny to a pre-clear that he could
remember being a sperm. But Sadger wrote about this first,
and Hubbard could well have read this in his "year's study" at Oak
Another coincidental discovery of Hubbard and Sadger
was that mothers often attempt to abort their child. Sadger
states that "so many a fall or other accident of a pregnant woman
is nothing else than an attempt at abortion on the part of the unconscious,
not to mention those cases where the mother seeks to free herself
more or less forcibly from the unwanted child."14
Hubbard concurs; "Attempted abortion is very common,"15
and in fact "twenty or thirty abortion attempts are not uncommon
in the aberee."16 Again, not
an idea "from the blue."
Life in the womb was not very kind, according to
one of Sadger's patients: "Perhaps when father performed coitus
with mother in her pregnancy I was much shaken and rocked.
Shall that have been one reason that I so easily became dizzy and
that all my life I have had an aversion even as a child from swings
and carousels?"17 Hubbard, in
a similar vein, insists that the mother "should not have coitus
forced upon her. For every coital experience is an engram
in the child during pregnancy."18
"Papa becomes passionate and baby has the sensation of being put
into a running washing machine."19
There are at least three other similarities like
the "sperm dreams", commonality of abortion attempts, and fetus
discomfort during parental sex. This seems quite a coincidence,
but it is not known whether Hubbard read Sadger's article.
Suffice it to say that these are major ideas in Dianetics, but they
are not new ideas.
The second article under discussion from Psychoanalytic
Review deals with the unbearable conditions during birth and the
affects of these in later life. Grace W. Pailthorpe, M.D.,
argued in this 1941 article that patients should be psychoanalyzed
more deeply into the period of infancy, or at least to the 'trauma
of birth'. Otherwise no lasting therapeutic effect could be
expected. Birth has traumatized all of us, she declares, and
these unconscious memories drive us in our adulthood. "It
is only when deep analysis has finally exposed the unconscious deviations
of our vital force"20 that we can recover
and enjoy life.
In Dianetics, the reader is left with the impression
that the ideas of birth and pre-birth memories and traumas, multiple
abortion attempts, and fetal discomfort in the womb are new discoveries.
As can be seen, this is not the case. And there are many other
impressions of "new" and "unique" that are incorrect as well.
With Pailthorpe's article, for example, we can also
note the dramatic similarities of Dianetics with simple Freudian
psychoanalysis. There is in both the return to past times
in the patient's life to search for the source of his or her current
problems. Once these problematic memories are discovered and
treated the problems vanish. In Pailthorpe's article we have
a man who was hopelessly traumatized by the events at his birth.
He was cruelly kicked out of his "home" in the womb, and his resistance
to this was assumed to be the cause of the immediate traumas of
the nurse's and mother's attentions (which were "painful to the
child's sensitive body"21). These
traumas caused headaches and social disorders in adult life.
Psychoanalysis discovered the causes (birth trauma) and when these
were brought to the conscious level with their meaning explained,
the headaches and social dysfunctions were alleviated.
Dianetics follows this line of reasoning to a great
degree. According to Hubbard, engrams (past traumas) are discovered
in the pre-clear's past, and bringing these engrams into consciousness
(from the reactive to the analytic mind) alleviates the disorder.
Hubbard claims that after auditing people (he had the pre-clear
lie on a couch in Freudian imitation), "psycho-somatic illness...by
dianetic technique...has been eradicated entirely in every case."22
A theory in psychoanalysis known as abreaction is
so similar to Dianetics (and preceding it by many years) that it
must be mentioned in more detail here. A 1949 article by Nathaniel
Thornton, D.Sc., gives a brief overview of abreaction and his views
on its value. Abreaction began with Freud and was considered
early on to be "one of the very cornerstones of analytic therapy."23
This is a method of freeing a patient "from the deleterious results
of certain pathogenic affects by bringing these affects back into
the conscious mind and re-experiencing them in all their original
force and intensity."24 A patient
of one of Freud's colleagues, under hypnosis and "with a free expression
of emotion"25 was freed of all her
psycho-somatic symptoms using abreactive therapy. Pierre Janet
is credited in the article with utilizing abreactive therapy to
restore painful memories to consciousness and thus relieving a patient's
symptoms. A patient being treated with this method must continually
work through such painful memories until the patient "could accept
the fact that the original experience no longer loomed up as a threat
Thornton concludes that abreaction is a useful tool
simply because "confession is good for the soul", and that talking
to someone about one's problems is almost always therapeutic.
"Auditing" in Dianetics is a virtual clone of abreactive
therapy. Auditing basically is searching through a person's
past until an engram is discovered, then continually reexperiencing
the event when the engram (painful memory) was instilled "until
the pre-clear is no longer affected" by the memory.27
Hubbard takes abreaction to an extreme and declares that once a
person has removed all his engrams, then Dianetics has done its
job and an almost god-like human results. Once again, the
similarity of an already existing theory on the mind is presented
as a great discovery in Dianetics.
Alfred Korzybski, mentioned in passing in Dianetics,28
owes a debt to Hubbard for making his theories well-known, according
to some former followers of Dianetics. Bent Corydon, a former
Mission holder of Hubbard's Church of Scientology, has made a convincing
comparison of Dianetics and Korzbyski's writings, demonstrating
that there is in essence little difference between many aspects
of the two.29 In support of this
comparison, it should be noted that there was a "Korzybski fad"30
sweeping through the science-fiction community in the 1940's, of
which Hubbard was a member, and that Hubbard, as mentioned above,
had stated the contribution Korzbyski made in his research.
Corydon also mentions the book The Mneme published
in 1923 by Richard Simon, wherein not only the idea of engrams,
but the very word itself is used. The word "engram" is listed
in the Oxford English Dictionary as deriving from Simon's book.
Cybernetics, published in 1948,31
compares the human mind to the newly developing technology of computers.
Dianetics also tells us to "consider the analytical mind as a computing
machine."32 Cybernetics speaks
of "affective tone" scales,33 as does
Dianetics in a remarkably similar vein.34
Cybernetics was a very popular work at the time Hubbard was writing
We have seen that many of the ideas in Dianetics
which were claimed to be unique were in fact current in the study
of the mind at the time of, or just before, the introduction of
Dianetics. It is difficult to see whether Hubbard had studied
some of these works during his "many years of exact research,"35
but as mentioned previously he does acknowledge other researchers.
At any rate, no book is written in a vacuum, so we may conclude
from the evidence that Hubbard was aware of at least some of this
research previous to writing his work. Barring acknowledgment
somewhere by Hubbard, or a list of articles and works he had read,
we can only guess as to the others.
It seems safe to conclude that the theories presented
in Dianetics did not arrive "out of the blue" as claimed, but were
instead a synthesis of previous, uncredited works. In that
case, is there any reason to discount the ideas in Dianetics?
There certainly is. There are outlandish, unsubstantiated
claims made by Hubbard, including the possibility that cancer may
be cured by Dianetic processing,36
that colds and accidents can be eradicated,37
IQ improved,38 life extended,39
and total recall enjoyed.40 None
of this is proven in any way other than constant mention of previous
research. The problem with this research is that there is
no tangible evidence of its existence. Hubbard in a lecture
stated that "my records are in little notebooks, scribbles, in pencil
most of them. Names and addresses are lost... there was a
chaotic picture...."41 A certain
Ms. Benton asked Hubbard for his notes to validate his research,
but when she saw them, "she finally threw up her hands in horror
and started in on the project [validation of research] clean."42
He was putting this into the hands of valid researchers "whose word
can't be disputed" so Dianetics could be legitimized by the scientific
Unfortunately, none of Hubbard's claimed research,
nor those of his valid researchers can be found today, if they ever
really existed. And if the methods and statistical results
of the supposed research are not available, they cannot be checked
and duplicated as the scientific method calls for. Anyone
can make as many outlandish claims as he wants, but the research
must be accessible and reproducible to support those claims if he
brandishes scientific validity.
Dianetics is designed as a how-to manual for psychoanalysis.
Anyone who reads the book should be able to perform Dianetics auditing
and help his fellow man become "clear". "Dianetics is not
being released to a profession... it is insufficiently complicated
to warrant years of study in some university."43
It is better to audit someone, said Hubbard, regardless of how well,
than to not audit at all.
But this seems a bit reckless. Auditing can
produce "tears and wailings,"44 and
"a patient...that...bounces about, all unconscious of the action."45
Regardless of the auditor's abilities, and regardless of how traumatic
a session becomes for the pre-clear, "If an auditor...can sit and
whistle while Rome burns before him and be prepared to grin about
it, then he will do an optimum job."46
This sounds more like quackery than therapy.
Children often have engrams that are restimulated
by their parents. Hubbard states that it may be necessary
to remove the children from their parents if this is the case, until
the engrams are processed.47
Here again we have Hubbard making an outlandish proposal of splitting
families in order to produce healthier people.
The cells of the zygote, according to Dianetics
theory, record sounds during a period of pain (Hubbard often uses
a husband beating his pregnant wife as an example), such as "'Take
that! Take it, I tell you. You've got to take it!'"48
From this engram we are to believe that the child grows up to be
a thief. Cellular recordings of sounds by the cells can even
be in another language unknown to the adult or child and still cause
similar problems. All of this, again, has no evidence accompanying
it, and without such evidence it may as well be classified as mere
We have in Dianetics a work by a science-fiction
writer who claims to have created a totally new and foolproof handbook
of the mind with no documentation to prove his claimed research.
This book has been actively sold by Hubbard's Church of Scientology
for many years, and yet it is simply a synthesis of already published
ideas with bizarre, unsubstantiated claims thrown in. The
theories in this book, other than those found in previous works
by others, have never been scientifically validated, and in fact,
one attempt came up dry.49 There
is little scholastic or societal benefit to be derived from this
work. S.I. Hayakawa put it well in his review of Dianetics:
"The appalling thing revealed by dianetics about our culture is
that it takes a 452-page book full of balderdash to get some people
to sit down and seriously listen to each other!"50
Copyright (c) 1990 by Jeff Jacobsen.
For permission to reprint this article, contact:
P.O. Box 3541
Scottsdale, AZ 85271
1 quoted in L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah
or Madman?, by Bent Corydon and L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. (Secaucus, NJ:
Lyle Stuart, 1987) p. 262.
2 L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics: The Modern Science
of Mental Health (Los Angeles: American Saint Hill Organization,
1950), 12th printing, paperback, August 1975, p. 340. (Henceforth
3 ibid. p.400.
4 ibid. p. ix.
5 ibid. p.122.
6 Russell Miller, Bare-Faced Messiah (N.Y.: Henry
Holt & Co., 1987), pp.230-231.
7 L. Ron Hubbard, cassette tape, "Introduction to
Dianetics," Dianetics Lecture Series 1. 1950. Bridge
8 Stewart Lamont, Religion, Inc.: The Church of
Scientology (London: Harrap, 1986) p.21.
9 "The History of Dianetics and Scientology" cassette
10 Dianetics, p.130.
11 Dr. J. Sadger, "Preliminary Study of the Psychic
Life of the Fetus and the Primary Germ." Psychoanalytic Review
July 1941 28:3. p.333
12 ibid. pp.343-4.
13 Dianetics, p.294.
14 Sadger, p.336.
15 Dianetics, p. 156.
16 Dianetics, p.158.
17 Sadger, p.352.
18 Dianetics, p.158.
19 Dianetics, p.130.
20 Grace W. Pailthorpe, M.D., "Deflection of Energy,
as a Result of Birth Trauma, and It's Bearing Upon Character Formation."
Psychoanalytic Review July 1941 28:3 pp. 305-326, p.326.
21 ibid. p.307.
22 Dianetics, p.91.
23 Nathaniel Thornton, D.Sc., "What is the
Therapeutic Value of Abreaction?" Psychoanalytic Review 1949
25 ibid. p.412.
26 ibid. p.413.
27 Dianetics, p.206.
28 Dianetics, p.62.
29 Corydon and Hubbard, Jr., pp. 266-269.
30 Albert I. Berger, "Towards a Science of the
Nuclear Mind: Science-fiction Origins of Dianetics", Science Fiction
Studies, 1989, vol. 16:123-141. p.135.
31 Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics; or Control and
Communication in the Animal and the Machine (John Wiley & Sons,
Inc., New York, 1948).
32 Dianetics, p.43.
33 Wiener, p.150.
34 Dianetics, p.323ff.
35 Dianetics, p.ix.
36 Dianetics, p.93.
37 Dianetics, p.92.
38 Dianetics, pp. 90, 193.
39 Dianetics, p.170.
40 Dianetics, p.417.
41 L. Ron Hubbard, cassette tape, "What Dianetics
Can Do," Dianetics Lecture Series 2. 1950. Bridge Publications,
43 Dianetics, p.168.
44 Dianetics, p.253.
45 Dianetics, p.278.
46 Dianetics, p.179.
47 Dianetics, pp.154, 155.
48 Dianetics, p.212.
49 Jack Fox, Alvin E. Davis, and B. Lebovits, "An
Experimental Investigation of Hubbard's Engram Hypothesis (Dianetics),"
Psychological Newsletter 1959, 10, 131-134.
50 S.I. Hayakawa, "From Science-fiction to Fiction-science",
Etc.: A Review of General Semantics, 1951 Vol. 8 (4) 280-293.